It’s a term that references the bond between goalkeepers and goalkeeping coaches. The position of goalkeeper is so different to that of an outfield player, even in the game these days where goalkeepers are expected to be just as proficient with their feet as an outfield player. Along with this, generally as a goalkeeping coach and group of goalkeepers, you have a small number of goalkeepers working together as opposed to the outfield numbers within a squad so this means as a group you tend to get to know each other better.
Each goalkeeper and the goalkeeping coach understand the pressure and scrutiny a goalkeeper is under as often even a simple mistake can lead to a goal. Whether this is a grass roots game or the World Cup Final there is a pressure involved that goalkeepers feel more than anyone else on the pitch.
For these reasons alone, there is a mutual respect amongst goalkeepers and goalkeeping coaches. We all have an empathy and a sympathy for each other’s position as we take to the field or we watch a game, which in this modern world we live in is scrutinized by cameras, pundits, analysts and fans like never before.
It might seem strange to many that goalkeepers get on so well, especially when you consider that there is only one position in the team for the goalkeeper to play yet one, two, three or sometimes even four goalkeepers could be battling it out for that place in the starting line-up.
I have been fortunate in that I can barely remember a time in a club I have coached in that the goalkeepers haven’t got on with each other. I have heard of situations in other clubs where it has happened but I feel it is fairly rare.
As a coach I encourage the goalkeepers to be competitive and want the shirt but at the same time help each other, encourage each other and push each other on. I actively also encourage the goalkeepers to “Self-Coach” each other. What I mean by that is, even though I’m the coach and will be leading the session, if a goalkeeper sees something that another goalkeeper does and they feel they want to make a point I’m happy for them to do that and we can all have a discussion. Often that maybe the more senior goalkeeper making the point but I still actively encourage all goalkeepers whatever their age or experience to make observations and we can have a discussion about it as we are all trying to help each other improve and get better.
Each goalkeeping coach will have their own style of how they coach, there is no right or wrong. Personally, I want the goalkeepers to work hard, BUT importantly I want them to enjoy their work as I feel if they enjoy it, they are more likely to be enthusiastic and learn at the same time. I take my work seriously BUT I want to see goalkeepers with smiles on their faces. Whether it’s a training session or even a match day warm up I’m happy for there to be banter involved whether that’s me bantering them or them bantering me as although I want it taken seriously I feel you also have to try and take the pressure off so that they are not too tense they cant perform to the best of their abilities.
At first team professional level within that goalkeeping group you can be faced with different scenarios with each of the goalkeepers and managing that is important. Here are a few different scenarios that can happen:
1) Two goalkeepers of similar ability genuinely battling for the number one shirt
2) A clear number one goalkeeper and a second-choice goalkeeper not of the same ability
3) An experienced number one goalkeeper and a young number two goalkeeper starting out in the game
4) A young number one goalkeeper and an experienced number two goalkeeper who is winding down his career
5) A goalkeeper on loan from higher up the leagues where there are certain percentages of games they need to play in as part of the loan agreement, which restricts the appearances of the number two goalkeeper
On top of that you may have a young third choice professional goalkeeper or scholar goalkeepers who are making their way in the game who you also have to consider within those dynamics as you try and help them with their development.
These are just some of the scenarios you may face as a goalkeeping coach and its your job to try and manage those situations and still retain a good work ethic along with good camaraderie and togetherness within the group.
One thing I have always tried to do with the goalkeepers is be very honest in my assessments of their performances, be that training or in matches. Certainly the higher you go, not all, but a good percentage of goalkeepers will know if they could have done something better and will often say something first anyway without the need to prompt it from you. I will give praise where I think they have done well and I will be honest and say where I feel they could have done something differently or better.
You can have scenarios where the manager or an outfield coach will give an opinion to you during or after a game about something the goalkeeper has done. Sometimes that opinion will be valid, sometimes in your opinion it isn’t. Sometimes they will give that opinion to you, sometimes they will give that opinion directly to the goalkeeper.
These are again situations you have to manage both from the goalkeeper’s perspective and yours as a coach. At times you may have to shelter the goalkeeper from a comment by keeping it quiet, at other times you may feel its right the goalkeeper knows. There will be times also where you just have to be a shoulder to lean on or an ear to listen to for the goalkeeper while still being respectful of the managers opinion as you are part of the managers backroom staff. These are all situations you encounter over time and with experience.
I am quite fortunate in that I have coached and worked at grass roots level, academy level, senior non-league level and professional first team level. Through each of those levels I have taken different pleasures trying to help all of the goalkeepers. That could be a grass roots goalkeeper really struggling with a basic technique who suddenly starts to get better at it. It could be an academy goalkeeper earning their next contract. It could be a non-league goalkeeper getting a move up a league. It could be a professional goalkeeper keeping a record number of clean sheets or making a match winning save in a play off game. I get so much pleasure and satisfaction trying to help all goalkeepers whatever the level.
Once that game kicks off, you can do no more so you are almost like the goalkeeper’s father on the touchline desperately wanting them to do well. You go through their highs and you go through their lows.
Before the game you wish them luck, after the game you either celebrate with them, be it a handshake or a hug or you may need to console them so it could be an arm round the shoulder.
Whatever happens, there is a togetherness which is what “The Goalkeepers Union” bond is all about………