Goalkeeper communication requires assertiveness and leadership. Keepers need to be clear, loud and direct at all times in order to organise their team to defend against attacks from the opposition. In many ways, keepers are the “default” team captain.
While verbal communication may not come naturally to every goalkeeper, it’s a (vital) skill that can be learned. Here’s some of the most commonly used verbal directions that you can incorporate into your game.
“Keeper” or “Away”
When to use: to claim a ball, or clear it.
These are the two simplest instructions you can give to your team. It’s well understood in the modern game that a “keeper” shout means “goalkeeper’s ball” and “away” means “get the ball away”. Remember that you can be penalised for shouting “mine”, as that could be anyone on the pitch.
These calls are particularly useful for claiming high balls, including set pieces/corners, where your defenders will be looking to clear the ball. Without your instruction it’s their job to win it, and get it clear of danger. But if you claim it, then your teammate needs to trust that you’re inbound and avoid obstructing you.
It takes experience to judge when it’s a “keepers” or an “away”. Generally speaking you claim any ball where your input decreases the chance of a goal; otherwise allow your team to do their job by clearing it.
“Push Up” or “Drop”
When to use: to tell your team to press or defend.
As a goalkeeper, you’re the best observer of the game. This means you can judge pressure better than anyone else on the pitch. Here’s how to use “push up” and “drop” instructions.
You’d shout “push up” or “step up” when your team is in a position to apply pressure. For example:
- You’ve got possession of the ball and you’re about to distribute it to your team
- A clearance has just been made by your team, and they can build an attack.
The idea of pushing up the pitch is to press the opposition rather than playing them on-side too deep in your own half.
In my post How to Catch Crosses Played into the Box I highlight the difficulties — based on my own experience — that a deep defence causes keepers. It includes a helpful tactical demonstration video by FourFourTwo.
You’d shout “drop” or “get back” when your team needs to defend pressure. For example:
- You see an opponent looking to play a ball over the top to an unmarked man
- There’s not enough of your players back to cover a counter-attack
It’s important that you use your vision of the pitch to read the game and prevent dangerous attacks before they occur.
For both of these instructions, you can add a specific player’s name to the end. For example “push up Lewis!”.
“Back” or “Home”
When to use: to call for a backpass.
This instruction is very simple. If a teammate in possession is under pressure and it’s safer to play it back to you than go forward, then you can make yourself an option by shouting “back” or “home”.
When to use: to let your player know a ball is theirs to claim.
When you distribute the ball to your team it’s not always clear who it’s intended for. Often more than one of your players will go for the same ball, which creates confusion — even collisions.
To avoid this problem put a name on the ball you’ve distributed. If your team mate is called ‘Ben’, then as you throw or kick the ball in his direction, shout “Ben!”.
“Man On”, “…Right Shoulder”, “…Left”
When to use: to let your player know an opposing player is coming.
Goalkeepers should constantly let players in their half — particularly in and around the box — know about players trying to dispossess them. The standard call is “man on” or “man up”.
Generally a standalone “man on” implies the player is coming from a player’s blind spot — behind, or from the sides. To add more accuracy to the shout without losing conciseness, add other (more descriptive) words such as:
- “Man on, right shoulder” or “Man on, left shoulder” — to describe a player coming from the direction of the player’s right shoulder, slightly behind
- “Man on, left” or “Man on, right” — to describe a player coming directly from the left or right of the player
When to use: to Instruct a player to hold the ball.
There’s situations where your team is best off holding the attacker back rather than jumping into a challenge. This is known as “containing” or “jockeying”.
It’s important to appreciate that your player doesn’t always need to tackle an opponent to dispossess them or slow their progress. This is particularly true of counter-attacks, where the opposition is in possession of the ball, running towards your defence at speed. If your last defender commits and fails to win the ball, then there’s a one-on-one situation — the prime position to score.
Telling your player to “contain” lets them know to hold the attacker at bay until more of the team can drop back, regain shape, and assist in getting the ball to safety.
