In this post we discuss one of the keeper’s worst nightmares – the back-pass own goal. It happens to everyone, and yet can so easily be avoided. We’ll offer some tips on how to minimize the risk, while showing video evidence that it happens to the best of keepers.

Back to front

Keepers have many nightmares – it comes with the turf. But probably the worst of all is the mis-read back-pass that goes straight into the goal.

Take a look at this one, which involves De Gea of Manchester United.

The attackers are high pressing from the off, and the through ball catches the defense out, forcing the centre half Jones to attempt to push the ball back towards the goal. He may have been trying to push the ball wide and away from the goal, but miss-hit it. Alternatively, and more likely he didn’t see the keeper De Gea coming out fast and simply pushed the ball past him.

From a different angle, and in slow motion, it looks even more accidental, with a slight suspicion of foulplay by the striker. But the contact is so minimal the goal was always going to stand.

What lessons can we take away from this example?

The full 360

The keeper has an in-enviable position on the field, able to see the whole field like a chessboard, and facing the direction of the game. The only other “participant” that has a similar “360 degree” view is the coach. But they are on the sideline, and sees the game from a different perspective – side to side like a tennis match. The keeper sees the game from behind, and it comes to, and goes away, from them. But they can always see it.

But they both have great views of the whole field, a view which very few outfield players can achieve more than occasionally during a game.

The lost art of communication

So the keeper should always try to communicate what they see, when it’s relevant, to their teammates. Behave like the “eyes in the back of their heads”. The Keeper sees what’s out of sight to the defenders, especially whats going on behind them and outside their “peripheral vision” to the side.

It doesn’t have to be an essay – a simple “look out behind Joe”, or “man on” will help inform without becoming an annoyance.

Yes, too much of anything is a bad thing. Eventually, a defender will ‘tune out” if the keeper is constantly relaying info, especially if it’s redundant.

Try instead to be “air traffic control”. Be aware of their position and the risk they face (eg a striker sneaking in behind them who would be onside from a back pass) and just shout of the details – “watch number 7 Joe, behind you”.

If you’ve ever heard an air traffic controller giving info to a pilot, its brief, clear and always relevant. It’s always important to take note, and can save lives.

But getting the amount right is definitely an art form, not a science.

Run don’t walk.

As well as communicating to the defender that you’re behind them, available for a pass to relieve pressure (“jim, keeper behind you, available”), make sure you make your mind up quickly. If you’re making yourself available, get there quickly.

If possible, point to where you want the ball played – eg to your right side – and above all, commit.

The defender is probably in a mild state of panic themselves, unsure what to do, their preferred choice (pass across to Pete) cut off, and they are trying to deal with it themselves.

Give them confidence and help them make their mind up and commit quickly. Don’t ever say one thing (eg “with you Jim”) and do another (start to return to your line having started to come out). Faith in people is hard gained, easily lost.

Changing your mind without new information is rarely (never) correct. Stick to your first choice and commit.

When the facts change, I change my mind – what do you do sir?

If something consequential changes, by all means change course.

For example, if Jim doesn’t hear you, or just panics, and just boots the ball across the goal, by all means, stop coming out and move towards the ball.

In the video example above, having charged out to help, I’m sure De Gea would have stopped and returned to goal if he knew Jones was going to slot the ball back towards goal instead of attempting to leave it to De Gea to clear.

 The post-mortem

These things will happen, and with a frightening frequency. No matter how you prepare, and how much the coach screams at you afterward, it’ll happen again.

So it’s important to forget it completely during the game.

Easier said than done, its crucial to move on from any error or mistake, no matter who was at fault. All coaches know that – most will observe the ritual.

But after the game, preferably straight after, write down on a note, how you saw the mistake – what happened and how each contributed. Be brutally honest. I like drawing a diagram – matchstick men is just fine – lots of arrows.

Then leave for a day. At training, sit down with the defender involved, and walk through the mistake, frame by frame. You probably won’t see it exactly the same as the other player. Thats normal. But you will both begin to see it from each other’s perspective.

That is the route to solving it for the next time, which there will inevitably be.

Tips for coaches – Confidence – Cohesion – Technique

This post demonstrates the importance of confidence and honesty in your keeper and their defense. This confidence needs to be mutual, and has to be constantly re-built, grown and nurtured. The game will erode it regularly. Give them both/all space after the game. But ensure that post mortem between them happens within a week. Try not to be directly involved. Instead, as coach, have them walk you through their solutions. Offer guidance and encouragement. Be positive and enthusiastic, even if you’re not convinced they have sorted it completely. It’s a process, and they are the only one’s that can solve it on the field, when it happens again. Above all, recognize keepers are young athletes on a journey of discovery, and they will make mistakes like all humans do.

Be there to guide, show them the right path to take, and help them learn from those mistakes.