Once again it raised the issue of “Distribution” from the goalkeeper and managing expectations.
If I start at the top end of the game and work back I think it’s important to try and get a few things clear to try and help our goalkeepers develop in the modern game.
I have mentioned these types of stats before but I make no apologies for talking about them again.
This season at Swindon, in the first ten games of the season Wes Foderingham has distributed the ball 530 times, 38 of those times with his hands (under-arm roll and over-arm throw) and 492 times with his feet (back passes, goal kicks, through balls, passes/kicks from floor, side volley from hands) so on average he is kicking/passing the ball 49 times per game. This compares to making 22 saves in that ten game period, so 2 saves per game. This week Tyrell Belford played against Newport County and funnily enough he played the ball with his feet exactly 49 times as well, one of which was a magical piece of skill if you have a look https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHUA7nb0eJE and with the style of play at Swindon where we play out from the back, the goalkeepers often start the attacks and receive the ball back a lot in a patient manner to keep possession.
If you take this back into non-league football, I looked at this a few years ago when working with Cirencester Town where I looked at the first team goalkeeper Kevin Sawyer over a ten game period and the numbers were still quite high with 308 distributions with his feet so averaging 30 times per game compared to 28 saves so just under 3 saves per game. The types of distributions varied slightly because the non-league game is more direct so the goalkeeper has to kick longer distances more frequently compared to the style at Swindon. We currently have two of our scholar goalkeepers out on loan from Swindon in senior non-league football and around 80% of their distribution will be long into the opponents half 60-80 yards compared to our other scholar who is playing for our youth team who spends around 80-90% of his time playing shorter 10-20 yard passes.
If you look at those stats at both levels its clear to see why distribution skills are so important, far more important than they have ever been.
Therefore if you relate this information back to youth football it’s obvious that all coaches need to develop this area of the goalkeeper’s game.
HOWEVER what we must also realise is that most young goalkeepers probably started playing in goal because they were better with their hands, throwing themselves around making saves than their skills with their feet. Our expectations as coaches need to be lower on what they can or cannot do and the actual process of helping them develop those skills will take longer than it will with an outfield player so we need to show patience and support.
I spent 15 minutes with the young goalkeeper whose parent asked me for help and I wasn’t really overly concerned having watched him. I took into account his age firstly and compared him to the same age group goalkeepers at Swindon and other goalkeepers in my goalkeeping school of that age and what he was achieving was of a similar height and distance that they could achieve. I then looked at his physical make up compared to a couple of other goalkeepers at that age and the other goalkeepers were of a stockier build and could achieve a little more height and distance but not huge amounts more. I believe striking a football well is partly technical and partly physical so at the younger ages if a boy/ girl is better developed physically there is a fair chance they will achieve greater distances and height. Let’s not forget though, accuracy on a consistent basis is very important.
The coaches that choose to get an outfield player to take the goal kicks instead of the goalkeeper often tend to choose the big “strapping centre half” who comes back to boom it. I would ask the following questions to those coaches;
How does that help the development of the goalkeeper (and the centre half as they are probably now out of position in the shape of the team)?
Are you coaching a young team to help develop "all" of the young players or are you there just to try and win games at whatever cost?
Have you actually allowed or helped your young goalkeeper each week at your team training sessions to practise and develop their striking of the ball?
Can you coach the team to play out from the back, therefore not needing the goalkeeper to kick it as far and as high as they can, therefore including and involving your goalkeeper and helping them feel good and part of the team?
If you stop the goalkeeper taking goal-kicks he/she will not develop that area of his/her game, it’s as simple as that. Give them the opportunity to work at it in training and let them experience it in games and both medium and long term you will see the benefits to that young goalkeeper.
There is no “Rocket Science” to developing distribution skills, I call it “bag of balls down the park” and what I mean by that is simply spend as much time as possible practising. Start over short distances; gradually build up the distance, still maintaining accuracy. Set little challenges such as can they clip the ball up into your hands, maybe can they clip it over your head? Put down target areas for them to try and get the ball into, again over different distances. The goalkeeper needs to be able to deliver a wide range of passes as they grow, and when they are fully developed, short, medium, long, on the floor, lofted in the air, driven through the air or driven along the floor.
I can assure you even at Swindon with Wes, Tyrell and the scholar goalkeepers we simply spend plenty of time practising to hone these skills.
Results in youth football is not the be all and end all, helping develop young footballers and young people, creating an environment where they can have fun and enjoy the game is far more important than looking at the league table in the local paper on a Monday morning. Your goalkeeper is part of that so please help them.