By Rick Meana, New Jersey Youth Soccer Director of Coaching
The question that is most often asked regarding the use of goalkeepers is: At what age should goalkeepers be used on the field of play?
According to the United States Youth Soccer Association (USYSA), and United States Soccer Federation (USSF), 3 v 3 and 4 v 4 small-sided game versions should not include goalkeepers until 8 v 8 (7 v 7 + goalkeeper). The rationale is centered on safety (children have poor hand-eye skills and coordination), and psychologically, in that leaving a goal wide open increases the chance of scoring, which leads to positive and confident attitudes on children playing. Scoring is the biggest thrill!
However, for many former professional goalkeepers who are now dedicating their time to working with youth, they believe, this can have negative effects. While it is true that some young children do have poor hand-eye coordination, these coaches feel that children can develop skills needed. A simple diet of activities and games that involve catching will teach children to lead with the hands; and emphasize the hands always form a barrier in front of the body and head.
Kids love to dive, tumble, roll on the ground, and play. Teaching goalkeeping movements will teach players how to tumble without getting hurt. It is inevitable that "ouchies" will occur, however, they do not have an attitude of all out "must win ball" aggressiveness, and their bodies are not massive enough to cause real serious injuries. Secondly, the real mature players who have developed the ability to constantly "break away" from the swarm will score at will and rarely will, be challenged. Coaches, realizing this, will deploy a player or two to stand in front of the goal and guard it. What will happen when a shot is taken? Players will naturally attempt to protect themselves, ending up with their hands and arms covering their face – ball hits hands, now what, penalty? From where? Besides this inhibits from the development of that player since they are rarely involved in the play.
The following solution ensures that all players will develop a variety of skills and will learn the roles of all players on the field – the goal of player development. Allow every player on the team to play as a goalkeeper for certain time; 2 – 3 minutes, then rotate a player on the sidelines into the goal, the goalkeeper becomes a field player, and one of the field players goes out. Another possibility is to rotate players after every 2 to 3 goals or when the ball goes out of bounds. These rotating methods not only ensure that all players get the opportunity to play and learn about playing in various parts of the field, but also psychologically - the harshness of having to deal with a ball that went into the goal soon wears off and is forgotten. Of course, don’t force players who show extreme fear or resistance, to playing as goalkeepers. And besides, to ensure more goals you can widen the goals!
Coaching implications for appropriate U6-U8 small-sided 3 v 3 field is 30 X 20 with goals 9 feet wide X 4½ feet high.
Now it’s your choice, do you use goalkeepers or not? If so, you may choose to use the Bobby Howe Rule. The Bobby Howe "Out of the Box Rule" – the goalkeeper of the team trying to score must be outside his or her 6 yard goal area that stretches from sideline to sideline and extends out from each endline in order to score the opposite end of the field (attacking side) counts.
The purpose of this rule is to teach young players designated as goalkeepers to come outside their goal area when their team is attacking their opponents’ goal. This aides in the development of the player in not only keeping their attention on the game, but learning to apply very important principles in the game from an attacking point – close support from behind and from a defensive point of view not getting glued on the goal line, and actually making it more difficult for the opponent to score, i.e.: "making the goal smaller."
The sweeper/keeper becomes part of the "soccer triangle", soccer’s most basic playing shape!
Next question most asked is at what age should players start specializing in goalkeeping? One again, there are two sides to this argument. Some say at 11 years of age, because starting early will ensure success later. Not so, say the goalkeeper experts, expose all players on team to goalkeeping, and realistically to ensure adequate development players should not specialize in goalkeeping until they are 14 to 15 years old. Recently, a professional coach was quoted to say that a goalkeeper doesn’t reach their peak in development until the age of 27. Now that’s one to think about…