Players in outfield positions share similar characteristics and core skills to others in the team. The Goalkeeper position in football (soccer) is unlike any other on the pitch and requires a completely different skill set. The importance of catering to this is huge, in order to allow the Goalkeeper to develop and be effective in each game.
Professional clubs have specific Goalkeeper coaches, who can train the GKs apart from the main squad and deliver specialised sessions. They can then join in the main session if needed for a small sided game or practice. At grassroots there are limited resources in comparison to the professional set up, making the dedication to specific training difficult to uphold. It is very important that as a coach, the GK is planned into the session to achieve involvement that exceeds just a game at the end.
I am sure that the knowledgeable reader is aware of the elite theory, which applies to sport and other walks of life, regarding the number of hours training required to become elite in your field. The ’10,000 hours rule’ is often thrown around when talking about elite athletes and their need for training up to this magnitude to achieve excellence. According to Dr K. Anders Ericsson; part of the original research team into this theory in 1993, it is not only the number of hours practiced that affects performance. In their published paper ‘The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance’; they summarise that the practice must be deliberate, meaningful and focused. We can look at that and translate it into football as being focused training achieving specific goals and outcomes. A short-passing drill that has a large number of repetitions, variance and challenges; is a deliberate practice aimed at improving this skill. Hours of practice that are not specific and are complacent in nature will not have the same positive affect on performance. As a coach we plan our sessions to be challenging and skill specific, this kind of organised practice is essential.
If a team of U10 players have trained and played together for two seasons, they will have on average received around 46 hours of ‘coached’ training time per season; 92 hours in total. They would also receive an average of 15 hours of in-game time per season, 30 hours in total. In this time, how many repetitions of their skills occur? Are we allowing enough dedicated time for technical repetition? As a coach, only you will know the answer. Now think about the Goalkeeper, how many times do we think that they repeat their specific skills? Is it the same number of times? The answer simply, is that they do not.
With this in mind, can the coach now understand why their Goalkeeper does not catch every ball, or can misjudge a shot or dive? It all reverberates back to the repetition of skills in the designated time for deliberate practice. The coach must allow sufficient time for the player to receive purposeful repetition to achieve and maintain the skill, as well as time to perform it in a game-like scenario. This is where the difficulty lies for most coaches, as they are often on their own or have little knowledge of the position itself. The understanding of the core skills is essential for a coach and should be acquired through reading, experiencing and watching Goalkeepers. With this basis of knowledge and understanding, the coach can build sessions that benefit players in all positions.
Ideally, the Goalkeeper would have separate training with high reps, focused solely on their technique and delivered by a knowledgeable practitioner. Where this is not possible or difficult, the main session should have Goalkeeping elements to it.
An example for a technical practice for a U10 mini-soccer team of 10 players, the coach has some knowledge but has no assistant, so needs to train as one group. The coach sets up a square/circle with 4/5 balls inside, the Gk and 3 others are servers. All players move throughout the area looking to receive the ball from a server, the ball is then volleyed back into the servers hands, the players move on to repeat. The Gk receives repetition of catching; the players receive repetition in striking the ball in the air. The GK can remain a server throughout, the type of serves and returns can be varied, along with the distances from each other. The players are receiving multiple serves from different angles and trajectories, challenging them to solve these problems, while the GK receives vital repetition. The coach may look at the Gks technique for each catch, are they setting their feet before the return? Are their hand and body position effective?
The Goalkeeper must also be challenged in a game situation; this is not necessarily the obligatory ‘big match’ at the end of the session, as this often does not achieve the desired number of GK specific touches. By altering this game the coach can manufacture these reps, while still keeping real match elements to the session. Reducing the pitch length is one significant change that ensures the GK is involved repeatedly. Once the pitch size is reduced, there are a number of options to gain the desired outcomes.
A sample session; the area is 30×25 yards, with goals at either end, Goalkeepers in both, use an outfield player in one goal and rotate if needed. Play 3v3 in the middle area with two wide players outside. This will give the outfield players lots of opportunities to pass, dribble and shoot as well as giving the GK close interaction with plenty of shots and players to deal with. The wide players can be one touch players to help overload or the session can be adapted to provide crosses for the central players, again involving the GK in real game situations. Keep lots of balls in each goal to keep these games high intensity and rotate players to provide challenges. The coach can highlight the rewards of quick and clever play, taking an early shooting opportunity or using wide areas, the focus is up to them. All the while the GK receives their deliberate practice. It is possible to provide a Goalkeeper with the necessary attention without separate GK training.