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Why Do Goalkeepers Stop Improving?

Written By Justin on Tuesday, December 3, 2013 | 1:23:00 PM

I recently took part in a three-day goalkeeper camp for boys and girls aged 14-17. The players worked hard, listened intently, asked questions, and in some cases, displayed real potential. The only concerning aspect of it is that several of the kids had been at the same camp back in July, and had not improved.

They were all much better than this guy, though

Now I wouldn't expect extraordinary improvement in just under six months, but 14-17 is a prime developmental period for goalkeepers. Some of the coaching points I made were very basic, and I'd made them multiple times back in July, but many of the goalkeepers still struggled. I'm not talked about advanced concepts; I mean basics like stance, posture, balance. So why weren't they getting it right?

Is it coaching? It could be. I'm not the world's best coach, but I'm not taking the blame for this one. I had these kids for a few sessions six months ago, and hadn't seen them since. The most likely answer is that in the intervening time, they simply hadn't had proper goalkeeper coaching, and slipped back into bad habits. Kids tend to focus just on stopping the ball, rather than worrying about technique. This is good in some ways, but not so good if the proper technique is not yet ingrained. There still aren't that many qualified goalkeeper coaches around. Most players have to make do without one.

But there are goalkeepers who DO get proper coaching, and still struggle with technique. Obviously, everybody has a talent ceiling. Some keepers are simply never going to have the athleticism or coordination to make a blinding top-had save or ping a side volley 60 yards. What's important, for serious young players at least, is maxing out whatever talent they do have. What I'm seeing is young goalkeepers who want to be excellent, and have decided that things like hand position and footwork 'don't matter.' What matters is spectacular saves. Fair enough; but my job as a coach is to make them understand that you need the stance, the footwork, the hand position to be right before you can consistently make those saves.

Coaching or not, goalkeepers who want to continue improving have to train. They have to play. This is the problem with organized soccer in the U.S, and increasingly in Britain. Everybody plays year-round, but only in an organized setting. That amounts to only a few hours a week. You've simply got to play more than that if you want to be truly good. You've got to play a frankly unreasonable amount, much more than the organized structure allows for, in parks and streets, in pickup games with your friends or neighbors of whoever you can convince to play. I built a pitch in my back yard when I was 12. We played on it so much that we churned away every last blade of grass, and soon nicknamed it the Dust Bowl.
It wasn't quite this bad

This is such a basic idea - train hard and you'll get better - that it seems silly to write a post about it. But it contradicts what has become the accepted model of improvement in the US: spend more and you'll get better. Parents send their kids to camps, pay for private training sessions, and buy them gloves and equipment. None of that is bad. But if the player isn't playing and training on his own or with their friends in between these financed sessions, he's not going to get much better, no matter who the coach is. 


Unknown said...


solid post about the frustrations of a coach. I don't think you will learn anything by trying to absolve yourself. More than anything, I think of this has a great learning experience.
The only suggestion I might have is that maybe you can follow up with them weeks or months after your last contact with them. (assuming you have email addresses)
Sometimes kids need a kick in the butt or a push in the right direction. The basics are always the most difficult to master because they are the most boring parts of the game.
Also, if your students know that you care enough to follow up, maybe they will feel a bit more motivated knowing someone is monitoring their progress.

The best thing my coach ever told me is that he thought i could get a college scholarship. In hindsight, i dont' know if he was lying but all I needed was a goal to focus on and my intensity soared.

Coming into the next phase of my life, I plan on working with younger goalkeepers a tad. Let me know if you have any suggestions or tips to help.

may the posts be with you.....

joe cannon

Justin said...

Thanks for reading Joe, and those are excellent points. I do agree that some follow-up can be motivational. That does seem to be what some kids lack.

I don't think you'll need much in the way of help - you'll know from your experiences as a player what kids respond to best. But as you say, it's always a learning experience. Kids can be very interesting!

Unknown said...

A professional and innovative project in Portugal, with prospects by toasting this position: Goalkeeper. With specific training methods, dynamic and essential techniques to the keeper of the modern soccer. Maximum demand, with high suffering capacity! Enjoy!