Thinking back to 2007 on a ropey old pitch at the Crosslink Centre at Stratton with a two day course then moving on to a small hard old style astro turf pitch at Ruskin Junior School it’s been a long rewarding journey to where we are now.
Over that time I’ve seen a tiny Jared Thompson start out wanting all the bigger kids taking shots at him come through from there, into Swindon and then onto Chelsea and England age group sides. I’ve seen others also come out of my goalkeeping school and into the academy at Swindon Town.
Also now, with it being 10 years I can remember 3 other scenarios last season which certainly made me feel old! Firstly I remember walking across the car park of the County Ground after a game being stopped by a Swindon fan asking me if I remembered him, he had started out in my goalkeeping school at a young age and I only just about recognised him. Secondly I went into DW sports one day to buy some trainers and was served by another who had started out at my goalkeeping school and again, I only just about recognised him. Thirdly and the one that probably really made me feel old was taking the coaches out for an end of season meal and being served by the barman who also used to come to my goalkeeping school as a youngster!
Over the past 10 years we have coached over 350 different goalkeepers and it’s been great to see how they have all got on, how they have enjoyed themselves, made new friends outside of their normal school or club circle and how they have shown improvements in their goalkeeping.
Sadly at grass roots level, with their club sides there are not many who have anyone with goalkeeping experience or knowledge to help them so I feel it’s important that myself and my coaches play a part in trying to help them in whatever way we can. I still don’t feel a good percentage of outfield coaches really have the understanding or knowledge of goalkeeping development. I think it’s a real shame that whereas goalkeeping coaches have to do their outfield badges before each level of goalkeeping badges, outfield coaches don’t have to do the goalkeeping badges. I find that hard to understand, I’m told we have to have outfield knowledge as part of our coach development but why don’t outfield coaches need knowledge of the goalkeeping position if they are coaching them as part of their team?
A parent told me recently that he had been told by a coach/club that his goalkeeping son wouldn’t be signing for them as he had to improve his communication and distribution........the boy was 8 years of age?! Personally at that age all I would be looking for is 3 things:
1) Does he/she have a passion for wanting to play in goal?
2) What are his/her movement patterns like, is he mobile and able to get around the goal (gone are the days of the big kid going in the goal to fill it!)
3) Is he/she able to make saves and be effective in the goal even if they weren’t great technical saves?
Everything else can be worked on over time and communication will come as they grow socially and develop confidence as a person and amongst their peers.
With my hectic work commitments at Swindon Town previously I’ve only ever really had the time to do one session per week and the occasional two day course in the summer. Who knows though, over time I may be able to develop more sessions and open up more centres around the area to try and help more grass roots goalkeepers, time will tell.
It’s well documented that over the summer I left Swindon Town and dropped down from League One to the National League with Forest Green Rovers and its certainly broadening my experience as a coach. At both Swindon and Forest Green the style of football played by both clubs is a passing and possession based style which the goalkeeper is very much a big part of and a lot is required of them in terms of distribution and bravery on the ball. This is quite a topical subject at present with the whole Claudio Bravo / Joe Hart situation at Man City (which I will come back to later).
Certainly when we are in possession of the ball our goalkeeper, Sam Russell is expected to start many of our attacks. Fortunately Sam is very good with the ball at his feet so there was already a base to work with but I have to ensure he and the other goalkeepers practice their range of passing and receiving of the ball across the course of the week to help them feel confident during a game.
The National League is a very physical, direct style of football type league and opposition forwards and midfielders certainly put pressure on you as a team when you are in possession. The biggest difference I have found between the National League and League One is that direct style, and most, not all but most teams get the ball into your final third and play for corners, free kicks and throw in’s with nearly all teams having a long throw specialist. Therefore it doesn’t matter how good you as a team are in possession, that period of the game where you don’t have the ball, as no team ever has 100% possession, you will find yourself under a great deal of pressure aerially. I’ve been tasked with organising defending set pieces and it’s something I have had to really study and think about which challenges me as a coach (which is a good thing) to try and help my goalkeeper, the back four and the team in general to counter against the opposition threat. I would say that in League One, although there are obviously set pieces and physical threats it’s not quite as intense as it is in the National League so I can understand why many Premiership, Championship and League One clubs are keen to loan their young goalkeepers out into the National League as a way of toughening them up!
