Soccer 101 – Goalkeeper

Soccer 101 – Goalkeeper

(Atlanta – GA / By Glenn Boylan)

As a soccer fan, I know the basics of the game and can recognize good play when I see it. I’ve kicked the ball around, but I’ve never been coached on how to really play the game. So I was interested to learn what it really takes to play soccer at high level. And if you want to learn something, there’s no better place to go than to college.

In the Soccer 101 series, 10Soccer will talk with 4 outstanding college players about what it takes to play goal, defense, the midfield, and to be a striker. Kelsey Griswold of the Georgia Gwinnett College women’s team will talk to us about being a defender. Ashley Nagy and Stephen McGill from Georgia State University will be our guides to the midfield and forward positions.


But we’ll start Soccer 101 with Lewis Sharpe and the goalie position. Lewis came to the Georgia Gwinnett men’s team last year after a great prep career in Newcastle, England. In England, Lewis won seven prep titles, including a national championship. In his freshman year at GGC, Lewis played every minute of the Grizzlies’ A.I.I. championship season and was named to the A.I.I. All-Conference Honorable Mention team. With 53 saves and 8 shutouts last year, Lewis is clearly qualified to be our instructor for the first Soccer 101 class.

 Here’s what Lewis told us about the finer points of being a goaltender.



Lewis: It’s one of the basic principles of keeping: position. It’s one of the first things you learn – even if the ball’s at the other end, the goalkeeper’s got to be in the right position.

For example, maybe their defenders have it, and the first thing you’ve got to think is that ball could be coming over the top. You’ve got to be on your toes, suspect that the ball’s going to go over the head of the defender, and you’re going to have to maybe come out and clear it. It might be outside your box so you might not be able to use your hands. You’ve got to be on your toes for that.

As the player comes towards the goal, you can’t stay out, because then someone will put it over your head. You’ve got to adjust your position and drop off. It’s really fine inches that you’ve got to judge.

Obviously, if the ball’s coming down the left, you’ve got to adjust in the goal, and open your body up as the cross is coming in. If it’s coming from the left, you don’t want to be in the middle of your goal, or you’re going to leave too much space to the left. It’s front and back [vertical position on the field], just as much. You never stop moving. You’re never still.

 Watching the Positions of Other Players

Lewis: That’s a key because, from the back, I’m the only position that sees everything. Defenders – they see next most. Forwards – they’ve got their back to the goal. But I see the whole pitch. So, what I’m doing is I’m looking – say the ball’s over there. I’m looking to see if my fullback’s in the right position, if my defense is in the right position. I’ve got to keep the people in front of me right, as well as keeping my eye on the ball. I’ve got to organize a lot.

 10SOCCER-England C v Czech Republic


Lewis: That’s vitally important — communication between the whole team — but mainly the defense and the keeper; because I can’t shout all over the pitch to the forwards, that’s the midfield’s job. The defense, that’s who I need to control. That’s my job.

You don’t want to make it too long. It’s a split-second. So, I’ll say, “Right shoulder.” I’ll call the name of my defender. Say Sanchez is playing right back. I’ll say, “Sanchez, right shoulder.” Immediately, he’s going to look over his right shoulder. He sees the man. Literally, in one second, I’ve told him. You’ve got to get information to them as quick as possible, so that they can react as quick as possible. And then I’ve got to get back on the ball straight away. I can’t look away too long. Just quick instructions.

Say we clear the ball. Our striker’s on the counter attack. I’m screaming as loud as I can, “Get up! Get up! Push up!” to get that line as high as I can. “Chase the ball. Drop off.” Just simple things we’ve got to get to them quickly.

 Playing The Ball As It Comes In the Box

Lewis: Well, the first thing: just as he’s kicking it, the position as he hits the ball – that’s vital. And then as the ball comes in, you haven’t got much time to decide – maybe two seconds, three seconds. And you’ve got to decide stay or go. One or the other. If you get caught in the middle — caught in no man’s land — you’re in trouble.

If the shot comes in clear on goal, then you’ve got to make another decision: punch or catch. If the ball is coming in flat, maybe head height, maybe a little lower, it might be better to punch it. And maybe he whips it in with a lot of pace — it might be a punch. And also, the conditions can play a part. If it’s really wet, the grip on the ball can be a lot less. So, if it’s wet, you might want to play it safe and punch it.

