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Introduction to Goalkeeper Coaching
There are many Goalkeeper Trainers working in football but few Goalkeeper Coaches. What’s the difference? Well, usually a trainer will be an ex-pro or similar who has been handed his coaching role on a plate by a duty bound club once he’s finished his playing career. This type of coach is fantastic at developing drills to push physical boundaries; however is not necessarily an analytical man.
From my perspective, we need to develop their natural attributes within the desired technical specifications and to do this we need to pay specific attention to the motor skills of the individual. The role of a coach is to push the player to exceed his current ability, but too many concentrate on the “I was better than that!” technique. As a coach working at all levels in the game it is up to us to ensure that these players enjoy their sport, but with a competitive desire to improve. The higher up the football pyramid you travel the less ‘coaching’ you do as you end up purely mentoring! The job at the higher levels involves planning, delivery and execution as there is little need to step in with a professional and say “What do we know about the set position?”, however coaching mistakes is an everyday part of our make up.
When stepping in on a mistake it is important not to hammer the individual, but more to use the ‘Guide and Discovery’ style of asking open questions then listening to the answers and always make sure you limit yourself to the amount of times you can pick up on that mistake before you receive either a volley of abuse or a crack in the face! We are fickle creatures who know our own limits and to repeatedly receive criticism will entail one unhappy individual! Goalkeepers are indeed a rare breed. I have yet to meet one who likes criticism. We all love to hear positives about our game as we are our biggest and fiercest personal critics. It is the role of the coach to deliver a positive attitude for each and every game. Through our drills we can ensure correct preparation for the Saturday and allow the keeper to walk onto the pitch glowing in the knowledge that he deserves to be there and that he warrants his position as number one.
I moved into coaching at a relatively young age. There were several factors that determined my pathway. Firstly whilst I was still at school, I had a burning desire to become a Goalkeeper Coach. I used my time instead of studying dreaming up new, creative drills to put a keeper through their paces, I still use this notebook today (although not all of them were particularly good!) This has been the only aspect of coaching that has held my interest and desire and this is why I am still passionate about the position. I feel that if I had some tuition and door openings when I was younger then perhaps the grade could have been achieved. As it was I feel that I allowed myself to waste my talent and this in turn has now allowed me to pass this advice onto today’s youngsters. I had the ability as a youngster but not the passion, I discovered this once my age had started going against me and I realised I was a “could have” rather than a “was”. The other massive factor was my cruciate ligament injury dictated that I could no longer play at the level I desired. I am hugely proud to be a coach and take immense satisfaction from each session I deliver. Admittedly some sessions are so frustrating you feel like a glorified babysitter but perseverance is the key and the next session will probably be fantastic! No two sessions are alike, and even as a freelance coach working with up to 6 different clubs or individuals a day means that you need to tailor your planned session to suit them rather than to suit you. There is no room for boredom in your coaching and it is very rarely that I will repeat a drill (but you will probably be asked to by the energetic keepers that really enjoyed it last time!), I feel that if you are creative enough then repetition is unnecessary and you can ensure maximum attention during your sessions but always have a plan B!
Unfortunately those of us that initially state “I’m going to coach goalkeepers” need to realise the many hurdles that lie in our paths. Firstly please forget any dream of becoming a first team goalkeeper coach for a professional club. Very, very rarely will a “no mark” achieve a deserved position with the first team. There are many open minded people involved in football at the lower levels who will allow you the chance to prove your worth, but the higher up the pyramid you climb then the more intense the “football snobbery” is. Just stay true to yourself and your goalkeepers and you will achieve a level where you can be happy and also proud of what you do. I have been fortunate enough to have worked with many coaches working at various levels of football.
