Potentially the most underrated skill of a goalkeeper and often looked over in training, communication can be the greatest tool in a keeper’s arsenal. As a goalkeeper, you’re in the position that you can see the whole pitch and what’s going on outfield, meaning that effective communication can alert defenders to potential threats and stop an attack before it begins.
The key to effective communication can be broken down into 3 categories:
- What you say
- How you say it
- When you say it
What you say
Being Specific and concise
When talking to your teammates, try to make the information as concise as possible; say as much as necessary and no more. If you give your teammates longer commands during play, it may serve as a distraction or lead your communication losing its impact.
Be efficient with what you say by giving instructions as trigger words, for example slide, switch and squeeze. You can establish an understanding with your teammates in training as to what each of these trigger words mean, so that when it comes to matches they know what to do when they hear each command. This will maintain the impact your words have and makes the information easy to recognise and respond to in the heat of the match.
Often when a keeper communicates they will give general information to direct the defensive unit as a whole. While this is effective and a good start, keepers can elevate their communication skills to the next level by then giving specific information to individual members within the defensive unit.
Let’s say you’ve told the defence to “slide” or “shift” towards one side of the pitch and you notice that your left back is slightly out of position. Identify who you are instructing by using their name, followed by the necessary information. So, following the above example, this may sound like “*name* step and slide right”. This ensures you grab their attention and you can start to manage the defence on an individual level, as well as a whole unit.
Specificity also comes into the instructions, for example instead of just telling a teammate they have a “man-on” you can let them know where by saying, “man-on left shoulder”. These extra little details will allow the keeper to maintain more control over the defensive third of the pitch.
Communication is about helping your teammates, not shouting and swearing at them. Don’t be afraid to give encouragement and praise and let what you say focus on what they can do to prevent a goal scoring opportunity, not what they did wrong previously.
How you say it
Being confident, clear and commanding
I’ve known a lot of young goalkeepers who suddenly come over shy when faced with commanding their teammates, and often they know what to say, but don’t have the confidence to say it. I was in the same position and to overcome this I made my teammates believe I was confident with my tone of voice.
Try make the words you use short and sharp and be clear, loud and commanding to give an air of confidence even if you’re not. Soon with time, exposure and experience even the quietest keepers’ confidence will grow and this will become second nature.
A strong commanding tone of voice gives the things you say more of an impact and teammates will be more likely to respond. Don’t ask them to do something, tell them!
Your tone of voice can also influence your teammates based on the level of urgency of a situation. A harsher, more stern tone can be used to indicate a higher level of danger, whereas if there is a low threat, a softer tone can be used to indicate to teammates they can relax on the ball.
When you say it
Communicate early and when necessary
You don’t want to be organising your teammates as a striker is lining up a shot at goal. At this late stage, the defence could be all over the place, but your focus should be on organising yourself to prevent the goal. As the striker comes into a shooting position, in most cases it is too late for something you say to have an impact on the play. Therefore, saying something such as “block” should be used as a quick command at most as you are setting.
Communication should also come early to give players time to process the information and make a decision before a threat occurs. For example, saying “man on” as your teammate is being tackled isn’t going to be effective.
And finally, many coaches tell their players to be talking constantly, but don’t fall into the trap of feeling that you must be talking non-stop. If you had someone droning on at you, you would switch off. The same applies here. Teammates will switch off. By communicating frequently throughout the match but at necessary points, not only will you save your voice, but importantly, what you say will have a greater impact on the players and they will be more likely to respond.