Don't guess! Read the shooter, make the save, win the game
By Greg Bach
Your soccer team’s game is tied and the past hour of play is going to be decided by penalty kicks.
The goalkeeper takes their position in front of the net – but what’s their plan for making stops to send your team home with a big win?
SportingKid Live checked in with Karl Spratt, director of goalkeeping for the New England Revolution’s Youth Development Program, to find out his secrets for helping youngsters make those big game-deciding saves.
“When working with our Academy goalkeepers here at the New England Revolution, I make it really clear to them that the days of ‘guess and dive’ are over,” Spratt says. “We teach our goalkeepers that there are many ways that they can learn to ‘read’ the clues that the shooter gives them and this will help them to predict which direction the ball is going.”
Shooters clearly have the advantage, as the conversion rate of successful penalty kicks across all levels of youth soccer is between 80-90 percent, Spratt says.
So the more goalies can do to lower that percentage, the better their chances of getting their hands on those shots.
“For a goalkeeper, being placed in front of a penalty kick is really a ‘no-lose’ situation,” Spratt says. “The goalkeeper is not really expected to make the save, as the majority of the pressure is placed on the shooter. With that being said, there are tricks and training habits that a goalkeeper and the coach can use to increase their odds.”
Spratt divulges his goalkeeping secrets for helping youngsters read the shooter and turn away those tough-to-stop penalty kicks:
Watch the shooter's eyes and overall demeanor: “Often they will give away small clues before they are ever ready to shoot, like peeking toward the corner that they are aiming for,” Spratt says.
Watch their approach to the ball: Is it straight on, or at an angle? More often than not, a very wide approach often indicates the shooter is going towards the opposite corner.
Watch the hips: The ball will tend to go where the shooter’s hips point. “A ‘placed pass’ shot will require the shooter’s hips to open up in the direction the ball is going,” Spratt points out.
Watch the shooter’s plant foot: The ball will tend to go toward the direction that the plant foot is pointing.
Watch the head and eyes: “If the shooter drops their head and eyes to look at the ball, and accompanies this with a big powerful preparation step into the ball, it usually means that they will shoot across their body,” Spratt says. “If the shooter’s head stays up more, it can mean more often than not that the shooter will keep their body open to place the ball to the opposite corner.”
Don't guess or react too soon: By using all of the above cues, and also being ready mentally to make the save, will help the goalkeeper out dramatically, Spratt says.
Practice, practice, practice: “There are many little clues and aspects that a goalkeeper can use, but they will never really get the complete understanding of any of them unless they practice this situation a lot,” Spratt says. “By doing this, they will be able to figure out which styles really work best for them as an individual.”
Grant Parr, a leading mental sports performance coach and author of The Next One Up Mindset: How To Prepare For The Unknown, on embracing roles, visualizing success, and more
A leading youth soccer expert on the importance of strong relationships between coaches and referees – and how to make it happen
University of Tulsa football coach Philip Montgomery shares his practice exit strategy to help bolster players' mindsets and build confidence
The quiet eye and predictive control: how they impact performance