Some were ex pro players, many just local goalkeepers but the ones that stood out to me were the ones delivering their sessions with such passion and enthusiasm that I wanted to pull my gloves on and join in (regardless of the pain I felt the following morning and the distinct lack of sympathy from my wife!). Unsurprisingly these sessions were mostly held by the grass roots coaches, he of the analytical mind and desire to improve not just those around him but also himself. It is amazing to watch some of these “lesser” coaches at work as they have a tendency to spot their goalkeepers mistakes very quickly. By working closely with his keepers he has built up an unforgiving knowledge of his player’s motor skills and natural ability, this allows him to pinpoint mistakes that we as spectators simply did not notice. By watching the goalkeeper perform the drill again it soon becomes apparent of the improvement that the coach has on his individual performance. This is another reason why I am such a big advocate of positional specific coaching.
From my developing perspective the sessions that I have observed from the ex professional goalkeepers are a little too textbook and old school (with the notable exception of Mark Morris-former Wrexham keeper- for whom I have massive respect!) with little to challenge the participant. However my theory for this is because they purely play the role of mentor to their players and not coach. Because they have been in that position then they possibly fall into the trap of simply guiding their juniors through the sessions rather than asking the right questions of them. However this is just my theory and it is little wonder that I am no longer welcome on the FA’s goalkeeping courses!
I read an article regarding top level female goalkeepers in Australia and their coach. He was a detailed coach who wouldn’t allow mistakes to be consistently made to the extent that even if a save was made he would step in to correct any faults in the lead up to the end product. The author even commented on how this individual search for perfection provoked further analysis of other goalkeeper coach’s work. This led to the inevitable that the other coaches that allowed the mistakes to occur were allowing bad habits to creep into their game. I can fully understand both sides of the argument here as in the first instance what do we want the goalkeeper to do? The priority for any goalkeeper and coach is from time of kick off until the referee blows the final whistle at the conclusion is for the goalkeeper to have prevented the ball from hitting the net by using any means possible. During these 90 minutes technique is allowed to go out of the window providing he hasn’t conceded, which is a bizarre train of thought.
The other side is that if the goalkeeper is prepared to train badly then he too must be prepared to play badly and this is the duty of the coach and his ethics as to whether he will allow the mistakes in pursuit of the final goal. I remain steadfast in my belief that if you are true to yourself and you’re beliefs then that is how you should approach any given situation…as per your personal guide. There comes an inevitable situation when you are working with a goalkeeper that doesn’t possess the natural ability to work as per the textbook, with probably the most notable goalkeeper being Denmark’s Peter Schmeichel. He was possibly the most un-regulation goalkeeper ever but also regarded by many as the greatest as his style worked for him and it would have been foolish of his coach to have insisted on trying to change him. This approach to coaching can only realistically be reserved for experienced, seasoned professional or those with exceptional talent. In all my years of coaching and the hundreds of goalkeepers that I’ve personally worked with there has only been one instance of the knowledge gained through coaching courses and playing experience had to go out of the window!
This lad has just signed for the Arsenal Academy from Derby County and is an exceptionally massive talent; my only concern is that they don’t try to change his style too much. When I first worked with him I ran through the textbook coaching points with each drill and situation and he truly struggled with certain aspects, yet when I allowed him to train in his own style his form was superb. Everything I put his way he dealt with superbly, so I had to immediately rethink and say “OK, let’s work with what you’ve got rather than against it.” In my humble opinion he has a bright future in the game if he believes in himself. When you’re working with full time footballers the mistakes lessen but that doesn’t automatically allow you to ignore them, in our analytical eye we have to ascertain whether that magnificent top handed worldie could have been prevented in the build up?
Chances are it maybe couldn’t but if we can add 1% extra to our goalkeeper’s performances on a regular basis then everyone will benefit. It is so easy to overlook the tiny details for fear of arguments or differences of opinion but we must be strong in our belief and set out to prove just how different the situation might have been. At grass roots level every coaching point must be covered before divulging too many technicalities, you will know whether a young goalkeeper possesses the magical quality or not from very early on. If he does then it is naïve not to provide him with as much extra information as possible in their quest to become a professional, however those that do not exhume this quality may become bogged down in worrying about the extra tiny details as for them consistently saving the goal is part of their development and we should ensure that they are able to do this to the best of their abilities.
