The GoalKeeper: A natural leadership position

I’ve spent twenty years of my life as a soccer coach and I can say with absolute certainty that having a good goalkeeper is crucial. Every successful team I’ve coached had a good goalkeeper. But the reality is a good goalkeeper isn’t enough, we need goalkeepers who are also willing to lead. In the same way that goalkeepers are working hard to develop their technical skills we also need them working to develop their leadership skills. When you find a world-class goalkeeper you will also find a leader – the two go hand in hand, but we don’t talk about this often enough.

Let’s look at some of the reasons why goalkeepers have the perfect opportunity to be team leaders:

  1. Great leaders do the dirty work: I strongly believe that great leaders are willing to do the dirty work (the thankless jobs that others don’t want to do) and the goalkeeper position lends itself to this opportunity. Goalkeepers are asked to do things to their bodies that most people consider outright crazy! Because they are willing to sacrifice their bodies for the good of the team they often earn the respect of their teammates. Great leaders are willing to sacrifice themselves for the team. 
  2. Great leaders participate in less than optimal conditions: Too often I hear from leaders who don’t want to lead until they know for sure that they will be successful, but great leaders are willing to take action even in the face of possible failure. Every time a goalkeeper takes the field they are faced will circumstances that don’t lend themselves to success. The field conditions, the pace of the game, the talent of the opposition, a foul called in the box, the weather, or a field player who isn’t playing well are all elements that a goalkeeper cannot control, but goalkeepers are asked to perform regardless of the conditions. Great leaders are willing to participate even when the circumstances are challenging.
  3. Great leaders bring out the best in others: One of the unique realities of being a goalkeeper is the fact that they can save a game but it is almost impossible for them to win a game. But the fact is they can’t save a game alone, they need the field players to play well and great goalkeepers are willing to do whatever it takes to help the field players to be at their very best.  I love to watch how a goalkeeper is able to bring out the best in ten field players who each have different personalities. It is amazing to watch a goalkeeper who can be vocally demanding when a field player makes a mistake but a few minutes later they are beyond animated in giving praise to the same field player. By managing the field players goalkeepers are putting the team in a position to be successful. Great leaders understand how to bring out the best in others. 
  4. Great leaders communicate clearly and in a timely fashion: The communication of a goalkeeper is critical. When they are communicating with the field players rarely is time on their side. Too many leaders want to wait to find the ideal time to talk about something but great goalkeepers know if they don’t say something right now it could cost the team a goal. The best goalkeepers are able to communicate effectively by saying less because they focus on the important details that pertain to that exact moment. Great leaders work to develop their communication skills.
  5. Great leaders have your back: Goalkeepers literally have your back. They are the last line of defense. If you get beat, their job is to save you. Great leaders alway have your back. 

I believe that leadership is all about influence and goalkeepers have so many opportunities to influence the game and to influence their teammates. When a goalkeeper receives the ball they are able to make a decision; keep the ball at their at feet to slow down the game or distribute quickly to build the attack. This decision-making process directly influences the game. When a goalkeeper makes a big save they have to decide how to respond. They can jump to their feet and fire up the team or hang their head in disappointment that they even had to make the save. The decision about how to use their body language directly influences others.

Goalkeepers, if you want to be a great goalkeeper I would suggest a few things: get specific goalkeeper training on the technical and tactical side of the game (I’m a big fan of Camp Shutout* and PAWS), get as close as you can to the training routines of great goalkeepers (go to college, pro, and international games an hour early to watch the goalkeepers warm-up), know that your fitness is incredibly important (goalkeeping will wear on your body, please take care of your body by being fit), and invest in your leadership skills (yes, I can help with this part!).

Every time you take the field as a goalkeeper you have the opportunity to lead, but the question is this; are you willing to embrace your leadership role? Leadership is a skill and I invite you to make the choice to develop those skills today. Come on, you stop rockets with your hands, you can do this!