Goalkeepers occupy a unique position on the pitch, requiring a highly specific skill set. But as the demands of the modern game require ‘keepers to resemble outfield players more closely, should we adapt our approach to goalkeeper training? Here, we discuss when young players should specialise as goalkeepers, consider the specific skills required by goalkeepers today, and explain how a multisport approach can help young players to develop key skills and physical attributes.

Click here to watch the full Masterclass Discussion with Yilmaz Aksoy

In This Article

Deciding When Goalkeepers Should Specialise

When working with young players, it’s important to consider the context around both the individuals in our team and our coaching environment. What does age-appropriate learning look like for our players? Are we working in a grassroots environment, where contact hours are more limited? And, if so, how do we make the most of that time?

“I recall experiences in the academy system where goalkeepers start specialist training very young,” says PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright. “But in those environments, coaches have the luxury of more contact time. And there remain questions around what age ‘keepers should start focusing on one position, and whether playing in goal is something all young players should have a turn at.”

According to Yilmaz Aksoy, Head of Academy Goalkeeping at Charlton Athletic FC, it’s important that we don’t encourage young players to specialise too early: “Looking at the journeys of goalkeepers who’ve made it to elite level, one common condition is that they had a wide array of experiences growing up — whether that was across different sports, or because they played different positions and became a goalkeeper quite late.

“I believe it’s really important to provide an environment that helps players develop the fundamentals — that could mean being comfortable with the ball at their feet or developing the physical attributes to move in and around the spaces on the pitch and the psychological skills to understand how to exploit those spaces — and developing the goalkeeper skills later on. Those fundamentals are then transferable.”

The Skills Needed by the Modern Goalkeeper

Appreciating the changing demands faced by goalkeepers is key to understanding what attributes to help them develop. For instance, in the professional game, players in all positions need to be more physically capable than in the past, while the increasing frequency of teams playing out from the back requires goalkeepers to be better at receiving and passing the ball.

“At the top end of the game, goalkeepers’ involvements are around 80 percent with their feet to 20 percent with their hands,” explains Aksoy. “The in-possession part of their game is as important as the out-of-possession part — perhaps more important — because the goalkeeper plays an important role in how the team builds and maintains possession. That’s another reason why I agree with goalkeepers specialising later.”

Positional connections and combinations with teammates are also hugely important,” adds Wright. “For example, the connection between goalkeeper and centre-back, or goalkeeper and fullback, or potentially with the central midfielder who’s coming short — these are all vital if we want to be comfortable playing out from the back. There are advantages to doing specialist work, but context is key, and making the game realistic remains important.”

The Benefits of Multisports in Goalkeeper Training

Given their emphasis on avoiding premature specialisation and giving young players a wide variety of experiences, we may find that debates surrounding goalkeeper training complement discussions around the value of multisport approaches in youth environments. As physical attributes such as speed, power, and agility become more important for goalkeepers, it appears that a childhood playing a variety of different sports, and developing a wide range of fundamental movement skills, could be key to helping aspiring ‘keepers prepare for the demands of the modern game.

This is a standpoint advocated by ex-Premier League and USMNT goalkeeper Brad Guzan, who, in an interview with PDP, details a childhood spent both playing basketball and a range of different outfield positions in football before finally specialising as a goalkeeper at around 18-years-old.

“It’s best if youngsters play other invasion games,” agrees Tim Dittmer, Head of Coaching at the FA. “It will help them learn other movements and disciplines. In the younger age groups, learning to be an athlete is better than learning only to be a footballer. Kids should also spend an equal amount of time outfield as they do playing in goal.”

“The position certainly lends itself to transferable skills,” concludes Aksoy. “Taking the basketball example, there’s hand-eye coordination, there are many different physical attributes — for example, when you try to generate power, when you make single-leg take-offs, and the sharp, explosive movements over shorter distances. All of these things can be useful to goalkeepers, and demonstrate the benefits of developing transferable skills.

The Key Points

  • We should consider the context around our players and coaching environments before encouraging individuals to specialise in certain positions.
  • It’s vital we create an environment that helps kids learn fundamental skills — both being able to move, and feeling comfortable on the ball.
  • In the modern game, goalkeepers need a wide range of skills and attributes that must be developed through a more varied approach to goalkeeper training.
  • Playing multiple sports is a great way for kids to enjoy a well-rounded athletic experience and develop new skills that can be transferred to football.

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