I am passionate about creating not only gifted goalkeepers but also gifted individuals who can hold their heads high. To do this I must challenge them physically and, more importantly, mentally. During my sessions I expect them to be pushed hard between the sticks but during rest and free time to be pushed just as hard in assessing their performance. I remember as a junior player I kept a secret notepad and marked myself out of ten for certain aspects of my game or training (even though there was no such thing as a goalkeeper coach then!) and wrote a small analogy of my games. This information would be processed during my daily kick about with my brother in our back garden (another who should have achieved professional level but couldn’t open any doors!) and from there I would improve tiny aspects in my game.
I don’t feel as though today’s youth players have the same drive that existed twenty or thirty years ago, and if a clubs stumbles across a player that is willing to put in the little extra they will do everything to nurture his passion but complain about over-doing it!. Certainly when I was training at semi-pro level everything I was asked to do was achieved at match pace or was an attempt to try to develop what I already had but, and I’m not alone in this thought, I feel that today’s players simply do what they are asked – no more or no less. And this disappoints me!
I was offered a trial with Chelsea when I was much younger but I never went because football was just a hobby back then. I regret it now but not then because I was very naive. This is why it frustrates me to see talented kids not putting that extra in, thinking that they’ve already got it made because of where they are, but why wouldn’t you want to be the best? I want to be the best Goalkeeper Coach and am working my hardest to achieve this (however I know full well that the status I desire is always going to be out of reach for people like me!), and to the frustration of my wife and kids I spend hours in my office working on new ideas, and hours at the training pitch delivering my new ideas, and hours at the ground gaining inspiration for new ideas…..you get the picture!
Surely as a coach we aim to make the individual as good as they can possibly be to allow them to play at a deserved level. We can do this by setting a positive example and encouraging the goalkeeper to develop, we can also challenge by being innovative with our coaching methods and drills. We are NOT ruled by textbooks and courses, these are merely tools in our armoury which we adapt to suit our style and personality. Why can’t we be creative in our approach to the session? Why can’t we do things that aren’t set in stone? In short…….why can’t we?
I am currently working privately with a goalkeeper for a premiership club and some of the things that they are encouraging him to do is absurd! For example if your goalkeeper is saving a driven ball in a non textbook way, but has never made an error in his method, why change it? If it’s working for him then work WITH him! Sure, give him the tools to do his job but it’s up to him whether he chooses a hammer or a screwdriver! This top club are trying to change his style and asking him to deal with situations in a certain way. Would they have done that with the un-orthodox Peter Schmeichel? Not a chance! Technically inept but what a top keeper?! Work with what you’ve got and develop the individual rather than, upon a mistake, exclaiming “I told you so!” At the lower levels coaching goalkeepers is just that. At a top level you purely guide and mentor them but it is at grass roots where techniques are nurtured and developed. That is the area that I am passionate about as any fool can advise a top class goalkeeper but can they develop? Can they notice when they led with their top arm rather than the longer lower arm? Can they tell when the keepers’ feet didn’t move quickly enough into the flight of the ball? You tell me! I have my own answers and I’m likely to upset enough people without adding more to the list!
The image conjured up by 99.9% of people involved with football of a goalkeeper coaching session is that of the keeper flying up and down pulling off save after save before respite and then repeating. Whilst this is an occurrence the majority of the session should be focussed on technique. I am guilty of being this naïve when I first stepped into coaching as it was my belief that if I ended the session absolutely shattered then it was a good one, therefore I brought this antiquated methodology with me and my sessions. Experience has taught me that whilst a good blow out now and again is enjoyable, my main concern should be that of “How is the keeper doing that?” rather than the “How many reps?” of several years back. I now focus on what is happening leading up to the securing of the ball, studying the movement and shape and ensuring that there is adequate consistency in the approach so my main focus now is to build up the confidence of technique in my early part of the session with maybe a good blow-out to finish off.
