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Wednesday, 06 March 2013 13:55

How We Can Help Blog

How We Can Help Blog

As well as playing in goal myself in the non league game for well over 20 years, I have also worked my way through various coaching badges. I have completed the FA Level One, FA Level Two and Uefa B licence outfield and then FA Level Two Goalkeeping and FA Goalkeeping B Licence. I have also completed the FA Level Two Basic Treatment of Injury course and kept my FA Emergency Aid and FA Safeguarding Children certificates up to date.


There is now another strand to the coaching pathway called the FA Youth award modules and I have just started these and I am currently in the middle of Module one. I need to complete Module one and Module two before September as my role at Swindon Town requires this and I also like to increase my knowledge whenever possible anyway.


I will openly admit that I was a little sceptical on these courses as they are more designed with outfield coaches in mind but I have got on with it nevertheless. Having completed half of the four day course there are still areas that I feel that are not really that relevant to me as a goalkeeping coach as most of the actual practises so far, are as I say geared towards outfield players. There have though been a few warm up games which I think I can use or adapt and hopefully in this coming weekends final two days there will be other practises I can adapt to use.


For me the presentations and discussions that have ensued in the classroom I have thoroughly enjoyed and has got my brain ticking over (some might seem surprised I actually have one!) and have been both useful and thought provoking to me as a coach. The Module one is geared towards the 5-11 age brackets, though there are still some generic principles that apply to all ages.


Throughout the course we talk a lot about the “Technical, Physical, Social and Psychological” areas of a young player and in the age range 5-11 most of the focus is more on the final three aspects I just mentioned. It is about creating the right environment for them to learn in, both in a safe and fun way.


From a social aspect it is about encouraging them to have fun and enjoyment, have a smile on their face and want to come back for more. If you enjoy something and want to do it there is a far greater chance that learning will take place.


From a psychological aspect it is about making sure the child feels included in the session, feels confident to give an opinion and even if not at a technically high level can see that working and trying hard brings rewards and praise.


The two areas that got me really thinking though are the “Physical and Technical” areas and thinking back to my own past experiences and what I experience with both my goalkeeping school, my work at Swindon Town and in my past role as a Teaching Assistant in a local primary school.


On this course there is a lot of talk about the “ABC’s” which stands for “Agility, Balance and Co-ordindation” and FUNdamentals which is letting the kids have fun but at the same time working on their basic movement patterns such as walking, running, skipping, jumping, turning etc.


I always vowed when I was younger not to be one of those old people that would say to me as a youngster.... ”In my day..........” HOWEVER I have become one of those people!


In my day as a kid you would be out down the park playing football or cricket with your mates, climbing walls, trees and generally getting up to all sorts of physical activities. These all helped at an early age with your movement, agility, balance and co-ordination skills without someone standing there coaching you how to do it, you simply learnt naturally.


My personal opinion is that not enough is done both in schools these days and at home by some parents to help young children with physical skills that will stand them in good stead not just for sporting purposes but life skills in general. While working in the school they knew I was a football coach so I sometimes got asked to take a P.E lesson which I was more than happy to do. What surprised me though was in a class of say 20-30 children the amount of children who struggled with simple things like throwing and catching, whether it was a football, netball, tennis ball or bean bag. Their basic abilities to climb a climbing frame or get over a beam in the sports hall also left me saddened. I think society obviously hasn’t helped as now there are so many distractions for children such as laptops, I pads, X-Boxes, numerous channels on the telly, that a lot will stay locked away in their bedroom rather than go down the park. I also appreciate and understand from a parent’s point of view it’s maybe sadly not as safe these days for children to go down the park on their own and parents work longer hours in their jobs therefore having less social time with their children.


However I still feel it’s important for the schools to do more and also the parents I feel can do more to help their children at a young age. Simple tasks in your own street, back garden or even in the front room such as throwing and catching different objects (ones that are safe of course), playing chase, allowing them to climb objects under your supervision perhaps will help in the long run and just short regular spells will help greatly.


