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Why No Goalkeeper for the 4U, 5U, and 6U Age Divisions?

Why No Goalkeeper?

The view of no goalkeepers at the 4U, 5U, and 6U levels is shared and defended by US Youth Soccer, with much research and experience behind the viewpoint. Following is the rationale behind this recommendation.

1) Small-sided games for young children are most beneficial for learning basic motor skills, basic rules, and the fundamental concepts of the game. Having a goalkeeper causes one player to be isolated from the rest of the team and stand still for most of the game, but most players that young aren’t yet able to do that and stay engaged in the game. If the action is at the other end of the field, a young goalkeeper is likely to find some other activity to hold his or her attention—laying down, playing with the net, dancing??? We’ve all seen it.

2) Many very young children have great difficulty visually tracking a moving object, especially if that object is airborne. Most children younger than 9 or 10 are very reactionary in their movements and will duck or throw their hands in front of their face if the ball comes towards them. Anticipating where the ball might be shot is a skill that has often not yet developed (and likely won’t until age 9 or 10).

3) Being a goalkeeper asks players who may not have yet developed a lot of eye-hand coordination to essentially put their body in between the goal and the ball, usually while another child, who may be bigger, stronger, or faster, is barreling down on them. Young children placed in a goalkeeping role often do not actually develop many goalkeeping skills, and are more likely to be hit with the ball (or kicked or hit by another player) than to actually save it. In short, it increases the likelihood of injury and reduces the likelihood of having fun and learning something useful other than the fact that they do not like being goalie.

4) Most players that age severely dislike, if not fear, being goalkeeper, so the same one or two kids volunteer every week, and we want to avoid pigeonholing kids into the position of goalkeeper this early. The emphasis at this age should be on developing field skills and the fundamentals of dribbling, passing, shooting, and defending.

5) With small goals, the goalkeeper eliminates a lot of scoring, and we want to encourage kids to shoot and score. Players will still develop the necessary ball placement and accuracy skills without a goalkeeper. The US is never questioned on its ability to develop strong goalkeepers, but is obviously criticized for its ability to develop tactical, skilled field players, and this is the system that almost all other countries use.

The following is taken from the Position Statement of the 55 State Association technical directors on the position of goalkeeper:

“It is important to wait until children are better able--physically, mentally and emotionally--to handle the demands of being a goalkeeper. Introducing goalkeeping at a later age still allows plenty of time for children to grow up and be the best goalkeepers they can be; most likely keeping them engaged in playing soccer for many years to come. Once players take on the goalkeeper role, they tend to grow in the position through three general stages. Those stages are shot blocker, shot stopper and finally goalkeeper.

The shot blocker stage is one where the goalkeeper simply reacts to shots after they have been taken. He or she tries to get into position to make saves and this is sometimes merely blocking a shot and not making a clean catch. The attacking role of the shot blocker is usually just a punt of the ball downfield.

At the shot stopper stage, a player has progressed to not only making saves after a shot is taken but also being able to anticipate shots. With this improved ability to read the game, the shot stopper gets into better positions to make saves and begins to stop shots from being taken in the first place. The shot stopper now comes out on through balls and collects them before a shot is taken. The shot stopper also cuts out crosses before opponents can get to the ball. The shot stopper comes out in one-on-one situations and takes the ball off the attacker’s feet. The shot stopper can deal with the ball both before and after a shot is made. Distribution with some tactical thought on the attack is also developing for the shot stopper.

The goalkeeper stage is the complete package. The goalkeeper is highly athletic and physically fit. The goalkeeper is mentally tough, composed and confident. The goalkeeper has the full set of skills for the role to both win the ball (defending techniques) and to distribute the ball (attacking techniques). A full-fledged goalkeeper is indeed the last line of defense and the first line of attack. A goalkeeper not only makes saves but contributes to the attack with tactical and skillful distribution of the ball. The goalkeeper is physically and verbally connected to the rest of the team no matter where the ball is on the field. A first-rate goalkeeper is mentally involved in the entire match and is therefore physically ready when the time comes to perform.”