As many of you know, the past 6 months or so have been big ones for me recently (huge, in fact!): I spent the majority of my exam summer period up-and-down the country meeting, interviewing and interrogating some of the countries biggest goalkeeping names from Tony Elliott (waving off Team GB in Rio at the Paralympic closing ceremony as I write!) to Rich O’Donnell (Bristol City goalkeeper) and Mick Payne (England C Team goalkeeper coach).
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that, despite the tight-knit goalkeeping fraternity, there would be a wealth of different cultures, arguments and philosophies from these figures. Here are four of the biggest lessons I picked up for goalkeepers, coaches and scouts alike over the subtlety of a dictaphone:
1) Everyone – and I mean EVERYONE – has an opinion on goalkeeping; 95% of people disagree with each other.
Pepe Reina says the position of the person in the goal is a ‘goal player’ in the modern game as oppose to a ‘goal keeper’. The EPPP would have footballers (and, by default, goalkeepers) specialise at the age of 10, 11 or earlier. Melissa Barbieri will tell you that playing international football at 168cm tall isn’t impossible, by any stretch.
The bottom line is that there are a multitude of different opinions on different matters from the goalkeeping world that it can often be hard to formulate your own ideas and philosophies away from the ‘handbags’ of everyone else…
Personally, I follow the science! Stats don’t lie (as long as they’re not misinterpreted…) and, combined with the limited but growing research, there is some actual academic work out there on the best way to coach our goalkeepers in the short, medium and long-term for development.
Hint: kinaesthesia and game-based practice is KEY. Give your players a problem to solve and let them get on with it.
2) The goalkeeper union truly will go the extra mile for one another. Regardless.
I distinctly recall OUFC goalkeeper coach Wayne Brown saying to me over the phone ‘there are a couple of people in goalkeeping just in it for the cheque at the end of the month, but the vast majority are great people in goalkeeping because they love it’. Never has something rung so true over such a prolonged period of time.
A couple of names were reluctant to get involved with the project, but certainly no-one was obtrusive and my experience was wholly dominated by incredible people who were only too happy to give up their time to chat about goalkeeping and everything that comes with it. Probably 30% of interviews for the book are not from goalkeepers we contacted ourselves, but from names and networks we were shown by our initial interview framework!
3) There are two absolute fundamentals to developing quality goalkeepers: multi-sport through early years and game-based practice.
Maybe it was just the goalkeepers who we happened to speak with. Maybe it was the circles we were surrounded by. But maybe (and most probably!) it wasn’t. There was a hugely overarching theme from interview to interview and coach to coach: get goalkeepers in game realistic environments and don’t force them into specialisation from a young age.
It says a lot about how goalkeeping has moved on, but everyone still understands there’s a long way to go. It’s hard to argue with these two points as they make such logical sense.
Game-based scenarios are what your goalkeeper is going to face in a match (shock horror!!) and therefore exposure to this is only going to breed a goalkeeper who is effective across the chaotic match environment and can react accordingly to the various stimulus.
Multi-sports as a child not only builds up a wealth of transferable skills, but also strengthens the hand-eye coordination and fundamental movement traits that we so often throw away as ‘innate’. It has also been seen to have a really positive impact in reducing burnout in young athletes and keeping it FUN – the number one goal we often neglect at the youth elite setup.
4) Height isn’t the be-all and end-all. It just fits into the same bracket as vertical jump, hand size and wing-span.
Nick Levett relayed to me a message from one of his England scouts (who I now know to have been Keith Granger!): ‘The difference between a goalkeeper who is 6”1 and 6”3 is a Cadbury’s Creme Egg’. A pretty perceptive thought. And yet so many managers will still dictate that their goalkeeper ‘must be 6”3’, for whatever reason.
How many managers will condition the vertical jump of a goalkeeper? What about their wing-span? Glove size? These are all equally – if not more – important than a couple of inches in height and yet they often seem forgotten by the traditional recruitment specifications.
It is important to note that, unless the goalkeeper doesn’t conform to the ‘Science of the Ape Index’ (well worth looking up if you haven’t come across it before!) then his wing-span will be directly correlated to his height. This is no exception not to look for that hidden gem, that exception to the rule (like Michael Phelps, for example) though…
But, with all seriousness, how many goalkeepers have been disregarded on height vs vertical jump? Just because one’s easier to gauge than the other does not make it any less of an underpinning factor.
You could even argue vertical jump is considerably more important than height: it allows you to cover the top reaches of the goal without detriment to low balls requiring agility, it has a considerably bigger range than height, meaning you can much better margins and what does a goalkeeper with a strong vertical jump tell you about their other physical features?
More effective with explosive movements and short, sharp movements? I’m not a sports scientist – I can’t say for sure! Certainly worth some thought, though…
Now, there we have it. A strange cocktail of rants, random quotes from the book and a bit of celebration of the goalkeeper union but all wrapped (albeit slightly messily…!) into one blog post, hopefully giving you some food for thought as you move forward into your next coaching sessions! It’s thought-provoking enough just writing the post – time to hit up the journal I think…
If you have any thoughts, criticisms or agreement for anything that’s raised in this – or any other! – blog post, please don’t hesitate to get in touch through our social channels or website…
Yours in goalkeeping,
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