suckling on goalkeeping

this article by Spurs goalkeeping coach Perry Suckling appeared in the Winter 2009
edition of Coaching magazine



The Spurs Goalkeeping Coach PERRY SUCKLING put on an excellent goalkeeping session in front of LFCA members (of whom incidentally he is one) and then answered the questions which follow.


Q What techniques are required when diving at an opponent’s feet?

A The most important element is to ensure that you get the ball and not the opponent otherwise you get the red card and are sent off. The hand shapes are vital because they are needed to block the ball if you are diving head first. Other keepers such as Newcastle’s Shay Given drop down making a cove with the legs but Shay’s hands are kept wide making himself a big barrier, whilst the Sunderland keeper Craig Gordon sits down on one leg with his other leg stretched wide and his hands up. This is because a lot of good strikers these days are trying to lift the ball over the keeper. So the keepers have to counteract that by splaying the hands up and wide.

It is vital also to know when to stay on your feet and when to go to ground. It is necessary when watching the attacker to adopt a lower stance with the arms down by the side of the feet and to watch for any little signs that will determine when you will pounce. These will include when the attacker has problems with a pass that is either too soft or too hard or takes a bad first touch. All of these give the keeper an opportunity to attack the ball.

Saving in these circumstances can be with the feet as well as the hands, especially where it is not possible to get a glove to the ball. Where an attacker is coming at you quickly you do not want to be coming out too quickly yourself, so you have to come down the line cautiously, slowly and being aware of what might happen. If he has the ball stuck under his feet or beyond playing distance that is

your opportunity to cover the ground quickly. Also the keeper should look at the angle of the run to see if he can turn the opponent away from the goal in an area of the keeper’s choosing and in effect saying "that’s the side I want you to go".

Early decisions are paramount, so if a ball is played through and is around the 18 yard box the first thing the keeper has to expect is a shot so he has to be fast enough down the line to intercept the through ball but not too far so as to be vulnerable to a chip over him. If the decision is to go for the ball it must be done quickly, without hesitation and leading with his hands so that he can quickly bring the ball into his body.

Other notable decisions include assessing whether the keeper is going to get to the ball first or at the same time as the attacker. If he thinks he can get there first he goes as I have said without hesitation.

If he feels it is likely to be at the same time the keeper must present a barrier by getting his hands as close to the ball as he can to effect a block. If the attacker has the ball at his feet coming at the keeper a more forthright block is needed and it becomes one of using the hands, body or legs where possible.


Q What decisions does the keeper have to make with the modern day ball, about when to catch, when to parry and when to turn the ball over or round the goal?

A There has been a change in this over the years as the balls are now a lot lighter than they used to be as a result of which they give the keeper numerous problems. Sometimes therefore the keepers do have difficulties in catching the ball and there is a skill in using a soft touch which a keeper should use if that problem arises. The idea is then to parry the ball down first and then collect it.

Neville Southall who was a great goalkeeper in his time now talks about the "thinking goalkeeper" who is able to choose quickly which type of save to make.  When the ball becomes slippery in the winter and the keeper is uncertain whether to catch or not he should basically just get his hands behind it, drop it onto the ground and then pick it up and that soft hand approach is a skill in itself.

I believe the keeper should  always have in his mind to catch the ball because that is the gold standard but at times safety decrees he must parry the ball to safety away from the goal with as much distance as possible. The game is so intense now, players are so quick and the ball is moving so much, it is far more difficult for the keeper nowadays than when I started out playing. That is especially so bearing in mind the heavy balls we were required to kick.


Q What are the qualities you should look for in a keeper?

A Apart from bravery, the keeper should be able to react to the ball quickly; should not be a gambler but instead should try to read the body shape of an attacker so he can assess and anticipate what the attacker may do. The keeper’s own body shape is also important, so he should be well balanced. It is important that the head, being the heaviest part of the frame, should not get jerked back and so to avoid this it should be forward with the chin tucked in towards the chest with the shoulders also forward, making that the basic fundamental set position.


Q How good should keepers be with their feet?

A Nowadays it is an every day part of the game for them especially in dealing with back-passes which play such an important part in the modern game. If you use Manchester United as an example they use Van der Sar so often exactly because he is so good with his feet especially as a passer of the ball.  Improvement in this skill can be made in training by keepers playing outfield for a while, to help them with their touch, but not of course to the detriment of their goalkeeping.

Therefore the current goalkeeper’s job is not only to save the ball, but also to set up attacks. There have been some changes to the old philosophy of keepers kicking as long as possible to cause knock-downs with attackers chasing down the second ball.

Teams such as Arsenal are now instead using their keeper to try to build from the back.


Q What do you look for in your keeper’s kicking?

A Apart from what I have mentioned about the use of the ball, they need to know firstly how to clear their lines and how to drive the ball. They must work on their touch and look to set up attacks. 

Their distribution from kicking from the hands is changing in that you do not frequently see these days the top keepers smash massive high balls, after a four-step run up. They are instead using a better volleying technique where the ball is hit flatter so the strikers can run on to it. Paul Robinson set up 8 goals for Spurs last season with his use of that type of kicking and so at the Club there are actually areas on the field where we want the ball launched to.


Q What do you work on with the younger keepers at the Club?

A We set up games and although we know the keepers will miss some efforts on goal, we nonetheless keep playing because at the youngest ages it does not matter about the score. If we lose so be

it, because we are not just about results on a Sunday.

What we are prepared to do is experiment and try to play our way so if a keeper can learn from making mistakes or errors at that stage of his career then in 10 years time he should have made all his mistakes and should then have both learned and benefitted from his experiences.

One of the things young keepers have to learn when they start to play on a full size pitch is to get to know the areas of the pitch which involve them such as the lines of the 6 & 18 yards boxes and the penalty spot. We ask the keepers to learn to make the right decisions at the right times.


Q What do you consider is approximately the best height for the present day professional goalkeeper?

A I am afraid that is essentially something which is the choice of the individual manager concerned. Martin Jol was very much a believer in having a 6 feet 4 inches goalkeeper, but Juande Ramos was flexible about it as long as they were 6 feet. What keepers have to be is flexible, mobile and quick. If they lack anything in inches they must make up for it by being explosive and Shay Given again is a very good example of this.

Likewise the keeper must be a good reader of the game and it certainly helps if the keeper has a natural spring.


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