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Bad Pitches

Written By Justin on Wednesday, July 6, 2011 | 4:24:00 PM

You've seen it before. Watch it again and we'll discuss.

Naturally, Robbo took all the blame in the media, but it's clear that the ball took an awful bobble just as his foot was about to make contact. There are two more things to consider: 1) Gary Neville should perhaps have passed the ball back wide of goal, and 2) less happily for Robbo, the divot that caused the bad bounce was one he created himself. It was his 'tee' for goal kicks.

Let's just assume that the odds of a ball bobbling on the divot you made for your goal kicks are negligible. But we all play on bumpy, rutted pitches from time to time, and there are a few things we can do to make them less treacherous to both the scoreline and our bodies.

First, communication with defenders is always vital. If you're asking for a pass back, let them know where you want it - wide of the goal, if possible. Second, don't try to welly it all the way to the other keeper. On a poor pitch, be content to side foot it away, trying for a little extra height to make up for less distance. Use whatever pace is already on the ball, and just 'punch' it away with the inside of your foot. The shorter and more controlled your swing, the less likely you are to have a mishap. Finally, assess the situation. If you have time, take a touch before you clear. It's always easier to strike a dead ball than a moving one on a bad surface.

Poor pitches also complicate shot stopping, naturally. All the obvious points apply: keep your body behind the ball, etc. Common sense. There is one thing you might consider concentrating on with low shots, though: make sure you aggressively 'attack' the ball with your dive. The last thing you want is to be diving/falling backwards as you're trying to claim a ball that is hopping and bobbling all over the shop.

You might recall this happening to Tim Flowers:

As the video displays, this was again a self-inflicted wound. Tim had dug a little trench in the center of the six-yard-box (and, if you look closely, just behind the penalty spot as well), and was left helpless when the ball used the divot to ramp over him.

I used to make these kinds of marks on the pitch, but learned to orient myself by the penalty spot. I sometimes play on a 3G pitch with lots of confusing extra lines and marks, so I put a small piece of white tape where the penalty spot should be. Dig a great big trench at your own peril.

Hard, frozen, rocky, or rutted pitches can do more than send a football spinning into the net; they can injure you. There are immediate, acute injuries, such as when I tore my rotator cuff diving on a rocky pitch (the only real injury I ever had), or cumulative ones caused by diving over and over on a bad surface. In either case, when the pitch calls for it, protect yourself. I know keepers who are anti-padding in all cases, or who like wearing short sleeves, but use some common sense. Are you on a soft, grassy pitch? If not, there are more important things than dressing like Iker Casillas. If you keep tearing the skin off your elbows, or your hips are sore and swollen, when are you ever going to heal? Every dive will only make it worse.

There are lots of choices for padded base layer gear out there, from McDavid to adidas to Sells. Over the next two weeks, I'll be testing some exciting new gear from Storelli Sports, offering a new, protective material that is both thin and lightweight. For keepers who dislike the bulk of traditional padding, it might be just what you're looking for.


Anonymous said...

Painfull to watch, also i have never met a fellow keeper who is anti padding haha

Justin said...

It's mostly in forums where I hear keepers saying they don't like padding. I am definitely pro-padding! Had more than enough bruises and scrapes to last me a lifetime.

JOHN said...

I used to make those indents for orientation since I play on grass fields that are usually poorly marked, but I stopped recently. Couldn´t tell you why, though. I guess I use the rivals´ goal, the width of the penalty box and the distance I´m from my own line now. So I guess there are many references to choose from.
And since I play on grass I´m a short-sleeved shirt, no-padded short kind of keeper. But I wear padding for training cause, as you said, it´s common sense.

Pistol said...

I always used to wear padded compression shorts growing up and I think it is especially important for young goalkeepers who are still refining their technique to wear whatever kind of protection they can get to help out. Tell me if i am wrong but do a lot of professional goalkeepers wear padding ? In games i havent really noticed many, if so they may just be wearing stuff underneath and hidden......

Justin said...

Good thoughts, John, thanks. Thar's interesting that you got out of the habit of marking the pitch. Technically, it's not allowed, and if the ref sees a keeper doing it he can be cautioned. But as we see, it can also cause other problems.

Pistol, my understanding is that not many pros wear padding, though some definitely do, especially padded compression shorts. I know Jussi Jaaskeleinen, for one, wears the McDavid padded stuff. But for the most part, I think the pitches they play on are soft & forgiving enough so that they don't need it - at least not in games.