by Erik Imler

This past weekend was our Spring season Youth Academy Showcase event (U9-U11 boys and girls) where teams from all over the state converged on Greensboro, NC to play in a 2 day/3 game format. Our players really look forward to this event because we get to match up against teams we haven’t seen before…not to mention all of the ‘off the field’ stuff which provides plenty of opportunities for the players to bond while running from hotel room to hotel room and splashing around in the pool.

This was an eye opening experience for me this weekend with my U11 boys team.  We had primarily been playing 6v6 all season. This weekend we played 8v8 on what seemed to be a gigantic field. The players adjusted well for the most part. I found myself in a coaching conundrum though.

And here’s why….

For as long as I have known these players, the ideas of passing and sharing the ball has been the primary message. They are quick to now tell me…“IF YOU CAN’T PASS, YOU CAN’T PLAY.” But since the field was so big, and since the opponent’s back line was so high, there was constantly 35-40 yards of space to exploit. As we secured possession, I was constantly finding myself eager to help the players see that the ‘BIG BALL’ was ON! “Just play it behind them…and GO!” 

I felt bad about the words coming out of mouth. It felt a little like anti-soccer bordering on ‘kick & run.’ When I was a player, I had the fortune of playing for teams that valued having the ball and keeping possession once we had it. Numerous teams I was a part of were very successful. Therefore, passing and sharing the ball is the style I want my teams to emulate. Maybe trying to constantly play in behind was a bit of the long ball mentality. But that’s what the game asked for. The space was there to exploit.


The spaces behind our back line was there to exploit as well. But since I have always encouraged my GK to play like a field player and not be afraid to come out of his box, I didn’t feel as nervous or anxious. I would constantly hear the opposing coach or parents on the opposite sideline scream, “The goalie is way out of his box!” 

Yes.  He is out of his box.  He needs to be out of his box. That’s because he needs to be connected to his back line.  If a big ball gets played behind our defenders, our defenders know that they can pass the ball back to our GK. He will never be too far away. The other advantage is that the GK can step up and clear the ball away from danger…maybe even start a counter-attack with one foot through the ball.

There I go with the big ball dialogue again. But it was on all day long!!!

Why does it seem that most coaches are so hesitant to develop the GK position?  Why is that I rarely hear another coach talk to his GK during the flow of play?

I consistently tell my young keepers that in order to be a good, you must have good feet. You cannot be a shot stopper ONLY. Coaches – breed confidence in your GK’s to come out of their area, play with their feet, stay connected to their back line and communicate relentlessly.




About Erik Imler

A Retired Professional Player, NCAA Champion (1989,1991,1992), and 1992 U.S. Olympic Team (Barcelona, Spain)who is dis-satisfied with the status quo of youth soccer development in the United States and motivated to create a youth program that addresses the most prominent technical deficiencies in many youth players - passing & receiving.

  • How true! Any advice on how to organize practice for keepers? Is it simply to have them do everything like a field player for some part of practice and then do keeper specific training for another part? In looking around I’ve found very little good goalkeeper training – or anything advanced, technical for them. (plenty of the shot stopping stuff, always welcome for any pointers to good info!)

    • GK need to be playing as much as possible with their feet in team training exercises. In addition, GK need focused and specific work addressing balls they will have to deal with at their feet during a game. To simplify, GK’s need to be able to strike a rolling ball with both the left and right foot. They also need a steady diet of dealing with balls coming from angles…receive (with one touch) with open hips and pass/strike ball in opposite direction (2nd touch).

  • Our U11s were at a tournament in Myrtle Beach this weekend and encountered the same situation. Good possession play by our boys out of the back and through midfield drew the opponent’s defense up creating space in behind. While I am all for possession, sometime the game calls for a through ball. Our boys impressed me with their ability to control the ball, get their head up and find a teammate making a positive run into space. Not just straight up and down the field, but I was most impressed with the angled through balls to the opposite side of the field. Those balls kept the opponents unbalanced. Possession only works if you can ultimately put the ball in the net and sometimes you have to adjust to what the game gives you.

  • Pingback: “GK’s – Play Like a Field Player” – Observations AND conversations

  • Pingback: Play What the Game Gives You – Observations AND conversations

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *