The requirements placed on the goalkeeper are unique, with components of both fitness and athleticism playing varying roles in a keeper's success. More than any other position the success of the keeper is tied to multiple components of athleticism.
The areas of primary concern for goalkeeping are: coordination, agility, speed, and anaerobic endurance, and their constituents of balance, flexibility, core stability and strength. Maximizing the development and performance of the keeper presents a unique challenge for the goalkeeping coach. The goal of this four part series is to increase the goalkeeping coach's awareness and understanding of how to integrate fitness and athleticism into keeper specific training.
Fitness training for the keeper consists of a three-tiered approach with injury resistance and resilience the primary concern. All coaches want their best keeper to play. Second is the development of athleticism and performance, with development consisting of a long-term approach to increasing movement ability and efficiency in order to maximize performance. Third is increasing the physiological fitness level of the keeper, where the goal is to ensure the keeper's resistance and resilience to physical and mental fatigue during the course of a match. The integration of movement training into the goalkeeping session may be done via a number of training opportunities with focus placed on coordination, agility and speed of movement.
Coordination is grounded in a player's awareness of the body's position in space and time and the ability to perform movement in a purposeful manner. Training the coordination of the keeper consists of general coordination, timing and turning and twisting. All components look to develop the keeper's ability to move efficiently with focus placed in each area as follows:
- General coordination: The largest contributor to the technical ability and development of a keeper.
- Upper and lower body coordination: The goalkeeping coach should look for upper and lower body movement to contribute to the intended action with movement efficiency and control the primary concern. Control of the body's mid-section, and head should be such that balance and posture is consistently maintained.
- Developing movement: Movements utilized should be developed in a slow to fast, and simple to complex manner. Movement efficiency should never be forfeited for complexity and speed of action.
- The keeper's ability to coordinate movement in relation to the ball, and other players contributes to the keeper's technical ability, and effective decision-making. This is consistently a well-developed component in elite keepers.
- Spatial awareness: In developing keepers, the primary goal is to increase spatial awareness by developing the keeper's perception of the ball, another player's speed, their own, and increase the keeper's ability to select an appropriate angle and running speed.
Turning and Twisting
- Goalkeeping requires the ability to turn and twist quickly, and cover space effectively in response to both the ball and other players. Focus in training coordination of turning and twisting relies on the keeper's ability to maintain spatial awareness in order to conduct purposeful movement.
- Coordination of movement: In both actions, movement may be seen as coming from the head downward with the head leading the movement to find the ball and players, followed by the shoulder turning in order to accelerate the trunk and the hips begin to turn.
Training Fitness and Athleticism at the Goalkeeper Position – Speed
Training the physical speed for the keeper consists of developing starting speed, acceleration speed, reaction speed, and running mechanics. In training these movements there are a number of components which the goalkeeping coach must focus:
- Starting posture: The keeper's starting posture is determined via tactical components. The key factor in determining the keeper's posture is the playing possibilities of the attacking player. If he can shoot, the keeper must be in a set position, in such a case, if the player elects to play the ball into the space in front of the keeper, the keeper must respond from the set position. If the player cannot shoot and the primary danger is a ball played in behind, the keeper should take up a staggered or sprinter position ready to attack a ball played into the space in front.
- First step direction: Regardless of posture, the direction of the keeper's first step must be forward and in the direction of the play.
- Stride length: The keeper's initial stride length maximizes starting speed and should increase with each stride in a short to long manner.
- Stride length: The keeper's stride length should increase over the initial several strides. Stride length is decided to a great extent by the distance which needs to be covered in order to make the save, with the keeper looking to maximize acceleration via increasing stride length with each subsequent stride.
- Running posture: The goal is for the keeper's posture to allow for maximum acceleration into the save. If the keeper is standing too high, then acceleration is sacrificed, and too low, then the keeper will be unbalanced. Keep in mind, if the keeper is coming to make a play on a through ball as opposed to a ball in the air, there are technical implications of the type of save which will impact running posture.
- Running posture: The primary mechanism for deceleration is the movement of the body's center of gravity backwards as the upper body becomes more erect. This presents a challenge for a keeper who must quickly gain balance in order to react as needed. \
- Gaining composure: In approaching the targeted end point of deceleration, the body's weight must return forward, with smaller steps being taken as the keeper decelerates. The end goal is a balanced position, with weight distributed evenly over both feet to allow for movement off of either foot.
- Response: The keeper's reflexive response must take them in the appropriate direction and at the appropriate angle allowing them to make the save efficiently.
- First step: The keeper's first step must lead them immediately into the type of save to be made and for the appropriate technique to be selected and used.
- Of all the components of speed, running mechanics is the most general in nature, with the primary focus of training being to increase the keeper's movement efficiency.
