A Goalie’s Guide to Winning the Lev Yashin Award

by Adam Heskett | Last updated

“What kind of a goalkeeper is the one who is not tormented by the goal he has allowed? He must be tormented! And if he is calm, that means the end. No matter what he had in the past, he has no future.” – Lev Yashin

So often while watching a game you take for granted the goalie’s importance on the field. He is usually overshadowed by flashier players running up and down the field. The only time he is recognized is when he makes a great save, or alternatively, when he lets one in. A goalie isn’t recognized for everything else he does while everyone else’s focus is on the ball. A great goalie is a general, a chess master, and an acrobatic all wrapped into one. Lev Yashin is arguably the greatest goalkeeper in soccer history. In his entire twenty-two years with Dynamo Moscow, The Black Spider (as he was known as) saved more than 150 penalties. That’s more than any other professional player. It is also the reason the award for best goalkeeper in a World Cup bears his name.

The following are the basics every goalie should know in order to climb the ladder in becoming the modern day Lev Yashin.

1. Stop the Ball from getting between those posts.

Alright. This one is a gimme. But this is the primary reason for a goalie’s existence. The strategy of a great goalkeeper stems from how he manages his own area. As you’ll see, this goes far beyond simply trying to get a hand on the ball.

2. Communicate!

A goalkeeper must always be chattering away with his teammates (and especially his defenders). He has a unique view of the layout of a game and how a play is unfolding. Very often, players out there on the field in the heat of battle, have blinders on and only seeing the ball or his most immediate teammates for the next pass. They may miss the opponent’s play developing outside his vision. A good goalie must act like a chess master. Guide your defenders to where they should be to best protect the goal. Also, keep in mind that mistakes happen. If one of them misses an assignment that leads to a goal, avoid berating them. This could lead to a loss of respect and cause a rift in the team chemistry. Instead, encourage them to try better next time around.

3. Quick Now!

Reflexes will save you in most situations and is deemed one of the most important skills of any goalkeeper. Lev Yashin was known as The Black Spider because of his amazing agility, undivided focus, great strength, and quick reflexes. However, even HE had to train to speed his reflexes to reach his legendary status. Yashin failed to be selected for the Moscow team three times before being brought up. In the meantime, he improved his reflexes as a goaltender for Moscow’s city hockey team and led them to the USSR Cup in 1953. This was the same year he saw his dream fulfilled and got brought up to the Dynamo Moscow. Point being that even the greatest need to practice.

4. Limit the Angles and Make Yourself Big

The less angles an opponent has to get the ball around you, the greater the odds that you’ll stop them dead in their tracks. A good goalkeeper will face a potential opponent head on and close as much distance as they can. If you look big in the ball handler’s eyes since you are so close, their choices become limited. Beware of the craftier dribbler who waits to see your move after you close quarters. Be patient and wait for him to make the first move. Your reflexes are there to back you up.

5. Study your opponent

Each opponent is an open book waiting to be read. Like each book, every one of them are slightly different. Some novice players are quite easy to read: they shoot where they’re looking. More skillful players realize this and will use misdirection to fool you. So learn from each player that faces you. It may take a few tries to figure them out but eventually you’ll know their whole repertoire of moves. Study tapes before the game, if you can. But one helpful tip, watch their supporting foot. Usually, this foot is pointing in the direction of the shot no matter which direction their looking. Don’t believe me, read what the other side is looking for in this Goal Scoring Guide to Penalty Shots.

6. Dive…Sideways

Diving is a skill you’ll use in every game at least once (assuming there’s a shot on goal you have to defend against). As such, this is a skill you need in your bag of tricks. Always dive to your side when defending a ball. This avoids serious injury, protects your head, and allows you to block a wider section of the net. Forward dives often lead to accidental head injuries that could be life threatening.

These basic fundamentals may not lead you to being the next Lev Yashin but you will be on your way to establishing your own personality as a goalkeeper and, quite possibly, a force to be reckoned with on the pitch.

To learn the mechanics of being a great goalkeeper, check out Goalkeeping 101.

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