“The point of training is to increase the speed at which one can be precise” – Cesar Menotti, Coach of the Argentina National Team that won the 1978 World Cup.
After the spring season, I invariable get questions from parents and players about how to use the summer break to improve a keepers’ skill. Which camps to attend, or referrals to local coaches who provide one-on-one training, since I do neither. Some parents who have the time, space and desire to do so, ask for drills suitable for the back yards.
I’m a strong opponent of giving young players a break from organized training activities in the off-season so they can rest and recover, both physically and mentally. There are some great camps and coaches providing great training (and a lot of not-so-great ones) but if a young player attends one of them during summer break, I would suggest at least a few weeks without any mandatory soccer events. However, this doesn’t mean that the child should not be playing soccer, just that there shouldn’t be a coach or parent looking over his shoulder, analyzing every move. (You know, like the rest of the world does it). In summer, a kid’s “social calendar” is not as filled up as it is during the school year, and with other kids around, it is one of the few times they are in a position to play some version of “street soccer”.
That alone would be good practice for a young goalkeeper. Just figuring things out on his or her own with friends, playing in small sided games or just have them take some shots. But sometimes, a young keeper might want to practice some of the more technical facets of the position, at his own pace. To that end, there is still no better training tool than that old stalwart: the brick wall. My informal research on the subject has led me to the conclusion that building codes in much of the world, including Europe and South America require that any windowless brick wall must have a soccer goal painted on it, preferably with the outline of at least one ball, most often in the upper ninety.
The United States seems to be one of the exceptions, as a result of which the only young players using the brick wall to practice their skills appear to be lacrosse players. This is regrettable since a brick wall gives soccer players a great opportunity to practice their technique and skills. Many last-second, World Cup winning (over Germany, naturally) goals have been scored by young players all over the world, using nothing but a ball, a wall and their imagination. But keepers can use a wall to improve their technique and muscle memory as well, and win that same imaginary World Cup (against Germany, of course) with an amazing point-blank save in the 94th minute.
“Habit is the second nature of man. We need to create habits – not as much physical or technical as mental. And you do that by constant repetition”. – Tomislav Ivic, former coach of Ajax, Anderlecht, Hajduk Split, Panathinaikos and Porto, the only coach to win League titles in five different countries.
A good technique is rooted in proper mental preparation, which becomes second nature as a result of constant repetition. When preparing to save a shot, the mental preparation is the same every time: proper set position, proper shape, proper hand position. The more you practice this, the faster you can do this. A good coach can help a keeper correct deficiencies in the technique but he doesn’t have to be present all the time. Spending time by himself practicing will give the young keeper the opportunity to figure out things on his own.
The brick wall allows a keeper to get in an amount of repetitions they would be hard pressed to get in a training session, even a one-on-one session. In addition, they get to practice additional skills that might not get much attention during regular training sessions.
The simplest drill would be to kick or throw the ball against the wall and catch it. But in order to make a good catch, you also need a good shot: it needs to bounce against the wall with enough speed and direction to return to the keeper. So while the player is working on catching, he also works on his kicking and/or throwing. By adjusting the distance from the wall, a keeper can vary the difficultly level, challenging himself.
If the wall is wide enough, a keeper can practice his footwork by shuffling the length of the wall while throwing and catching the ball, either underhand or overhand.
Move back from the wall, and a keeper can practice his long throws (or even kicks, space permitting) and catching high balls by kicking or throwing the ball high against the wall, then coming forward and catching the ball at the highest point possible.
I wouldn’t recommend doing it when the surface next to the wall is a hard surface like cement or asphalt but if it is grass, there is no reason why a keeper couldn’t practice his smother save or diving techniques. A good way to get 120 touches in 5 minutes is for a keeper to sit in front of the wall and feed himself balls to both the left and right of him to catch while falling sideways concentrating on hand position (10 on the left, 10 on the right), followed by the same sequence while sitting on his knees, and then squatting. 20 shots straight at the wall and back for smother saves, another 20 (10 left and 10 right) thrown underhand for a collapse save, followed by full extension saves. It’s a natural progression which gives the keeper a lot of repetitions while simultaneously emphasizing the mental preparation underlying the proper execution of the required technique. Whenever it gets too easy, the keeper can increase the difficulty level by moving closer to the wall, increase the speed at which the ball is thrown, or both.
Combine any of the drills above into a 20-minute work-out done 3 times a week during the off-season will give a keeper the amount of quality touches that would otherwise take a few training sessions. No cones, no field, no goal, no adult supervision required.