HOWEVER, my big fear currently is the amount of criticism goalkeepers face and in my opinion the “Over-Analysis” of goals or incidents in games and the effect this has on the “Present” and “Future” in particular for young goalkeepers starting out in the game and how it may impact them and the position of being a goalkeeper.
Difficulty of the position
Playing in goal has never been easy, one mistake can lead to a goal in more ways than if an outfield player makes a mistake. When you consider a full size, goal is 24ft wide and 8ft high that’s 192 square feet you have to stop the ball going in!
The footballs have become lighter, quicker and move more and the coatings on many of them now make it like catching the proverbial bar of soap. Having coached with the Nike ball in the FA Cup, the Mitre ball in the EFL and the Jako ball (the worst I’ve come across) in the National League, they have all amazed me how they travel and move/swerve/wobble and I’m in no way crediting my own ball striking technique for that!
The way the game has moved forwards is that players have become faster and stronger producing more power and pace when striking the ball and when you align that to the way the footballs now move as just mentioned the problems are adding up for the goalkeeper.
Despite coaching for a number of years now and being the one serving to goalkeepers, last season I was on the receiving end one day and it really opened my eyes! I played Non-League football before starting my coaching career a number of years ago now and despite my age and weight at the time (lost 3 stone since) I rather naively went in goal in a pre-match shooting drill (having lost a goalkeeper to injury in the warm up) before my then Exeter City colleagues faced Swindon Town in League Two. I think the only shot I got near was one which was straight at me which I parried and its fair to say I couldn’t even pick up a pen for the next few days!
Joking aside, until you have stood in the goal and faced shots, it’s hard to really get the full understanding of how difficult the position is. That’s before you even look at other areas of the game as a goalkeeper such as dealing with crosses and all the intricacies involved in that aspect.
In this day and age, the coverage of the game is fantastic and there are some good pundits I enjoy listening to such as Gary Neville, Jamie Carragher, Roy Keane and Micah Richards. However, it baffles and amazes me that given that there are often ex-Referees in the studio to give opinion on refereeing matters, alongside all of the ex-outfield players, there is rarely a goalkeeping pundit to give their views on situations in the game. This really needs to change! Give the likes of Rob Green, Matt Murray, David Preece, David Seaman, David James and others a regular chance to put the goalkeepers perspective forward.
Many of these ex-players will have played with some great goalkeepers in their time of course but that doesn’t mean they really understand the position and what it entails. However, they are quick to blame goalkeepers and really go to town on them over goals and situations either when it is their fault or often when in reality it isn’t!
If you look on these channels, plus the way Twitter/Facebook is now with so many opinions, goals and situations are analysed over and over and over again. The criticism I feel has got more and more sadly. Yet when a goalkeeper makes a good save or has a good game, its rarely mentioned or the phrase “that's what they are paid to do” is used. That is a phrase which always makes me think based on that theory then every time a striker scores surely they are just doing their job so why do they get so much praise?!
The main reason for my blog is that having also had my own private goalkeeping school for 14 years now I see young goalkeepers starting out in the game from 7 years of age upwards. My big fear is that with all the criticism and pressure and even in some cases ridicule there now is on goalkeepers, I feel this will have an impact on young players starting out and deciding whether to go in goal or not.
As already explained, it’s a hard enough position, therefore we might find a young player may decide to play out on pitch and avoid the criticism that could come their way. I hope that isn’t the case but that is my fear right now.
The joy of goalkeeping
I spoke to some goalkeepers and goalkeeping coaches in the professional game currently or who were in the game to get some of their views on what made them want to be a goalkeeper and what they enjoy about the role.
Steve Phillips played over 500 games for the likes of Bristol City, Bristol Rovers, Shrewsbury Town and Crewe Alexandra having an excellent career before going on to coach at Yeovil Town. Steve now has a really successful goalkeeping school in the Somerset area passing on his knowledge and wisdom to young goalkeepers starting out.
“I loved training, all I wanted to do was be out on the grass improving. The first few years I was over worrying about making a mistake but managers can help so much with that when you get a good one. I loved playing under Danny Wilson, Paul Trollope and Steve Davis they didn’t place me under pressure when I made a mistake, which allowed me to learn from the mistake and improve. They treated me well and I went into games confident and on the front foot. I looked forward to the build-up and the crowd noise and you can’t beat the vibe of the dressing room on a match day, especially when you win!
Making a big save, not necessarily a top corner one or a worldie but one that kept my team in the game was the type of save I got the most pleasure out of.”
James McKeown at Grimsby Town in League Two has played around 400 professional games now and he knows what gave him the satisfaction to start with.
“As a kid I loved being the only one who was happy to dive in the mud or in the garages on our council estate. The surface didn’t matter to me, I just wanted to dive around including when it was hammering down with rain, even now I think that’s what I enjoy.
Being out there on your own, playing under the pressure of knowing if we aren’t 100% in nearly every decision, then it ends up in a goal effectively.
I think most outfield players would fancy themselves to dive around and save a penalty now and then but would they throw themselves from 2-3 yards at a ball about to be absolutely smashed at them!? That’s why my favourite type of save is a brave reaction save block. It’s easy for people to say “it just hit him” but you’ve got to have the quick feet to get into line and the bravery and aggression to throw yourself at the ball, you can’t beat that buzz when you make that save!”
Scott Loach has made over 450 professional appearances for the likes of England Under 21s, Watford, Ipswich, Bradford, Notts County, Hartlepool Utd and now Barnet and he knows what he loves about the position.
“I love being different, standing out from the crowd, wearing that different top being the only one apart from the opposition goalkeeper out there. I know I have an important role to play and everyone else thinking you are mad!
It’s always great to save a penalty as you are not expected to but I also love that solid save that just sticks in your hands and makes you feel good and everyone around you feel calm”
David Rouse is currently First Team Goalkeeping Coach at Championship side Stoke City where he has recently helped young England Under 21 prospect Josef Bursik keep 8 clean sheets in 10 games.
“When I played, I loved the feeling both physically and mentally when making a save. When I was in that moment, I could feel every movement of my body getting into position, pushing off perhaps for a dive and the contact of the ball in my hands. After the save was the mental recognition of the save, knowing i'd done my job, the self-belief that gave me.
What I love now when coaching goalkeepers is seeing them getting into that flow, where they are operating at the level of consistency to be able to feel those saves and enjoy their craft.
I love helping goalkeepers get the best out of themselves and it gives me a massive high when I see them succeed. It’s not just about the big moment in the big game but all of the million little details that go into that top level moment!”
All of these goalkeepers and coaches have had great careers in the game and you can hear the passion in their voice when talking goalkeeping and why they love the position. This is exactly why I hope more people can focus on the positive side of the position of goalkeeper and drown out some of the negativity that is currently out there. It’s a difficult position, no goalkeeper wants to concede but it’s the nature of the game and there are ten other players in that team who are accountable as well. Let’s not over think things, let’s enjoy what they do well more than the negativity of when a goal is conceded.
To quote young Max Smith, the young goalkeeper featured in the picture on this blog who said “I love to play in goal because I love sliding, diving around in the goal and getting muddy is always a bonus” That’s the enthusiasm we need to encourage in our young goalkeepers of the future, not put them off before they start.
Steve Hale - UEFA A Licence Goalkeeping Coach