Let’s be honest, whenever anyone talks about “models” in soccer, rarely are the goalkeepers mentioned. No doubt, goalkeepers are part of the team process and approach and need to be included in all aspects of the team. But the role is unique and requires its own attention.
At Hotspurs we have a plan along with a pathway to the first team for both girls and boys — this plan includes the goalkeepers. We don’t just “do” goalkeeper training to tick it off a list to say it’s done… We really invest in our keepers to maximize their potential.
When players start soccer, they are taught to dribble and pass, and everyone’s favorite, shooting! This gives players the basic skills to be able to play the game, right? BUT then, the coach says “Player X we need you to go in goal.”
I’d wager 9 out of 10 times this player has had zero keeper training before donning the gloves. For the untrained, this can be a frightening experience. ‘What do I do when the ball comes to me?’ ‘Where do I stand?’ ‘How do I actually STOP the ball?’
The foundation of our keeper program is the “fun-damentals.” Starting in the fall of 2020, this starts with every keeper in the youngest age groups of our Foundation Phase (FP) receiving a basic keeper session. The session goes over the basic technical bread and butter keeper skills — set position and basic handling. This is so they aren’t completely unprepared if they get the nod at a Steel City session or with their local community team.
The second part of this fun-damental program is a cycle where the U8-U10 players come to learn the basics of keepers. This program allows the players to get a better understanding of the position and learn skills that will help them on the field for their respective teams.
At the youngest age for player development most, if not every player should play a shift in goal to see the game from a different perspective. This vision can greatly impact their awareness of the game.
GK Union Pre – Academy
If a player from the fun-damental wants further keeper training they move to the GK Union pre-academy. This is where goalkeepers learn both the technical side of the position and game-like situations in an additional session outside of the team training.
The sessions progress to allow players to use the skills they’ve practiced in a game like-situation. Engrained in our club approach, we believe in game-like training. Our keepers have to practice their decision-making and reactions in a game-speed. In a real game, keepers face moments where the ball may deflect or they have to decide to come out to challenge or not. So they need to work on this in practice.
Additionally in the pre-academy, we focus heavily on practicing distribution that aligns with our Hotspurs style of play. We like our keeper to be good with feet and have the ability to play out of the back, so this is a regular part of our training sessions.
The Steel City goalkeeper system at both the pre-academy and academy (the next step) isn’t determined by age or gender, but by ability. For keepers to develop they need to be tested. It’s about getting the right players working together to get the most out of each session.
GK Union Academy
In the GK Union Academy, this is where we focus on adding personal growth and other elements of the position for each individual keeper. Focused on the longterm player development, each keeper gets a customized individual plan that they actively create alongside me.
While we do train the keepers in focused keeper sessions, on top of those the Goalkeepers get individual attention during their team sessions. From a targeted warmup based on the team-session to realtime keeper coaching throughout the session, again based on their role in the team environment.
We fully believe that the keepers need to be more than ‘trained’, they have to be coached! This means being watched and evaluated in games. In most programs, keepers are trained once a week but that goalkeeper trainer doesn’t see them in a game. It’s important as a goalkeeper coach to see the keeper in a game situation to see the physical and mental ability. Following these games each season, keepers in our Academy receive at least one match analysis.
GK Union Mentorship Program
One of the best ways to grow in learning the game of soccer is to watch it. And one of the best ways to maintain and grow the passion for the game is often to see it through a kid’s eyes — even if that kid isn’t all that much younger.
Part of our Goalkeeper model is a mentorship program. Our more advanced keeper attends a younger keepers game as their game-day mentor. The mentor keeper leads the pre-game keeper warm-up. At half-time, the mentor chats and gives feedback on performance to the keeper.
It’s good for a player’s development to analyze another’s performance and for the younger player to hear from a peer. Once the game is over, they debrief together and the mentor keeper provides a post-game report.
Not every keeper will want and aspire to someday coach, but all keeper need to possess leadership skills. The ways we lead do vary and it’s not natural for all players to seek opportunities like this, however, through our guided program, these keepers can better learn about themselves, learn how to articulate what they’re seeing in the game, and think through the decisions that were made.
Men’s and Women’s First Team
As players move up through the Steel City GK program, the top of the pyramid is competing with the first teams! The aim is to have our First Teams both be full of not only Pittsburgh homegrown talent, but specifically Steel City homegrown talent.
We believe in always pushing keepers to get out of their comfort zone and develop. We also believe, if you’re good enough, you’re old enough. So the first stage for our keepers nearing that level is to train a couple of times a week with the First Teams.
The added experience of training with former professional players, high-level collegiate players, top talent from around the area… it further shows the path of how to get to where these aspiring keepers want to be. They go from being the top keeper on their team/age group to now working with players older and more experienced.
And of course, after they’ve trained with the first team keepers, the model takes them to ideally become a First Team keeper!
As with all things we strive for in the Steel City Way, we want our Goalkeepers to have a true full pathway from youth to the First Teams to aspire and work towards.