Goalkeepers are synonymous with mud. And until summer comes around, there’s no avoiding it.
Admittedly, wet mud provides some (but not many) advantages to goalkeepers — such as softer ground to land on, and the ability to slide through on one-on-ones in order to steal the ball from the striker’s feet.
But let’s face it — excessively wet, muddy conditions give keepers a lot to contend with. Given the choice, keepers wouldn’t choose to play on a horrendously muddy pitch that exaggerates each and every imperfection in their game.
So what can you do to prevent the sloppy, slippery, thick wet mud from getting the better of your matchday performance? How can you raise your game when the elements are so clearly against you?
Here’s some simple tips that will help you prepare for mud, and reduce mistakes under poor conditions.
1. Wear Boots Designed for Muddy Conditions
Some football boots, known as “soft ground” or “SG”, are specifically designed for wet and muddy conditions. They provide maximum traction on slippery pitches.
Using the correct footwear is vital for any footballer — especially goalkeepers. You need to be agile, able to quickly change direction, to rush off your line, deal with back-passes and to take goal kicks. Everything you do is influenced by your grip to the ground. So your boots are essential to both your match performance and confidence.
Take a look at this demonstration video from The Kit Lab, comparing soft ground boots to firm ground ones. It really highlights how the studs can affect your game. The presenter recommends long studs (e.g. 15mm) for extremely soft conditions.
2. Wear Shorts as Opposed to Trousers
Heavy, wet mud on your clothing affects your agility & mobility around the box, as well as how much power you generate on back-passes or goal kicks. If you’re currently wearing goalkeeping trousers in matches, then I’d suggest switching to shorts on muddy days to reduce the drag.
If you’re concerned about the loss of protection from wearing shorts, you need not worry. The ground will be so soft that your exposed knees are unlikely to suffer.
3. Warmup In A Waterproof Training Jacket
Just because the pitch is in a state doesn’t mean you have to start the match with a slippery, wet, heavy jersey.
If you warmup in a waterproof training jacket you’ll (at least) start out feeling a warm and fresh. You don’t have to spend a fortune for this luxury, either. You can pick up a goalkeeper training jacket for just £15 at specialist online stores.
4. Flatten Out The Corners of the Six Yard Box
Typically, in muddy conditions the six yard box is the most cut up, uneven area of the pitch.
Apart from the notoriously muddy goulmouth, the corners of the six yard box are also very sloppy, and difficult to play on. And that’s precisely where you’ll be taking goal kicks. It’s no wonder so many keepers struggle with kicking…
Importantly, what can you do about it?
I suggest that before each half begins take a minute to flatten out any obvious mud or divots that’ll prevent you from making a clean runup and strike. During the game you’ll have little time to do this.
You can also improve your goal kicks by using the soft ground to your advantage by creating carving a small slope behind the spot where you place the ball to ensure your boot hits the underside, achieving the elevation you need.
5. Mark the Centre of Your Goal
Muddy conditions make the pitch markings practically invisible. Keepers can easily misjudge the centre of their goal without the penalty spot properly marked out.
The simple solution to this inconvenience is to carve a prominent boot mark in your box as a reminder of your bearings. I’d usually mark the ground just in front of where the penalty spot should be.
6. Put a Glove Towel In The Net
Mud can make the ball feel like a bar of soap. As soon as it coats the palms of your gloves it practically deactivates the latex. But as a keeper you can’t afford to let these conditions get the better of you.
Rather than ignoring the problem and hoping for the best, you can maintain as much grip on your goalkeeper gloves as possible by keeping a small towel in your net. Wipe off excess mud whenever you get a safe opportunity (e.g. before taking a goal kick, or when a player is down).
You can also use the same towel to wipe the surface of your boots if you think the sticky mud is going to impede your strike of the ball.
This is all very similar to using a golf towel to clean your clubs and hands in order to maintain maximum friction. Similarly, every keeper should use one to reduce unnecessary mistakes in slippery conditions.
7. Keep a Water Bottle By The Post
Keeping a water bottle nearby is good practice for any weather conditions. However there’s times where water can specifically help nullify the negative impact of mud.
In some cases mud starts acting like cement. So you might want to use the water to wash the thick mud away from your gloves, by rubbing your palms together and flicking it off. Often that’s pretty effective at getting your grip back to normal.
You can also rinse the front of your boot (if they’re water resistant) to loosen mud if the towel appears to be spreading it around rather that removing it.
8. Take Spare Tops and Gloves (Optional)
The only downside to this is that you (or your parents) are going to have a lot more washing to do afterwards!
No matter how much you prepare yourself for wet, muddy conditions there’s no substitute for being alert and ready. Expect the ball to ‘zip’ over the surface, slip off your goalkeeper gloves, and unpredictably skim off the boots of players. Only concentration can prepare you for all of that.