Nine times out of ten, if it’s getting hung up in the air, it’s going to be a catch; but if you get some good crosses, then you’ve got a ball which is hard to deal with. So, you’ve got to make that decision.

 Defending Set Pieces

Lewis: Corners and free kicks are completely different. We’ll start with corners. Most teams will have a man on the post. One out of maybe ten teams won’t put a man on the post. But you’ll have a man on the front post, possibly a man on the back as well. That’s in case they win the header.


As soon as the ball goes out for a corner, the first thing I’m thinking is, “Right. Organize it now.” That’s the first thing. Make sure every, single man has got a man and there’s no free [offensive] men. If there’s a free man in the box, that cannot happen. That’s rule number one.

Before the ball’s even come in, you’ve got to get the defense organized. That’s first and foremost. There’ll be a board [before] the game, and they’ll [the coaches] say, “If we’ve got a defensive corner, this is who’s going to be in the box.”

It won’t be as a number [the opposing player’s number]. It won’t be an individual man. You’ll probably go height for height. If you’ve got a six-foot-five player for them, we’re going to put one of our taller players [on him].

Then, obviously, as the ball comes in, it’s the same as the cross – do you come or not?

Free kicks — you’re never going to have a man on the post in a free kick, no matter where it is — because that’s going to play everyone onside. If there’s a man on the post, they can’t be offside.

Say the ball is coming in deep, and it’s not going to be a shot, it’s more wide. It’s going to be a cross. The first thing I’m thinking is the defensive line has to be straight — completely — because we’re going to try and put them offside. As the ball comes in, maybe they step up or maybe they drop off, depending on the flight. But you’ve got to have that straight line. You’ll see it every time.

And then if it’s a shot, maybe within 25 yards, you’re going to set a wall. It could be two men, up to five men. It all depends how close it is. Say the wall’s on the left side. My job is that right side. I do not want to get beat that side. If it goes over the wall and beats me in the top corner on the other side, there’s nothing I can do. The wall’s primarily focused on that side. I’ll be primarily focused on the other side and get across if I can.

If it’s more central obviously the wall will be central. It’s a bit harder to judge because you don’t know where he’s going. So, the wall is so important to set right.

 Penalty Kicks

Lewis: That’s the least pressure you’ll get in a game. No pressure on you at all. You can be the hero. There’s nothing to lose and everything to gain. Penalty shot is the perfect situation — for me anyway. I love playing them. But if you asked a striker that, you’ll get a different answer.

It’s all in the mind, penalties. For both the striker and the keeper, in my opinion. If you’ve got a good penalty taker and he bends it top corner, odds are against the goalkeeper. So it’s all mind games.

You might try and wave your hands. Some keepers touch the ball. Some keepers will fake one way and go the other. It’s just all personal preference. Just do anything to put the striker off and really made it as uncomfortable as possible. Put all the pressure on him.

 Goal Kicks

Lewis: Well, that’s really an important part of the game now: distribution. Especially in the last 10, 15 years, it’s gotten a lot bigger. We’ll try and play short if we can. So, the first thing is the fullbacks. I’m going to give it to them short and try and play from the back.

But if I want to go long I’m not just going run up and hoof it. I know who’s good in the air on our team. I know who to aim for. You want to aim for our big guy or somebody on the wing who’s good in the air. You’ve got to direct it to that corner. Or, say they’ve got a big defender who’s winning every header, [who’s] six-foot-six. You don’t want to put it right on his head. He’ll just beat you. So there’s a lot more to it than just kicking it.

 The Hardest Part About Being a Goalkeeper

Lewis: Mentally. That’s the number one thing. There’s technical stuff, but it’s more mental than any other position. If you make a mistake in goal, it’s a goal. A striker makes a mistake, it’s forgotten. There’s no hiding in goal.

You can never switch off for one second, no matter where the ball is. You’re always organizing. You’re covering your position. You’re just keeping everything right. When you’re playing on a good team, you’ve got to make maybe one save in the whole game — that could decide the game. You might not have a shot on target until the last minute. You’ve got to stay focused — you cannot switch off at any time.

And say you make a mistake. The most important thing is not to say, “Oh, I made a mistake.” It’s how we recover from that mistake. That’s what makes a better goalkeeper. Some goalkeepers, you can get them to make a mistake, and that’s it. Their head’s gone. You need to be able to recover. Everyone’s going to make mistakes. Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern — everyone’s going to make mistakes. They recover from it straight away. You never understand that fully until you’re playing goal.



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