Goalkeeping can be very boring. The keeper spends lots of time during a game, simply being a spectator. Then they’re called upon to be switched on, and make save after save. During those long, dull phases, it’s tempting for the keeper to talk to their defenders. Some even shout constantly, just to “feel involved”. In this post, we discuss the best way to keep your defenders aware of what you see. Be “Air traffic control”.


For long periods in a game, the keeper is simply watching the game, an un-paying spectator. But the keeper has an excellent view of the field, only rivaled by the coach. Therefore they can offer valuable information to their teammates, especially the defenders. The trick is staying awake.

Look out behind you!

The crucial information the keeper can provide includes what’s going on out of the peripheral vision of the defenders. Is there a striker lurking, sneaking in to space behind the defense, ready to strike? Frequently a strike force will gang up on a defender, offering them one of the strikers to latch onto, taking all their focus, while another will sneak in behind, unseen. The defensive team should help each other pick up stray attackers, but sometimes they too are busy with their own challenges.

This is precisely where the keeper can help, offering calm, precise information to their defenders. The key is brevity.

Air traffic control

Airline pilots have a lot to worry about, but they rely on technology to help them fly large planes thousands of feet in the air. However that’ll never be enough, and they also rely on human air traffic controllers, who watch all the planes in their local sky, guiding each of them calmly and carefully, to prevent any collisions. The sky’s can be very busy. The job carries a lot of stress. If you’re interested in learning more about this amazing career, take a look here. To see just how busy the skies get, see here.

That said, sometimes things get a little heated, and tempers can fray. It can even look a little funny to those not involved.

Be calm under pressure.

The goalmouth and penalty area can get very crowded too, with teammates and opponents all mixed together, moving, jostling each other, in a frenzy of energy. All before the ball gets there. It can be chaos.

The keeper’s main job is always to keep the ball out of the net. But just as important is the “comms role” – communicating valuable information to their defenders. If you listened to the video of the air traffic controller above, you heard how calm precise and useful the information is when delivered to the pilots. The same goes for the keeper’s role.

You also heard how the tension and pressure can get to both sides of the conversation. In this case it sounded funny, but to the individuals involved, the tempers were frayed and they had to try hard to keep calm. The same things happen in the goalmouth, and players often shout at each other just to relieve stress and “shift the blame” onto others.

As the keeper, it’s your job to be calm when others are losing their heads. Rise above the “blame” and keep your communication brief, precise and above all helpful and relevant to the defender. After the game, that same “crazy angry” defender will likely apologize. Just smile and fist-bump. They will think a lot more of you for not “rubbing it in”.

There is no I in team.

What to focus on

The key things to remember can be summarized as follows;

  • Calm – most of the time, let defenders know things are good, they just need to pay attention to things that might develop into danger
  • Brevity – keep the information brief, often just a name (Pete) and an instruction (man right)
  • Relevance – make sure the information is important, such that defenders will take notice. If the keeper just rambles everyone will “tune out” and ignore them.
  • Modulation/Level – use your voice carefully – use the louder instructions for the really important occasions – don’t shout and scream all the time! Then the defense will know it’s important, just by the level of the keeper’s voice.
  • Direct the defense in set pieces – when forming a wall, or simply “stepping” out after a corner kick, make the instructions clear and precise.
  • Confident – let the defenders know you’re there, in control, and confident. If a defender is suddenly under pressure, offer them a pass to relieve pressure, but make it clear you’re there for them.
  • Hands – use hands and arms to indicate where you’d like the ball to be passed to, as well as your voice. But note, a defender may not have the luxury of time to study your hand signals. So be prepared for the pass to be “less than perfect”

Above all make sure you convey the important information to your teammates.

They may not thank you, but they will appreciate it and you both benefit.

Because the keeper is air traffic control.