When I look at it purely from a goalkeeping perspective there have been times where the children who are slightly bigger in build have gone in goal as they haven’t got the speed or energy to run around out on pitch. Now firstly the modern goalkeeper needs mobility, agility, balance, co-ordination and speed to be able to get quickly around his/her goal, to make saves, to come out to clear a through ball, to jump to claim a cross/high ball and dive around to make saves so if they can’t perform those skills effectively they will struggle in goal. Secondly if these children are put in goal how will they develop energy, speed, agility, balance and co-ordination if they are not challenged to do so?


From a technical point of view there was an interesting discussion on the course about whether children should be a specialised goalkeeper at a young age and there was discussion as to what age somebody should specialise as a goalkeeper. From experience with my own goalkeeping school the turnover of children who join and leave is always higher in my younger age group. There are two main reasons I feel for this, firstly because their concentration levels are obviously a lot lower but secondly because they don’t really know if they want to be a goalkeeper or a striker!


I don’t believe any child should be “made” to play in goal; they should try a few different positions out and see what they enjoy the most and where they feel comfortable to start with. Then if they really want to be a goalkeeper, let them play there and encourage them and be there to support them as I make no bones about it, it is a tough and sometimes lonely place to play!


At Swindon when they first come in at under 8’s I don’t even do any goalkeeping specific work with them I just let them train with the outfield coach and players only. It is only when they go to under 9’s I start to do goalkeeping specific work with them but it’s still important that they do lots of work with the outfield coach and players.


I sometimes get asked what I would look for in a goalkeeper at Swindon at such a young age from say 6 to 8/9 and the honest answer is not a lot! What I mean by that is you cannot expect too much at such a young age. It really is basic skills such as them not being afraid of the ball, whereas some will turn away from it, they need to be prepared to get in the way and stop the ball however they do it. I look to see if they have some basic hand to eye co-ordination so they can catch a ball even if it’s not in the perfect technical goalkeeping style. I also look to see if their basic movement skills are good so they can move quite quickly and get around their goal and area quickly. If they haven’t got that it doesn’t matter how well they catch the ball they will struggle to get to it in the first place. I also look to see if they really enjoy actually being in goal and throwing themselves about or whether it’s just because they don’t have to run about so much or their one of their family was a goalkeeper so they have just followed suit.


Going back to the discussion about when they should specialise in goal I don’t think there should be a set age as such, it’s down to the individual if they want to go in goal all the time or not. Who am I or who is anyone for that matter to say “you must or mustn’t” go in goal all the time? Let them make decisions and enjoy the game and work out for themselves what they want to do and where they want to play.


What I would say though is the sooner they can start working on their goalkeeping techniques the better it will stand them in the long run. Again basing it particularly on the work I do at Swindon those ages from around 9/10 up to 15/16 is a massively important time for nailing down their goalkeeping techniques. Then as they get towards the 15/16 bracket and potential scholarships, physical elements, tactical knowledge, decision making comes into play more. You would still continue honing their technical skills and still do so at senior level but really their goalkeeping techniques generally need to be in place for them to stand a good chance of progressing at that level. Similarly at grass roots level those ages are important for goalkeepers to learn and develop their goalkeeping techniques.


So next time you have 10-15 minutes spare and a bit of daylight, can you take your young son/daughter out in the garden/street or down the park and spend some time playing fun little games, getting them moving in different ways, different directions, speeds, jumping, catching and diving. Help them build their movement patterns for all sports and life in general.


If it’s dark, wet and cold and you have had a hard day at work that still doesn’t excuse you! Can you play little simple catch games with them in the living room or their bedroom for their co-ordination skills? (Disclaimer: You cannot sue me if Mums favourite vase gets broken!)


We all need to help the young children of today develop. It’s not just down to the coach, or the parent or the school; it’s down to all of us as a team to help them be the best they can be.

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