Going back to the Claudio Bravo / Joe Hart situation, I have no issue with Pep Guardiola changing his goalkeeper even though I think Joe Hart is a good goalkeeper despite his poor Euro’s tournament. Every manager/coach will rate or like one player and perhaps not another, that’s just football. I think what annoyed me through the whole process was the comparison stats that kept cropping up on sky sports in terms of their passing success rates and distances they played those passes/kicks. This was simply not comparing like for like. Each club and manager/coach will give different instructions to players. It’s not always how the goalkeeper or team chooses to play but how they are asked to play. I’m sure Hart with previous managers at Man City will have been asked to play/kick longer as is the way in the premiership and at Barcelona Bravo was obviously asked to play shorter by their manager at the time therefore the goalkeepers would have been used to playing in that way. It’s not to say Hart couldn’t adapt and play a shorter style but he would have needed time to adapt, practise and get used to a shorter style.
At Swindon, under Paolo Di Canio, Wes Foderingham in League Two was simply asked to hit balls into the opposition half, especially on goal kicks and the team would play their attacking style in the opposition half, this was a simple task for Wes he could easily hit an area of the pitch on a consistent basis.
In League One when the playing out philosophy first came in, although Wes is good with his feet, it took a while to adapt and he gradually developed his distribution skills further both technically and psychologically. However it’s funny how people can be perceived and pigeon-holed. I remember only too well how not long after Christmas going into the second half of the season which would see his contract expire clubs were looking at him as a possible signing. A well known goalkeeping coach at a Championship club came to watch him and via an agent a report came back that they felt Wes “took too many risks” playing out from the back, playing outside the area etc. Yes you could argue that he did....BUT that was because that was how he was asked to play for the benefit of the team shape and principles so he followed those instructions as a good professional does. If they just wanted a goalkeeper to launch it in the channels and make saves Wes could have done that every single day of the week for them, they just needed to ask!
Back at Swindon Town, it’s great to see both Lawrence Vigouroux and Will Henry both of whom I worked with last season doing so well. Both are great lads and characters and both have huge potential to go on and have good careers in the game.
In my ten years of coaching, I’ve been fortunate to work with many goalkeepers who have had good attitudes to their work but I can honestly say Will is the most “driven” character I have had the pleasure to work with. He is polite, respectful, listens, wants to learn and every day (even his days off) he is in the gym trying to make him the best he can be physically to cope with the rigours of professional football.
I remember towards the end of last season when injuries meant he was the last remaining fit goalkeeper so I had to manage his workload to ensure he stayed fit but also injury free. We had finished our session, including the work with the team and I had gone back inside the ground to complete some paperwork. Next thing you know, somebody mentioned he was out on the pitch; I went back outside to find that he had been asked to go in goal by some of the lads for some shooting! I literally had to drag him off the pitch because he just loves throwing himself around, making saves and trying to stop players scoring, he takes great delight in that! I would be amazed if he is not on the English FA age group’s radar as he certainly deserves to be in some of their goalkeeping camp training get togethers they have and I am convinced he will go on to have a good career in the game because he has a fantastic professional attitude and desire to go with his actual goalkeeping skills.
I stepped up from academy to first team and new goalkeeping coach Dean Thornton is also taking that pathway having joined from QPR academy so I’m pleased he has been given that opportunity like I was to develop as a coach. I’m sure he will enjoy working with Lawrence and Will and the other young goalkeepers at the club as much as I did and I wish them all well.
Having just completed the first 10 games of the season, it’s been interesting comparing Sam Russell’s stats at Forest Green Rovers to both Lawrence Vigouroux’s and Wes Foderingham's at Swindon from the last two seasons after ten games. Many similarities and certainly gives an idea of what’s required of a goalkeeper in the modern game. Perhaps in my next blog I will talk about that further and my experiences on the new UEFA GK A Licence course which I have been working on for the past 16 months and nearing the end of.
Until then.....”Enjoy Goalkeeping”!