Because of the structure of training sessions now, separate focus is placed upon fitness and indeed the leading clubs employ coaches specifically for this role which means that the emphasis is taken off our sessions to include aspects of aerobic and anaerobic fitness; this allows us to build the techniques far more solidly. I understand however that this is a luxury and that many goalkeeper coaches still have the need to push the physical boundaries of the individual but this can be done periodically with an element of trust from the coach that the keepers will have enough professionalism to maintain peak fitness in “their time”. Don’t forget that many Goalkeeper Coaches will probably work with the keepers for an hour or less per day (because of the inclusion in SSG’s or phases of play etc) so to waste valuable time on fitness is an unnecessary event. I liken this to the semi-pro sides that train maybe twice a week with a game on a Saturday, whose first training session of each week is literally fitness work and they’ll be extremely fortunate to even see a football during the first half of a session.
The coach has to trust his players to maintain private fitness in order to improve the techniques and tactical knowledge of the game for the benefit of the results! Goalkeeping fitness is vastly different from many other athletes; a goalkeeper needs short bursts of explosive power rather than great stamina. This has always been my main argument in pre-season, other than if the goalkeeper has come back overweight I always try to insist on working the goalkeepers separately from day one. It’s great for them to have good core fitness and they as professional (or lower) will want to keep this stability, but from my humble point of view time spent working on aspects purely for their position is of paramount importance. Individually goalkeepers will want to work on strength with weights and resistance work his priority, but as a group and as their coach, I want them to improve on things that relate to their performance on a Saturday. My pre-seasons have been planned to initially push their physical boundaries (and subsequently raise their fitness levels) whilst working with a ball. I hate to see any training without footballs and whilst I acknowledge that maybe 95% of footballers rarely see a football during the early weeks of pre-season, working with a ball from the start of each session is my belief in quickly aiding their development.
There are certain characteristics necessary to becoming a good coach and although I am slightly big headed, I do class myself as a good coach! I truly enjoy turning up for work because no two days are the same and, I suppose, to some extent I am in control! All goalkeepers are control freaks and leaders so a natural progression into coaching is logical. I am brave enough to take responsibility for the development and performances of the keepers at my club and they return this with hard work and positive attitudes. Not everybody though will make a good coach, much the same as not everybody makes a good driver (particularly women!) but a good coach possess the natural enthusiasm and drive for perfection as his goalkeepers. It is always a good idea to approach each session with the thinking ” I want these boys to leave better prepared than when they started”, and this ensures that even if they take away just the slightest detail from the session then it has been worthwhile – just wait until Saturday when you see the successful results from the training pitch translate into a match situation as this truly is a great sensation.
The differences in which you adapt your coaching styles are massive as you progress from the community work to working with professionals, and it is a blessing to dip back in to the grass roots sessions now and again as then you realise why you started coaching in the first place. I get a massive deal of satisfaction from working with the full timers and the centres but on a different scale I really enjoy delivering sessions for the local junior club sides. I believe that in setting up our Goalkeeping Department we had to establish great links with the local communities as these are the clubs from where we would source our future stars. As my background was formed by doing lots of freelance work with many clubs this link was relatively easy to maintain however you inevitably come across the odd Neanderthal that refuses to allow his players to better themselves in case he doesn’t win the league!
These grass roots sessions can be a real eye opener and sometimes a kick up the backside, as it is easy to forget that football is primarily about enjoyment, and seeing a huge smile on a kids face as he’s pulled off a worldie is reason enough to ensure that this fact is not overlooked. A professional footballer is there to entertain, yes, but he is also there to be entertained and as his coach it is up to us to ensure the correct balance between banter and pure hard work. Grass roots sessions are where you can learn to coach and by stepping back to this environment allows us to periodically reassess our ethics and translate our findings to our work with professionals. “Little Jimmy” can offer us far greater challenges than the first teamer on many different levels that we need to quickly adapt to get the best from him in that session and that experience is easily reproduced when faced with a challenge on the full time training pitch. I find that coaching is a wonderful experience if approached positively and at whatever level you work you can never stop learning from the reactions of all the goalkeepers that you encounter.
