Recently, we have been training mostly young goalkeepers, and were reminded of something I have noticed in them for a long time: they like to guess where shots are going. As the title says, anticipation is a skill, and there is definitely a time to guess where the attacker is going to shoot. But if you are a young goalkeeper who has yet to learn the basics of getting into a good position and then reacting to the shot you see, it is a skill.
Anticipation is a skill – but use it wisely
Advanced, experienced goalkeepers use anticipation – an aspect of ‘reading the game’ – in a number of situations, from catching through balls, adjusting their starting position for a cross or most obviously, for penalty kicks. But what we are dealing with here is stopping shots.
Why would you ever guess or anticipate where an attacker is going to shoot? Generally speaking, you only want to do this in a situation where you are unlikely to be able to make a save, unless you have an advantage over the attacker by anticipating the shot properly. This usually means shots from close range, where the attacker has time and space to pick out a corner, and you do not have time to close in on him This often happens on game retakes, when the ball is not cleared properly and falls to an attacker right in front of goal. You can be sure and try to react when your opponent strikes from the six-metre mark A good goalkeeper will not only anticipate where the shot is going but will also influence the attacker to shoot where he or she wants the opponent to shoot
This is where improvement happens
It drives me a little crazy when goalkeepers don’t stand behind themselves to make saves and start gambling on shots from close range when they have more than a fair chance of making the save. I don’t think this is the time for gambling and to me it is a sign of fear and insecurity. Confident goalkeepers stand in a good position and react to the shot they see. Of course, some of these shots go in. We would not have a sport if goals never fell. But it is important to understand when it is good to anticipate (the odds are against you), and when you have to rely on yourself and your reflexes to see the shot and react to it (the odds are even).
Young goalkeepers gamble during training because they have not yet understood that the purpose of training is to improve their overall skills, and instead they try to save every individual shot they see by all possible means. This is not a bad instinct, but it deprives them of the opportunity to improve the simple but all-important skill of getting into a good position and then reacting correctly to the shot they see.
Starting from a good position, responding to a shot requires good balance and footwork, combined with the right technique. It must be done quickly, you have less than a second to react to a moderately hit shot from fifteen metres. As with any skill, the more you do it, the better you get at it. So when we organise a shooting activity with young goalkeepers, we do everything we can to encourage them not to gamble too much and to trust that even if they are beaten they have made the right decision by relying on their reaction speed and that this will only improve them and in the future they will be able to stop these shots. Gambled correctly and made a save in a shooting exercise? Great, but you don’t chase results in training, you follow a learning process and rather a goal against in training with the right choice than the other way around!
But if there is time for anticipation, shouldn’t that also be trained? Sure, and you can make exercises for it, but I think it’s best to train it in game situations during a team training rather than a specific goalkeeper training. It is difficult to recreate such situations realistically, unless you have defenders and attackers participating in goalkeeper training. The key, again, is to ensure that the young goalkeeper understands when to stand and react and when it might be best to anticipate.
I have mentioned how the skilful goalkeeper can sometimes turn opportunities around by influencing the attacker to shoot to a specific spot. The expression I have for this is, “Show them, and then take it away.” You can intentionally keep an attacker slightly off your goal line, exposing one side of the goal, and then you dive in that direction just as the attacker shoots. That is a very simplistic description and involves a lot of subtleties (ironically, it is less effective against lower-level players, who never raise their heads to look at the goalkeeper). But the idea is to give the attacker something to shoot at and then get a head start on the shot and move before the ball is hit. The risk is that you will get it wrong, so it is best to only make use of it in circumstances where the chances are already against you. In all other cases, the surest way of solving problems is to get into a good starting position smoothly and then react to the shot you see The more you do this in training, the better and faster you will perform it in matches.