It has been said that a 5-a-side goalkeeper accounts for as much as 60% of the success of the entire team. Debate the number all you want, but the majority of players would agree: it’s the most important position on the court.
The goalkeeper is the last line of defense; the guardian of the gate through which the ball must not pass. Do that job well and you’re a hero, but if you get it wrong it’s a different story. You’re a calamity, a loose-cannon that the rest of the team fear; their criticism only held back by the fact that none of them want to go in goal instead.
Why you need a goalkeeping specialist if you ever want to be a serious team
Goalkeeping duties in 5-a-side are all too often assigned to a reluctant outfield player, and it’s one of the main reasons why teams lose games. If you haven’t got a specialist keeper who wants to play in goal, it’s going to undermine a lot of the good work that the rest of the team does.
Whether you’re playing there because you love it, or whether you’re the reluctant stand-in, knowing the keys of good 5-a-side goalkeeping can dramatically improve your performance and transform you from a blundering butterfingers into the cat-like king of the court.
Meet the Experts
To make sure that this guide is your definitive goalkeeping resource, we’ve enlisted the help of two 5-a-side goalkeeping legends. You’ll see their tips throughout the article:
- Roger Paul Noveal, the man who they know on the 5-a-side circuit quite simply as ‘The Cat’. With nearly 20 years playing in goal for some of the best 5-a-side teams, and winning multiple national titles, he’s seen it all.
- Ashoor – Goalkeeper for the most successful 5-a-side team of 2014, West 13. These guys won almost every major tournament that could be won, and it was thanks in no small part to having a quality goalkeeper between the sticks.
So, let’s get on to looking at the key ingredients of top 5-a-side goalkeeping:
5-a-side isn’t like the 11-a-side game. The biggest difference for a goalkeeper – and also what makes so many of them love the smaller format – is the huge amount more action that they’re involved in. Players can, and very often do, shoot from absolutely anywhere.
In the Premier League 2014/15 season, teams took an average of around 13 shots per 90-minute game. Only 4 of them were on target, leaving the goalkeeper with lots of quiet periods. In 5-a-side it couldn’t be more different: barely a minute goes by where you aren’t called into action. In 11-a-side you’re most worried as a keeper when the ball is anywhere near your 18-yard box, but 5-a-side is played almost as if the entire game is going on in this area.
Because of the frantic nature of the game, there’s no time for leaning back on the crossbar and having a rest. 5-a-side goalkeeping should be every bit as exhausting as being an outfield player because you need to be alert all the time; constantly re-positioning yourself as the play unfolds. Get on your toes and be ready at any moment.
Ever since the first goalkeeper boldly took up his position between the posts, the goalkeeping profession has been associated with people who were just a little bit crazy. But if the 11-a-side keeper can be described as slightly mad, the 5-a-side keeper would almost be candidate for sectioning under the Mental Health Act – they take craziness to a whole new level.
It takes a special sort of individual who is happy to place his body on the line to keep goal in 5-a-side. A lot of the time we’re not talking about glamorous, slow-motion, fingertip saves you might see on TV with keepers at full stretch turning shots round the post from 30 yards.
No, most of the shots coming a 5-a-side goalkeeper’s way are struck from close range, usually requiring saving through nothing but pure instinct. Shots are fired at your body, your legs, your head, and eventually any keeper worth his salt will end up taking a couple in the crown jewels too.
Getting enough padding and wearing finger-protection gloves can help players feel more comfortable, but at the end of the day it’s more about having the minerals for the job. At times, you’re going to need balls the size of coconuts…. coconuts made of steel, ideally. If you’re fearful of doing whatever it takes to keep the ball out of your net, you might as well give up now.
5-a-side goals might not be tall but they can still be very wide, up to 16ft. So even with an enormous reach you’re still going to be beaten by shots into the corner if you stay on your line:
Fortunately, the 5-a-side goalkeeper usually has a D-shaped area in which he operates, and this should be used to its full extent. If there’s an opponent bearing down on goal, you want to be right out on the edge of the area shutting down the angle.
When it comes to 5-a-side goalkeeping there are a few specialist skills that you need to learn:
Stay low so that you’re ready to deal with any shots that come your way: the 5-a-side keeper has the luxury not to need to worry about shots above waist-height. If you’re beaten it will be low-down, and if your stance is bolt-upright it’s going to take you longer to get down to any shots.
Understand the difference between ‘blocking’ and ‘saving’: ‘Saving’ is where you’re dealing with shots coming from distance – where you get at least a split second to think about how you might deal with it, often diving to get a hand on it. ‘Blocking’, however, is the more common technique for 5-a-side and that’s where you simply throw yourself in front of a shot – nearly always from close-range – trying to give them as little of the goal as possible to aim for. Blocking can be done by going to ground, or by taking up more of a kneeling position (the advantage being that it’s easier to react to the shot-fake in the latter position). Pick a blocking technique that works for you and develop it – it’s going to be a vital part of your goalkeeping toolkit.
Make maximum use of your feet: In 5-a-side there simply isn’t time to think about most of the shots that come your way, and in a lot of cases you won’t even have time to dive, let alone make a catch. It’s often a lot quicker to stretch a leg out to the side than it is to dive down to make the save with your hand. If you can turn your feet outwards as you make contact then this should allow you to get a solid block on the ball, repelling it well away from the goal.
It goes without saying that the more agile you are, the quicker you can respond to shots, even dodgy deflections, that come your way.
6) Communication & Organisation
As a goalkeeper, you don’t want the opposition to have any shots at you at all – you don’t even want them getting the scent of an opportunity.
You might think that there’s not much you can do about what happens outside of your area as a goalkeeper, but you’d be wrong. If a goalkeeper can communicate effectively with their teammates – in a clear and helpful way – he can snuff out shots before they’ve ever been taken.
This involves ensuring that your players don’t switch off, and that they pick up the opposition players. Crucially, you don’t want your teammates to let the other team have any shooting opportunities that come from the middle of the pitch – instead, encourage them to show their opponents wide, where you have a much better chance of narrowing the angle and making the save.
If you can mould one or two trusty defenders to respond to your instructions that will help immensely. When the ball gets anywhere near your area they almost become keepers themselves, throwing their body in the way to make the block, although they obviously can’t use their hands.
For every wonder-save that gets made on the 5-a-side court, it seems there’s another goal that’s given away from poor distribution. You know the situation: the keeper is looking around thinking “who do I throw it out to?”, but none of his teammates seem to be moving. Eventually out of impatience he chucks it at one of his players who loses it and the opposition end up scoring a cheap goal.
Getting distribution right is about three things: players moving for you, having the patience to wait for this to happen (or at least giving them this instruction), and then giving them a quality roll-out.
Lawn bowls image used under creative commons license courtesy of Wikipedia.