Adventures in Coaching: Soft Players

Adventures in coaching is a series that focus on the trials and tribulations of coaching soccer to America’s youth. For the next several months this series will focus on the challenges of coaching goalkeepers at a high school level. Oh and did I mention this will involve a girls team as well? Today’s installment covers the issue of soft players.

One of the biggest problems when coaching goalkeepers is having to deal with soft players. Goalkeepers by definition have to be slightly crazy, and with that crazy comes a certain dedication to doing what it takes to make a save. Any goalkeeper can make an easy save, but to be truly special, a keeper needs to lay it all on the line to keep the ball out of the net. Not only does it prevent a goal from being scored, but a great save can inspire a team to greatness or give them that last bit of energy needed to seal a victory. That is why one of my biggest pet peeves is soft goalkeepers.

Over the past two weeks I have noticed an alarming trend among the goalkeepers I am coaching, an unwillingness to work hard. In my experience as a player and coach, goalkeeper training must be harder than any work done in an actual game. Part of this is because a keeper practice would consist of making about 10 saves, taking 10 punts, and then a few goal kicks for good measure. By working hard in practice, games will seem like a breeze.

These girls however would seem to disagree with my philosophy. While all of them are willing to go through the motions, very rarely is there a high level of exertion. Some of this may come from the lack of competition at different levels, the freshman and junior varsity starting keepers are obviously set, but another problem seems to be the keepers are a bit soft.

Perhaps the best example of soft players comes from our varsity players. One of the keepers played last year, while the other is a true freshman. Neither one of them really seems to understand the work required to be a top keeper. Both have problems such as missing practice for other activities, or having to sit out way to often for injuries. I think the freshman keeper has missed 4 of 12 practices already due to injury.

Fixing soft players is another problem entirely. With guys I could go with the classic route of work hard in practice or else you can run a lot at the end. For girls it doesn’t work quite as well. This threat ends with them getting pissed at me, and they begin to tune me out. I’ve learned to try and balance my desire for hard work, with emphasizing the things they are doing right. We will see how this works out.

I guess it would be a lot easier if one of the two was a stellar keeper already, but both of them have a lot of work to do. There are problems with their diving, their form is going to get them injured soon, their mental strength, as well as simple things like communication and catching the ball cleanly. The scrimmage the team has on Thursday should be interesting.

As I was telling the other coaches on Saturday, right now it is 5 to 6 pick’ems on who should start, and more than likely your choice will lose a game or two this season. But I guess that is what they are paying me the big bucks for.

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