Goakeepers` Practice Time

By John Cartwright

The modern game has seen a tremendous change in the playing skills required by goalkeepers. Of course the ability to catch and punch the ball as well as make saves is still the obvious prerequisite of top goalkeeping performance. However, ‘home-bred’ goalkeepers have not shown the qualities one would expect over the past quarter of a century to satisfy the extra playing demands and increased speed of the modern game as well as cope with changes in the laws?

Certainly, goalkeeping has moved on from the days of the thick woollen, polo neck jerseys and muddy goalmouths to designer sportswear and all- year-round pristine playing surfaces, but I don’t believe goalkeeping in this country has made the progress in practical terms one would have expected. Many of the goalkeepers in the upper echelons of the game here are ‘foreign imports’ and those who are ‘home-bred’ seem to unable to make a significant impact at the top levels.

 It seems to me that goalkeeping here has ‘hit  the same rocks’ on which our outfield players have become ‘shipwrecked’ — lack of realistic practice time! In addition to having countless numbers of half volleys and crosses  delivered to them to save, catch or punch, there has been an influx of ‘gimmicks and gadgets’ introduced into goalkeeping practice to make ‘keepers — jump over; run around; tip-toe through etc.  All of these technical and supplemental practices are ok in improving technique and physical qualities of gk’s. However, important as these are, it’s the ability to make correct decisions that makes for good goalkeeping. Good movement without doubt is essential for gk’s, sound techniques are also vital in many non-interference situations in which goalkeepers’ are involved, but it’s the ability to make correct decisions in situations where interference is involved that elevates goalkeepers to the top of their profession.

Do goalkeepers practice enough in realistic playing situations? Has modern coaching of goalkeepers found ways to provide them with the essential, practical work that extends seamlessly from training grounds onto playing stadiums? I’m not sure that enough emphasis has been placed on both realism and continuation in goalkeeping practice.  During training sessions i see an over-abundance of time allotted to technique and movement, but less amount of time on gk/outfield player integration. Why has this imbalance in goalkeeping training occurred? Well, possibly because goalkeepers like to have more activity when practising than might occur when in a playing situation; or there is the possibility of injury if normal interference is allowed to be part of practice. In either circumstance, absence from ‘live’ and realistic situations during practice will leave the gk’s and their defensive partners exposed to those situations when faced with them in competitive match-play.

Van Der Sar - Sweeper Keeper


The modern goalkeeper is the ‘deepest sweeper’ behind his defenders. It is essential therefore, that gk’s are fully aware of situations in all areas of the field. They must be able to command their team-mates in front of them and make quick decisions to involve themselves directly if necessary. The modern game has made goalkeeping more than a ‘hand-ball’ position and it now requires a fuller range of skills.  In today’s game, gk’s  should be equally skilled with feet as well as hands making them positive ‘starters’ of attacking play as well as positive ‘stoppers’ when defending ; their ability to kick the ball with either foot is still a missing art amongst our ‘keepers; in congested situations inside the 6 yard box, many ‘keepers have great difficulty in establishing their authority over harassing opponents; positioning of gk’s and defenders to defend at free-kicks and corners often lacks authority and team-work. The problems relating to goalkeepers and their defenders can go on and on, but can often be referred back to the lack of integrated and realistic practice time they have spent together.


Goalkeeping practices must conjoin more effectively with outfield play to create better awareness and improved defending. Integrated practices should be created to provide realism in a controlled manner —– action with limited injury possibilities. Coaches should provide gk’s. and their outfield colleagues with more subtly arranged practices that are closely aligned to game-like situations in order to decrease  problems of  uncertainty and increase correct decision-making between them.

Coaching has not looked deeply enough at goalkeeping and many of the  practices of the past must be suitably up-graded in order to produce more ‘home-bred’ gk’s.  who are capable of  playing at the very top of the game with labels proudly attached, ‘MADE IN BRITAIN’.

4 thoughts on “Goakeepers` Practice Time

  1. This is a very interesting blog because it highlights how the goalkeeper’s role has changed so drastically in modern football,particularly since the change in the back pass rule.As usual, in Britain we are slow to take on board these changes and as John Cartwright says we are now importing foreign keepers as the same rate as we are importing players in outfield positions.
    It is appropriate that John’s blog should feature a photograph of Edwin Van Der Sar because he is generally recognised as the outstanding example of the modern keeper during the last 20 years.However I have a vivid memory of an outstanding keeper who played in what we term the ‘modern manner’ in a match in this country quite some years ago.This was a Yugoslav by the name of Radenkovic who kept goal for TSV Munich 1860 in the memorable European Cup Winners’ Cup Final against West Ham United at Wembley in 1965.I well remember the gasps of astonishment from the crowd as Radenkovic came far outside his penalty area to intercept intended through passes and to take passes along the floor from his defenders and and then quickly start a Munich attack with an accurate pass.
    In those days there was not the same amount of exposure on TV of football in general and especially on the way it was played abroad.Radenkovic was not unique in his game style and,in fact,around that time,and even earlier, there were many Yugoslav keepers who played in the same way i.e. as a ‘sweeper keeper’ as John Cartwright terms it.This is significant because Yugoslavia has always produced many fine players in all positions and their thoughtful approach to the game is apparent in their development of keepers all those years ago.

  2. Come on you GK coaches, am i correct or not in believing an imbalance has developed in the way ‘keepers practice today? Is your silence due to complacency – disinterest – guilt – or i’m stupid and not worth a reply?

  3. Well, all you goalies’, it’s almost a month ago since i posted this ‘blog’ and still only one reply. Surely there’s gk’s out there who have something to say, espacially as so much of the space between the posts is now occupied by foreign ‘keepers at the top level.

  4. One problem is that many coaches do not know how to incorportate their keepers into the team’s training. They send them off to do their ‘goalie thing’, or, they do silly rapid fire shooting drills that don’t accurately replicate game situations.
    We need to evolve from having a shot blocker as your last line of defense to an actual goalkeeper.

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