Coaching the Junior Goalkeeper

Writing an article on coaching young children the art of football is a minefield of opinions in itself, but writing an article on coaching junior goalkeepers is verging on the insane! Goalkeeper coaches, and indeed general football coaches, have so many opinions and notions on how the most important position in football should be taught that it is extremely rare to find two people of the same mindset within the goalkeeper coaching fraternity.

For those of you reading this I must warn you that I have very strong opinions regarding goalkeeper training and more specifically goalkeeper coaches, that is borne purely out of my passion for the role of goalkeeper coach. By gaining the licenses and qualifications required to work in professional, grass roots and junior football you are making a clear statement….”I can coach”, my only issues with this are these courses teach you how to coach, not why, and this is a fundamental reason for my frustration. There are an incredible amount of well meaning persons involved with junior football, and their positive input should be actively encouraged as hopefully, one day, these individuals will outnumber the ignorant, win at all costs coaches whose idea of player development is another 10-0 win on a Sunday morning. This is aimed at the football coaching world in general as, in all honesty, the majority of coaches working exclusively with goalkeepers don’t share ths aggressive mentality, but one common them I’ve detected from observing many grass roots coaches is their fear to move away from what they’ve been taught on their license courses, and in fact you could play a game of “Spot the drill” from the folders and sessions plans that are developed for these courses.

I have developed a coaching style whereby the planned session is “fluid” and although it took a few years to fully develop this style, I am really proud of what each session achieves. This “fluid” style is as easily incorporated into sessions for my professional goalkeepers as it is for the junior goalkeepers whom I work with as the basic thesis of each drill is to develop the goalkeepers decision making ability whilst working their technical knowledge also. It is a stalwart theme in each session to focus on what can happen during a match situation so each drill is designed with the priority to replicate this, and use of obstacles such as hurdles or poles are kept to a minimum and are solely used to “inconvenience” the goalkeepers movement so that the focus can be on the end product – the save. There is a lot of emphasis placed on creating technically good junior goalkeepers, and this is the reason why I believe that the licences are developed towards this goal, and therefore why the potential coaches are educated this way which is no bad thing however if these coaches could be re-educated to look at goalkeeping in a different light, then maybe we could have a different style of goalkeepers coming through the english professional ranks?

There are still many, many goalkeeper coaches who remain loyal to the ethics of a physically demanding session is a good session, and also many, many coaches who will teach exactly as per the book but my viewpoint is to work WITH the goalkeepers natural ability and to harness and develop his instinctive skills. When working at the junior level you will see several different styles of the techniques and I’ll admit that when I first began coaching goalkeepers I was insistent on the “correct” technique being used as this was what was drilled into me on my educational courses, but with experience and the benefit or working full time with many different goalkeepers I changed my stance and began to develop my “fluid” style. If your junior goalkeeper is achieving the end result (the save) then don’t try to change their technique, even when it frustrates you for being so clearly “wrong”, but instead nurture it and step out of your comfort zone to assist with the relevant technical adjustments that your experience and vision will provide you as, believe me, you will never get it “wrong” via this method as eventually the goalkeeper will settle into his technique very quickly.

Likewise with the session itself, allow yourself to think outside the regulations and the perceptions of what a goalkeeper training session is, think of what happens during a game and what can you do to help improve the goalkeepers chances in that situation. How can you gradually build the sessions intensity so that you end with the match like situation? Sure, you can concentrate on improving the goalkeepers agility and explosive diving power by rigidly sticking with the “regulation” sessions but, truth be told, the goalkeepers biggest weapon against the attackers is his brain and the ability to make a split second decision correctly and that is why I focus on decision making so heavily in my sessions. Granted, it may not be textbook or an approved coaching technique in the coaching folders but it will have produced a vital result – a confident junior goalkeeper with the ability to make the save – however he chooses!