Goalkeeper Positioning Tip on Engagement with Defence

So last Sunday I went to analyse my junior goalkeepers half way through the season, to see where they are at and what aspects we need to improve on. A common theme arose with all of them, except the 18's goalkeeper and that was that of Engagement with the Defensive Line.

So since I took over at this new club in the NPL I have had to go back to basics with technique first and then with game practice situations to help with positioning and decision making. What I saw on the day pleased me they all looked competent in this area, but there was an area that is probably seldom trained in isolated goalkeeper training and probably, due to space restrictions, team training is that of engagement between the Goalkeeper and Defensive Line.

I asked the question to my followers on @gkmanual twitter and it seems it is a global problem aswell.

Engagement with Defensive Line

Check out this photo below as an example of bad engagement

So why is this engagement bad? Ball was with attacking team deep in their half but goalkeeper hadn't re adjusted his position, he had been their throughout.

1. Sweeper Keeper

Hate this term but basically it will make people understand what we are talking about. See my blog on the Death of the Sweeper Keeper a few years ago to see how the role has changed again since then.


A Modern Goalkeeper needs to be good with their feet and available for defenders to play the ball back to for a switch the play or delay to get back into shape. With a goalkeeper so deep the defenders have to play a 40 yard ball back which is fraught with danger, like being underhit and intercepted or if it gets back to goalkeeper he is going to struggle to make a positive pass back into play with him being so far from the action.

If your team has the ball is it fine to be high but as soon as you lose possession you need to re assess your position which we will go into a little later.

2. Inviting Pressure

With the amount of space between the Goalkeeper and Defensive Line, it invites the ball over the top into this space, which will then trigger a 1v1 situation. With the goalkeeper higher this ball is less likely and the attacking team will look for a shorter pass. Or if they do play that ball over top it is easier to deal with by the goalkeeper.

3. Communication

Being so far away from defenders disengages you from play it makes you either scream to defenders or not talk at all, rather than calm constant constructive talking if you are within 10-20 yards. Communication also keeps you in the game in spells you do not touch the ball so being closer to defensive line makes you feel like you are still in the game.

4. Tactical Understanding

You need, as a goalkeeper to be able to read the game. What will happen next? What is a likely scenario? Can I affect these situations? Sitting deep disengages you from the game, makes judging a ball over top harder and shows you the need to improve your tactical understanding of the game. Being close to play allows you organise defence, create attacks as you can see the whole game happen. Today's Goalkeeper is not last line of defence but 1st line of attack.

Examples of Good Positioning & Engagement.

This is good engagement when your team has the ball on halfway line or centre circle.

Here the goalkeeper is in the D of the Penalty Area, proactive, walking towards the ball and alert. His team have the ball on the halfway line. He is then available for the long backpass from player under pressure or a shorter backpass.

When to Re-Set

If your team loses possession here then you should look at what the possibilities are quickly and look to re set to a more neutral position around the penalty spot area.

1. Can he shoot?

With modern day football players are taking shots from alot longer so you need to be aware of this. Use your tactical understanding of the game to make your decision.

a) Does he have pressure on him?

b) Has he looked up to see my position?

c) Is his body language setting up for a shot?

If a shot looks likely then we need to quickly get back to at least penalty spot and then if the shot comes in travel backwards to make the save. This is split second and better to air on the side of caution and re set rather than get caught.

2. Is play likely to be recycled backwards in opposition half?

Again body position and pressure will tell you this.

If the ball goes back then hold your position and creep forward slightly and push your defenders upfield. A good rule of thumb is for defenders to move 1/3 of how far the ball has gone backwards.

The picture below shows a good position when ball is in opposition half with your team.

The Defensive Line is on the half way line. The goalkeeper can then afford to be 5-10 yards outside of the D of the Penalty Area to deal with the danger.

But what if they chip me?

Hopefully after reading the above it will give you more confidence & more positive reasons to engage with the Defensive Line. If someone does chip you sometimes you just have to say 'good goal' and move on.

The Concertina Example

An example I use for my goalkeepers is that of the musical instrument the 'Concertina'

When the ball goes forward you go forward

When the ball is coming back towards you you go backwards

So that means you should be constantly adjusting your start position.

When to Coach Engagement

So at what stages of a goalkeepers development should you be working on engagement.

This is how I coach it to the different age groups

13's goalkeeper should be aware of his positioning and be developed on some basic principles.

14's - 16's all aspects of enagagement should be developed

16s + this should now be perfected and more development of the players tactical understanding of the game constantly refined.

How to Coach Engagement

Difficult one. You need to show an example and mainly talk through it with your goalkeepers, show them examples of their play. Then if you have half a pitch try to recreate game scenarios of playing high. If anyone has a good practice then pleas feel free to leave it here

I hope this helps a few goalkeepers out. Again I may do it differently to some so if you have more constructive advice please email me and I can add to this blog

About Nine One Football

Nine One Football are the ‘Expert's’ when it comes to Striker & Goalkeeper Soccer Training. We have developed the revolutionary Nine One Football Program which is conducted by specialist qualified coaches and has Elite Academies, Group & Private Training. We have also developed the small sided game 3v3+GK which has more touches, more goals, more saves. Head Coach of Nine One Football is Paul Harvey who is FFA Level 1 Qualified Coach who specialises in coaching Goalkeepers and Strikers.

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