- Running posture: Head should stay looking forward in neutral and with little movement. Chest up and steady in line with hips with little rotation.
- Coordination of upper and lower body: Opposite arm and leg movement should be coordinated with movement occurring in a linear manner with little twisting, or movement across the body.
- Triple extension: The hip, knee, and ankle work in a coordinated fashion in order to maximize power of the push-off phase and thereby speed.
Training Fitness and Athleticism at the Goalkeeper Position – Agility
Agility is a combination of a number of different components of athleticism: coordination, balance, power, flexibility, and core strength. A loose definition of agility is the ability to change direction and/or body position quickly and efficiently in one direction and accelerate in the direction desired. Agility may be divided into three general types, dependent on the magnitude and direction of displacement of the body's center of gravity:
- Linear agility may be seen as movement in a forward direction, requiring subtle changes, or shifts in movement laterally.
- Movement and posture: In training linear agility for goalkeeping, focus should be placed on control of balance while maintaining stability and alignment of the hips, trunk and head in the direction of movement.
- Horizontal agility requires large changes in direction that require deceleration in one direction and acceleration in the opposite direction or at acute angles.
- One of the most common actions in goalkeeping is changing direction and moving explosively in the opposite direction.
- Movement and posture: Training horizontal agility should focus on the keeper's ability to lower the body effectively in order to decelerate and change direction, while maintaining balance. Throughout the movement, stability of the trunk and head should be maintained, with orientation of both towards the playing field.
- Transitional agility places a high level of demand on the keeper, and may be seen as a combination of vertical and lateral movement. It is comprised of actions such as jumping followed by movement in a lateral direction, or vice versa, a cutting maneuver followed by vertical movement.
- Vertical to horizontal: Focus should be placed on the keeper simultaneously dissipating the force of landing while initiating movement in the intended direction.
- Horizontal to vertical: Focus is on the keeper effectively decelerating and transferring momentum from horizontal movement into vertical movement.
Training Fitness and Athleticism at the Goalkeeper Position – Anaerobic Endurance
The anaerobic endurance requirements of the keeper may be defined in two manners. The first is to develop resistance to fatigue during individual high-intensity efforts during the course of the match. For instance, when sustained pressure on the keeper occurs, such as when a keeper has made a save for a corner and must cope with the sustained pressure. The second is to ensure the keeper's ability to maintain high-intensity repeated efforts, essentially so that when called upon in the 90th minute, to make the same save as they did in the first, the keeper is not hindered by fatigue. Anaerobic endurance training for the keeper may be seen as consisting of a multi-lateral component and a goalkeeping specific component.
Multi-Lateral Anaerobic Endurance
- Training phase: As a component of the building phase of training of pre- and early-season training, focus is on increasing the keeper's ability to withstand repeated, high-intensity efforts without a decrease in movement speed.
- Goalkeeper oriented: The work and movements should bekeeper oriented, in that the movements should mimic those taken up by the keeper, but do not, and necessarily should not, be goalkeeping specific.
- Work intervals: Work should be 20-40s in duration, with the keeper never pressed beyond the duration where they are capable of maintaining maximal effort.
- Rest intervals: Rest should be long enough to ensure that the keeper has recovered sufficiently to repeat the next effort at maximal intensity. Work to rest ratio is typically 1:4, decreasing as fitness level increases.
- The total number of bouts should be 6-12 dependent on the keeper, as well as the complexity and demands of the movement.
Goalkeeper Specific Anaerobic Endurance
- Training phase: As a component of the maintenance phase of training during the season, focus is on maintaining the keeper's ability to recover quickly from repeated high intensity bouts, while ensuring that the keeper is able to perform maximally on match day.
- Goalkeeper specific: The work and movements should be specific to the actions which comprise the match and stress the keeper specifically for the game.
- Work intervals: Work should be 7-20s in duration, with the duration largely dependent on the amount of time prior to the next match; as the training day moves closer to the match work duration must decrease.
- Rest intervals: Rest should begin to decrease and press the keeper's ability to recover quickly and maintain maximal effort bouts. Work to rest ratio is typically 1:2, working towards 1:1 as fitness level increases.
- The total number of bouts should be 10-15 dependent on the keeper, as well as the demands of the movements, and saves being executed.
The prioritization of both fitness and athleticism for the goalkeeper is dependent on the individual keeper's physical attributes, as well as their level of play. The integration of training for fitness and athleticism must be determined by the goalkeeper coach over consistent observation of the keeper during both matches and training. The integration of fitness and athletic components in training allows for the maximization of the keeper's training experience, athletic development, injury resistance and resiliency, and ultimately performance.
(John Cone is a U.S. Soccer National Staff Instructor and current PhD student in Sports Medicine at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. John can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org).