How do we improve young goalkeeper’s decision-making?TD: We have to create an environment for them to express themselves and to be creative with their distribution. We don’t want our goalkeeper’s to be boring or one dimensional in their play. We want them to express their advantage of being that eleventh player.
Clever practice design is also important. Sessions and exercises which demand goalkeepers to make specific decisions over varying distances are really important. Then the coach’s role is to set the conditions and the challenge and help the players make decisions within that framework.
If we’re afraid of putting the goalkeepers into that situation they’re never going to become comfortable making decisions. With the right environment and clever practice design we can improve that.
Transition is key in the modern game. What are the key skills needed for the future goalkeeper to support effective transitional play?MT: The easy part is actually developing the technical elements of distribution - the delivery and quality of the pass or the throw.
The hardest part is making the right decisions. Goalkeepers must have the ability to recognise opportunities to begin an attack and then, having seen it, play with the quality needed.
Once the ball has been distributed, it’s crucial to identify the shape and compactness of the team and make appropriate decisions to ensure that the team isn’t countered on the counter.
TD: As a nation a lot of our goalkeepers have good technique and distribution skills, but when they put that into play tactically, in a unit or in a team, it can sometimes fall down.
We need goalkeepers who have the technical skills to deliver a full range of passes over all the different distances, but crucially the understanding of how the team are going to play, what the players’ movements are and how they can be the eleventh player in possession.
How valuable is it to integrate the goalkeeper into team practices?TD: There is a time and a place for goalkeepers to be isolated and work on position specific requirements. But being with the squad carries equal importance.
More importantly is the goalkeeper is integrated into a squad practice. It’s very easy to have them there but what conditions are applied in the game to ensure that the goalkeeper gets as much benefit from the practice as the outfield players.
This can be achieved through clever practice design and constraints which utilise different pitch shapes and sizes that create the pictures the goalkeeper is going to experience in the game.
Since the ‘retreat line’ was introduced into the grassroots game has there been an improvement in our young GKs playing out from the back?TD: Two or three years ago on a Sunday morning you would have seen a young goalkeeper with the ball in their hand running to the edge of their box and kicking it as far as they could. With the introduction of the retreat line this is no longer the case.
Something we have tried to do here at The FA is to lose that word ‘kick’. When a goalkeeper does have the ball, everything is a ‘pass’ whether it’s out of their hands or with their feet. It’s an important psychological slant for the goalkeeper when they’re in possession and something which has started to filter into the grassroots game.
The retreat line again links back to clever practice design. It exposes the goalkeepers to a situation where they have to see a picture and then select the right kind of pass over different distances. It helps to develop decision-making skills and an appreciation and relationship between players. It’s a condition that can be incorporated into practice sessions too.
How young would you start to identify goalkeeping talent?TD: Some of the professional clubs are working with goalkeepers as young as six. This is something I have done myself, and witnessed both the pros and the cons.
If we pick our two keepers for the team at a really young age, how much are they missing out on in all other areas? How many other members of the squad might actually have the potential to become a goalkeeper in the future?
So, what is our method to try and test that? Should we give young players, in both the grassroots and professional game, the chance to play in goal once a week? Do we encourage all players to take a turn in goal during training? Maybe it’s something you could try every now and then? Young players aren’t on a linear journey towards any position. There are several examples of outfield players who have become goalkeepers, and vice versa. You just never know what will change in the future and what might happen.
At that age, young goalkeepers might not know they enjoy being a GK until they try it?TD: Correct, and vice versa. The nine-year-old who turns up in their green top with their oversized gloves, does that necessarily mean he’s the keeper?
You could have the outfield player who is of slight body composition, not that strong at the moment but when they get to 13/14 could be really agile, a great user of the ball and reader of the game. They could be perfect in goal.
Everybody involved in player development must make sure they’re open minded enough in training and games programmes to see this issue and explore ways of providing young players with the opportunity to be the goalkeepers of the future.
This article was first published in The Boot Room magazine in December 2014.