As the winter snow begins to thaw, young keepers come out of their normal hibernation – ski racing, snowboarding and all the winter sports.

To dust off some of the inevitable rust, we continue to work on reflex and agility exercises, aimed at “getting the eye in”.

Three session points for this session;

  • Footwork – hoop, trap and catch routine
  • Follow the ball – crowded box and shot routine
  • Judge the flight – two obstructions, touch both posts then catch on 6

Finish off with a Wind down – reverse-reflex and 1,2,3

Start with the feet.

We began with the usual footwork exercise, where the keeper skips between 8 hoops laid in pairs on the floor, hoops number 5&6 set further apart, followed by a passed ball which they either pass back, or trap, and finishing with another ball thrown over their left shoulder to try to catch or punch.

skip through the hoops

This exercise is excellent for developing footwork precision. If your feet aren’t planted carefully inside the hoops you’ll soon find yourself “hoolahooping”.

Once out of the hoops the keeper has to control a firmly hit pass as ground level.

This encourages the brain to switch from stepping to ball control. A typical movement when playing sweeper-keeper.

Finally, once passed back, the coach throws a high ball over the shoulder of the keeper

Keeper turns towards the ball and moves their feet to intercept the ball as high as possible. Ideally make a catch, but some are too difficult and require a punch out of harms way. Having a small 6 aside goal behind focuses the keeper’s mind, but it’s not essential.

After 5-6 goes each, the keepers are all warm and sharp. Now it’s useful to move onto aligning the eyes.

Seeing the ball for the trees.

A common challenge in a game situation is where the attackers are moving the ball just outside the 18, but the defense is well organized and interspersed in front of the keeper. There are small gaps, but the keeper is well protected.

To simulate this, we use 2-6 defenders, spreading them across the penalty box, about 2-3 yards apart, and at different distances from the edge of the box.

This resembles a forrest or wood, with the defenders acting like trees.
If you’ve ever been in a wood, the little gaps between trees can play havoc with the mind, and you begin to see things that aren’t there. Confusion and panic can set in.

The same happens with young keepers. As the attackers move the ball in front of the “wood” of defenders, the keeper has momentary sight of the ball, then loses it again. If a striker shoots, they can hit a defender, causing the ball to change direction, making the save harder. Just keeping an eye on the ball can be difficult, as it moves behind “the trees”.

The ball is obscured by the defender

By placing 2-6 static defenders in front of the keeper, and having a striker move from out wide, across the box from one side to the other, then take a shot when they feel they see an opening, you can a-tune the keepers eye to staying with the ball.

striker finds an opening and shoots

This sounds easier than it actually is, and give each keeper 2-3 shots from different angles and points on the box, to sharpen them up.

keeper adjusts as they see the ball

Look for the keeper to adjust their feet and “set” position as the ball moves across the face of the box. If their positioning and angle was right as the attackers starts their move, it’s unlikely to still be right as they end up on the other end of the box. The keeper should be adjusting. If they aren’t, then encourage them to move their feet as their eyes give them more info.

A second variation is a free kick from 12-15 yards, with a small wall of 2-3 players. If you can whip the ball in over, or around the wall, this also forces the keeper to adjust their feet and positioning as new information arrives on where the ball is coming from. As the ball will suddenly appear from “behind” the wall, the foot movement will need to be quick and precise. As the flight of the ball becomes clearer (high and rising, or low and falling) the keeper should adjust their body shape too – jumping up or diving low.

Encourage the keeper to develop a “minds eye” reflex and to trust it. We’ll finish off with a drill that does just that – “reverse-reflex.”

Judging the flight of the ball

The final session point of the three, flight of ball, flows nicely from the free kick practice we’ve just done.

With a free kick, the ball is seem late, and can be high and rising towards the top corner, or low and on the ground, spinning and swerving into the bottom corner. The keeper has a moment to judge the flight and adjust their position and body shape.

keeper moves from far to near post then catches a high ball thrown by coach

To simulate and sharpen this technique we have 2-3 play “obstructions” – defenders or attackers that are initially static. They are just to give the keeper something to think about. Place them opposite both posts, about 5yrs out.
Have the keeper move from the far post towards the near post. This simulates a striker threatening the near post. Then have the keeper move between the “obstructions” and catch a high thrown “cross”.
Have them take the ball as early and as high as possible.
They need to judge the flight of the ball as soon as it leave the coaches hands.
Vary the “crosses” – some long and high, past the second far “obstruction”, some short and in front of the near “obstruction”.
Occasionally throw the ball into the goal, catching out a clever keeper who’s already on their way between the obstructions.

Make sure the catches (or punches) are clean and precise.
But most of all watch the keepers eyes and feet. Judging the flight of the ball is essential. If the keeper’s too near or too far when it drops they won’t have a chance. This takes good eyesight and decision making. The two earlier drills will have sharpened the eyes to make those judgements quickly.

But also watch the feet – they need to move quickly and precisely, to arrive at the best point to take the high ball as early and safely as possible.

Tying it all together – reverse-reflex and 1,2,3

We’ve introduced the three session points – footwork, following the ball and judging the flight. The final wind-down elements are designed to tie these objectives together and give coach a chance to evaluate progress.

We start with reverse-reflex, where 3-5 keepers stand next to each other on the line, but facing away from coach. On the call of “go”, all keepers flip around to face the coach, and ready for a thrown or kicked “save”.
Only one will make the save, the others expected to go down on one knee.

The purpose of the drill is to sharpen the reflexes – the keeper goes from seeing nothing to having to find the ball, judge its flight, the intensity of shot, and whether it’s shot at them (make the save) or a colleague (and go down on one knee).

This is a great drill for sharpening reflexes, and also for driving home other lessons which have been covered in the session. The coach can see if the keeper moves their feet quickly and precisely, makes good decisions (save or kneel) and picks the ball out quickly.

After 8-10 attempts, some with thrown “shots” some with kicked shots, the keepers will all be sharper and faster and more decisive. They also learn to cope with “obstructions” – other players also going for the ball, and how to deal with the melee of a goalmouth.

Finally, 1,2,3

Our personal favorite way to end a session, especially one where the brain has been worked so hard, is 1,2,3.

Have three shooters set at the “corners of the clock face” eg 9o’clock, 10o’clock and 12o’clock. They each have a number, 1,2 or 3, and the keeper waits until the coach calls a number before setting for hat save. If 1 is 9o’clock, the keeper move to expect a shot from the angle/side. Then 3 would be straight on, 12o’clock, followed by 2.

the 1,2,3 shot drill

Obviously the keeper is encouraged to parry each shot and r day for the next almost immediately, and the coach should give the keeper time to adjust for the next shot. The key to the game is after you’ve face 1 and 3, you know the next one is 2. But otherwise, the keeper has to listen and adapt.

A variation is to have the keeper face away, then upon hearing a number, flip around and set for that shot. The challenge is everything is in reverse, so the mind has to adapt to that complication.

The shot-bombardment is a great way to wind down with real “shot stopping” but at the same time allows the coach another angle to evaluate the speed of decision making and precision of feet and body shape.

Tips for coaches – Confidence Cohesion Technique

Any coach can utilize these drills with their keeper. The objectives are the same – enhance footwork, follow the ball better with the eyes, and judge the flight of the ball.

A coach can use any one of the drills independently, and involve multiple players, especially attackers, to sharpen their skills too.

Try to encourage the keeper to use these skills – their footwork, their eyes and reflexes, and be brave to make the judgement calls and decisions that will come up regularly in games.