I always find it fascinating to recall old session plans as this is a clear indication of just how far you have evolved as a coach. If I look back to my very early plans and then flick to more recent plans I can clearly see the path at which my coaching style and experience has followed. As a relative novice to coaching in the early days I believe that I successfully managed to keep things simple in order to maintain the effectiveness of what I was coaching, whereas now the coaching points are much easier to include into a drill without having to structure a session to force the mistakes. There is nothing wrong with the “Stop, Stand Still” method used by many coaches as this really is an effective way to control a session and one that I still utilise when necessary; however I feel that my intelligence and observation has now allowed me to simply coach mistakes and to be totally diligent during the session.
It is staggering when I consider the simplicity of what I used to do when compared to now but I suppose that it is simply evolution and we as coaches cannot afford to stand still in our methods because football is an ever changing probability so we too must adapt to allow our students gain maximum benefit from what we do. The session plans clearly show my evolution and indeed during the course of the season a clear difference is visible especially so over the Christmas break when I evaluated exactly what each head coach wants from their goalkeeper and I finally succumbed to include distribution in my sessions each week. This is an issue that I was adamant against but for the good of their development it is a necessary evil, and so has been incorporated into the sessions ever since. I also felt it necessary to have a structured warm up for the group to do because the initial 20 minutes of each session I found was turning into a question and answer session with parents and also a briefing session from the other coaches, so I decided to put the trust onto the players by issuing written details of the warm up and requesting that they undergo this at their own responsibility.
Some weeks inevitably worked better than others to be honest as with any training it only takes one player to abuse the trust and the whole system falls apart but on the whole I felt it was successful and the parents felt reassured that I could now spare the time to give them adequate feedback. I’ve always tried to allow each goalkeeper total trust when my back is turned and have regularly included written itineraries for them to follow should I be absent for whatever reason, I believe that by managing the time in this way the common goal can still be reached as we need to be totally aware of what is happening with our players but by allowing “dead time” are we really moving forwards as human nature will recall us back to our old habits as soon as the pressure is off. The goalkeepers appreciate this extra input as long as it is not a demand but simply a request; after all it is done for a reason and a purpose as they are able to acknowledge this in the majority of cases. I prefer to concentrate on one topic per week as I feel that this will make the learning easier and quicker for the individual.
For example if we moved from shot stopping to distribution in an hours session then imagine the amount of relevant coaching points? However by incorporating distribution into a shot stopping session we can still build technique without firing lots of learning issues at the goalkeeper. Unless there is a glaring mistake being made consistently in the distribution then the focus can remain on the shot stopping techniques and the goalkeeper is subconsciously improving his distribution whilst concentrating on his shot stopping. I got this theory from studying several continental coaches whose drills always begin or end with a moving ball for example if the coach was working on distribution from the hands then he would fire in an initial serve for the goalkeeper to catch as his following movements were then match realistic. This blew me away as to be totally honest the majority of coaching, up until this point, that I had both received and delivered had all began from the goalkeeper moving to an end serve albeit via an obstacle or simply a distance.
I realised then that if I could introduce this into my sessions without it interfering with my style then it must be beneficial to the goalkeeper as it allows more natural movement throughout the drills. The other things that also occurred to me were the inclusion of stationary footballs placed purely for the goalkeeper to dive onto at some point during the drill – this, I felt, would allow the goalkeeper to adopt a more natural set position for any following serve as he has been pulled totally out of shape beforehand whereas by telling the goalkeeper what to expect and striking a dead ball can create a false ambience and the goalkeeper may over concentrate on his shape in this instance when he may not replicate at match pace. If we can pull the goalkeeper out of shape at any point during training then we should receive a more exact picture of what happens on a Saturday which in turn means that we can improve on the tiny details that create a save. Any extra obstacle we can include to delay the end result will allow us to better study the mechanics of the save as the goalkeeper will instinctively adopt his natural position without overly thinking about what he is doing so the inclusion of hurdles, footballs, cones and even commands is a must in the majority of my sessions as I acknowledge that the harder the obstacle before the save the easier the game play situation will be to adjust to.
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