Goalkeeping drills and perceptual cues

I am not a soccer expert, although I have refereed over 200 games in the last two years. However, sometimes I believe it is easier to understand general arguments or concepts when we are not attached to our own practices or beliefs, which means that seeing the idea or concept in another sport or environment may facilitate understanding.

Today, two goalkeeping drills appeared in my Twitter timeline. The first was called the best goalkeeping drill that the coach had seen. The second simply mentioned the challenge of dealing with the chaos.

Norwich City FC

England FA

I also decided to add a third video, a personal favorite, to the discussion. This appeared during the 2014 World Cup, and I discussed this video previously.

Which of the three is the best drill? It depends. What is the context?

The first drill is a great drill; Bill Knowles showed “Spike Ball” in his presentation at GAIN this summer as he spoke about reconditioning. However, what does it have to do with goalkeeping? This is a drill that I might use for athletic development in the same way that I use tag to develop agility or ultimate frisbee for conditioning. It is a great, fun drill, but it is not a goalkeeping-specific drill.

The second drill is a very good design. Designing a goalkeeping drill is difficult because it requires the entire team to represent what happens in games. However, when the whole team is working to distract the goalie on shots, they miss more relevant practice time. The practice seems similar to a kicker in football; kicking a field goal without a rush is not the same as kicking a FG in the game, but how much practice time can you devout to 20 players blocking and rushing the kicker to make the kick more representative?

Therefore, as with any drill that takes the skill out of the game context, there are sacrifices. This drill does a pretty good job of managing these sacrifices. The biggest problem is that although the goalies are unsure of which goal the coach will attack initially, they know who is kicking and when he will kick. I never played goalie, but I imagine that one of the more difficult saves is when you are not sure who is kicking or heading the ball or when the kick will occur.

Rather than both players waiting for the same kick, and one goalie reacting to the kick, it might be interesting to have multiple potential kicks without the order of kicks being predetermined and known. The goalies have to be ready for anything.

Again, I imagine that creating goalkeeping specific drills is difficult, and this drill manages the difficulties better than almost any other goalkeeping drill that I have seen. It is certainly far better than the goalies taking turns throwing the ball at each other or the goalie starting with his back to the play and turning to locate and block a ball thrown at hm from a short distance. Ultimately, reaction time in a game depends on the cues in the environment, which requires the ball being kicked, not thrown. This drill is pretty good for a part drill.

As for the final drill, with Keylor Navas saving tennis balls, the drill is good for Facebook and Twitter likes, and not much else. There is no link in perceptual information to be gleaned from hitting a tennis ball and kicking a soccer ball. A tennis ball does not have the size and weight of a soccer ball. It is a completely different skill with almost no relation to anything that the goalie does during a game.

As with almost everything, when evaluating the drills, it depends. What is the purpose? If the purpose is to practice goalkeeping specifics, the second drill is the best drill, and I am not sure that there is any reason to discuss the others. If the purpose is developing general skills or having fun or competing or after-practice competitions or reconditioning, the first drill is a great drill. If you want to increase the hits to your YouTube page, go with #3.

In basketball terms, many drills that are featured on YouTube and Instagram are like #3: Their greatest purpose is to generate likes and hits. Other drills have some purpose and are fun or develop general qualities, but they are not specific to basketball or any basketball specific skill. That does not mean that the drills are wrong, provided that the coach or trainer understand the purpose and the limited transfer to game performance. The video below was described as “This is what ruining the game of basketball drills like these!!!” Is it really? Now, if the coach or trainer uses this to improve game dribbling or as a “point guard drill” or in every single practice, there is a problem. But, as a fun challenge for young players? It’s not as bad as a three-man weave!

Again, it depends on the context and the purpose. If this was titled “The Best Drill To Develop Game Handles”, I would be quick to criticize the trainer or coach. To have some fun with young players, why not? There is noting wrong with having some fun in basketball.

To focus on skill development, however, the drill must contain the constraints present in the game. Free-throw shooting really should be the only skill that is difficult to practice because it is difficult to re-create the pressure and environment of a game free throw. Other skills can be practiced in a variety of ways that maintain the important contextual cues that impact and influence performance in a game. The problem is when we remove these contextual cues and call the drill “skill development”. The drill itself may not be bad, like the balloon drill above, but the drill does not fit the objective or purpose, which makes it inappropriate.

The goal in practice design should be to incorporate as many drills like #2 above that maintain some or all of the representativeness of a game, and also to incorporate a few of the drills like #1 to have some fun and train different qualities, while leaving drills like #3 to those trying to make a living through their YouTube hustle.

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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One Response to “Goalkeeping drills and perceptual cues”

  1. Mike says:

    Everyone is looking for the magic bullet. “Do this ONE thing and it will change your life.”
    Unfortunately it is never that simple.

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