When to use: to tell a defender to cover the goal.
A common defensive mistake is to be caught the wrong side of the opposing player. This means that the the attacker is able to either play or shoot the ball in the direction of the goal without it being obstructed. It often happens when defenders are:
- Slower than the opposing attacker who’s able to quickly change direction
- Caught out by losing track of their position on the pitch in relation to the goal
- Too heavily focused on the weak/strong foot of the attacker
By shouting “goal side” you’re letting a player know that he/she needs to obstruct the goal, in order to prevent a dangerous run, pass, cross or shot.
“Wall. X People. Left, Left… Stop!”
When to use: to organise a wall.
Goalkeepers need to rapidly organise walls to protect their goal against direct free kicks. Simple, assertive communication is essential for this.
As soon as the free kick is awarded the keeper has to act. Here’s the steps I recommend:
- Shout “wall!” to alert your players to group together.
- Say the number of people you want in the wall. If you want four people simply shout “four people!”.
- If there’s no clarity on who should be in the wall, or your defenders are wasting valuable time, then you need to call out specific names and order them to get into the wall (e.g. “Dan – in the wall”)
- Call “left” or “right” repeatedly until the wall is well positioned. You’re the only person with a clear view — so you have to manoeuvre the wall to protect the goal.
- Shout “stop!” to halt the wall in position and get set for the free kick.
Remember that you have a matter of seconds to arrange your wall. If your team mates aren’t acting quickly enough then you need to raise your voice and demand that they move. It’s not down to other players to decide where they stand — it’s your goal, your responsibility.
“Front Post”, “Back Post”, “Penalty Spot”, “Edge of the Box”
When to use: to defend specific areas during a corner or set piece.
During corners or set pieces your players need to mark up according to the instructions you communicate to them. If your team fails to get organised quickly enough then it’s going to be easier for the opposition to score. It’s the keeper’s role to boss the area and alert their players to the potential dangers.
Here’s some example shouts you might make:
- “Front post” or “back post” — to order one of your players to stand on a post to protect the goal on corners (or free kicks near the corner).
- “Penalty spot” — to order a player to mark up an unmarked spare man around the centre of the penalty box.
- “Edge of the box” — to order a player to mark up an unmarked spare man at the edge of the penalty box.
- “Number x” — to order a player to mark up a specific player (e.g. “number nine”).
As a keeper you’ll sense the threats and instinctively know who should be picked up. Assign orders to specific players (e.g. “Tom – front post, Nick – back post, Adam – get penalty spot”). You have to give these orders prior to the kick being taken so that you’re set to claim the ball, if necessary.
“Quicker”, “Slow It Down”, “Stay Alert”, “Focus”
When to use: to constructively criticise your team
Offer constructive criticisms when your dissatisfied with the performance. If your team is making mistakes that are creating unnecessary pressure, then you might be the only player with the energy to correct it.
In the majority of cases avoidable errors comes from feelings of pressure, tiredness, and lack of concentration. The goalkeeper should pick their players up on these so that next time they will work harder to avoid making the same mistake.
There is a risk you’ll become a villain within your own team if your criticisms aren’t positive, or only serve to expose people’s weaknesses. But on the other hand, don’t be frightened to speak up if your valuable input is clearly needed. Try to offer criticisms as advice; like a captain would.
“Good Job”, “Keep Working”, “Last Five”, “No Slacking”
When to use: to encourage your team.
Encouragement is best offered when you’re satisfied with the performance and you want the team to keep it up.
Importantly, to regularly win games your team needs to keep on working hard through the whole 90 minutes. They have to stay on the ball, alert, non-complacent. You can help your team to maintain their input levels by injecting some extra energy through encouragement.
You may, for example, suss out that certain defenders need positive reinforcement throughout the game to maintain their work rate. Focus on those guys.
It’s essential that goalkeepers learn to communicate instructions clearly throughout games. It does however become easier the longer you play with the same group of players — once you get to know people’s roles, strengths/weaknesses, and individual playing styles.