My Own Experiences
I’m 44 years of age so it seems like many years ago I was a child growing up playing football down the park with my mates and throwing myself around in the mud. In terms of organised football, I played for the likes of Purton and Cricklade and often got selected for the various league representative age group sides but back then there wasn’t the academies or opportunities there are now.
I had trials at Cardiff City, was watched by Oxford Utd and Southampton but simply wasn’t good enough to make the grade. I made the then Swindon Schoolboys squad battling it out as number 2/3 goalkeeper with another lad but eventually the first choice went on to sign apprentice forms at Swindon Town which the schoolboys setup generally fed into.
During those early years I received no coaching at all, especially goalkeeping coaching. It was simply learn on the job! One time I did attend a “Bobby Charlton Soccer School” in Manchester but sadly my parents booked me on the wrong week for the goalkeeping coaching! The great man Sir Bobby in fairness was actually there that week and took me aside for some “work”.........basically he smashed some shots at me and for anyone old enough to remember Sir Bobby’s strengths it was the power of his shooting so that was an eye opener for me!
Going into senior non-league football again for 98% of the many years I played I received no coaching (some might say that was clear from my performances! LOL) Probably one of my best seasons however was 1999/2000 when I was 27 years old and playing at Larkhall Athletic based in Bath. The reason being I had a guy called Mark Jefferies who although not a goalkeeping coach, would work with me each week at training. We would go off and I would get him to do some serving for me and basically practice aspects of my game and this repetition and practice really helped.
Grass Roots Goalkeeping
Thankfully things have moved forwards over the years and there are many coaching setups across the country and this includes dedicated goalkeeping coaching.
At grass roots level, I can’t give you figures exactly but from experience and speaking to people there are not many clubs that provide specific goalkeeping coaching for their youngsters. However organisations such as mine, “Steve Hale Goalkeeping School” and other goalkeeping coaching schools across the country, are working with young grass roots goalkeepers.
I setup 10 years ago so have plenty of experience of the trials and tribulations that grass roots goalkeepers go through. That one hour a week maybe the only specific goalkeeping work they get in a week. With limited time, there is only so much we can do, so provided the young goalkeepers show commitment in terms of attending each week and sustaining that over the season/seasons their development will take time but they will develop. I break the work down into General Handling & Footwork, Diving Saves, Shot-Stopping, 1v1’s, Dealing with Crosses and Match Situation Play. Therefore each week we “drip-feed” the many different aspects of a goalkeepers game into their learning process.
We don’t get to see them play for their teams at the weekend, so we are not in a position to see how they put those skills into practice or offer further feedback. However the goalkeepers that have committed over a sustained period of time, have, according to feedback from their parents shown levels of improvement which is pleasing to hear and obviously our aim. As I stated previously, with limited time with them there is only so much we can do but we try and help them as best we can giving them the basic fundamentals of the position and getting them to enjoy their goalkeeping.
We also try and teach them some life skills such as commitment, teamwork, respect, work ethic and importantly social skills, seeing them mix with other goalkeepers but who go to different schools so making new friends.
At Forest Green Rovers where I am now having left Swindon Town last summer I oversee the first team and the youth goalkeepers. However with the youth setup, it isn’t currently a full academy setup as it is at Swindon as the first team are not in the football league....yet! Therefore although it has a thriving youth section it is still technically grass roots football. The positive aspect though is that there is a voluntary goalkeeping coach in place who does a good job with limited time and I act in an advisory capacity over him. Ian Mills is an enthusiastic and methodical coach who in the same way as my goalkeeping school only gets one hour a week with the young goalkeepers at the club. I put the same system in place whereby they work each week on the topics I mentioned earlier. This means, with the limited time Ian has, he is also trying to drip-feed the fundamentals of the position into their learning programme. Therefore expectation of their development needs to be sensible and realistic.
I spent 9 years at Swindon Town working with the academy goalkeepers, at the offset just a few ad-hoc sessions on a Saturday morning. Over time I built this up and when I eventually went full time I was able to develop it further. Through the times when the evenings were light the Foundation Phase and Youth Development Phase goalkeepers would get two, hour long sessions per week.
During the winter months when we moved onto the 3G pitch they would still both get their hour session on a Monday night. On the Friday night due to limited pitch availability I would have an hour and a half available so the Foundation Phase and Youth Development Phase goalkeepers would alternate each week having that hour and a half. Also I would attend the games programme each Sunday and do a group goalkeeping warm up and watch the various games and offer feedback. The games were all filmed and then it would be a case of going through analysing them and spending some time with the goalkeepers to discuss the analysis.
Alongside this I developed goalkeeper packs giving all sorts of goalkeeping information for them and importantly homework where they would have to analyse themselves.
Swindon Town Academy are a category three academy. I know from speaking to other academy goalkeeping coaches, especially at category two and one level they have even more contact and coaching time with the goalkeepers. However you can see that if you compare the time at academy level compared to grass roots level, spent working with the goalkeepers, the expectation levels of how they could/should develop will be higher.
Senior Part-Time Non-League Goalkeeping
Before going full time with Swindon I was also goalkeeping coach at Chippenham Town and Cirencester Town in the Southern Premier Division, just below the National League. Although still a good level of non league football, only a handful of teams at this level have a goalkeeping coach doing any work with the clubs goalkeepers. At this level it is very hard to have a significant impact on the goalkeepers. It may be the case you are working with a goalkeeper in his later years who is set in his ways and therefore unlikely that you will be able to attain much development. However the biggest problem will be the limited time and space you will actually get to do any work with them. Often you maybe training on a 3G pitch only once or twice a week which has been hired for an hour so apart from maybe a 15 minute goalkeeping warm up in the corner, the goalkeeper or goalkeepers will likely be needed in with the team. You will then be watching and offering advice on what you see in whatever the practice is that is being put on. Match-days will be delivering the warm up and maybe making the odd comment at half time or the end of the game but not many teams will have access to video analysis or the time to spend going through that with them.
Senior Professional Goalkeeping
When I was at Swindon Town in League One and now at Forest Green Rovers in the National League, I see and get to work with the goalkeepers on a daily basis. By starting their sessions earlier than the outfield players we get plenty of time to work on aspects of the game and then they go in with the team and I can watch and offer further feedback and discuss points with them on that. Then there is the match-day warm up and as with academy football, games filmed and analysis done during the week, so overall we get plenty of quality goalkeeping time.
Obviously there are coaching points to be made and discussed but I feel there is less actual coaching than at academy or grass roots level where you are teaching the youngsters the game. Generally the first choice goalkeeper at a professional club has reached that level because he does a lot of things right on a pretty consistent basis. Perhaps if you have a young number one or a young number two there are more points to be made and discuss but a lot of the time you are simply maintaining and practicing or slightly tweaking things with the goalkeepers in terms of the sessions and work you go through.
There are more goalkeeping coaches out there now and more resources in terms of the internet these days which is a major positive in my opinion. You still however have to have realistic expectations when it comes to goalkeeping development depending on which level you are at as a club, player, coach, manager, parent or supporter.
You need to assess where you are at in terms of what facilities, equipment and time you have available and what level of expertise you have available to work with the goalkeepers. Then think how things can be improved for the benefit of the goalkeeper, the team and your club.