Updated: Apr 9, 2018
Tony Meola, Brad Freidel, Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, Brianna Scurry, Hope Solo...the United States was known and respected for producing top international level goalkeepers. Fast forward to 2017 and the United States National Team is lacking quality goalkeeping. See the link to story below...
“Recent years have seen a void develop between generations, leaving the USMNT team with few options in the age range of mid-to-late 20s."
Why? “Even as our sport has grown at developing better field players, we still lack the quality, repetitive training unique to the position of goalkeeper. A few reasons are in play…
Not Valued! The position of goalkeeper is the most important and dangerous position on any soccer team. Yet, it is simply not valued when compared to field players and the training offered. Remember the goal keeper is the only true specialist on the team, requiring special training to properly do their job. Having been involved with clubs that valued the training of the GK, I witnessed first hand the tremendous success those clubs attained. A tell-tale sign the position is not valued is when club GK training is offered, but coaches won't release their goalkeeper to train, when there is a team training conflict. While attendance to the teams training is important, it better suits the GK to go for 45 minutes and train, then be standing around not integrated with the team. Or the club offers GK training, usually free as part of members dues, but not made mandatory for each GK to attend, or don't educate the parents as the importance of GK training. The club I coach at presently offers club training for field players, and goalkeepers, each Wednesday, two time slots, one for younger players and one for older. In a club with 21 teams, 100+ field players regularly attend these Wednesday sessions. Yet, less than 10 goalkeepers attend and that is on a good day. The undervaluing of GK training is on two sides...parents and club.
Inexperience breeds Mistakes! At the club level, most clubs employee a current college player, or former player of some level, who has experience playing, but little knowledge to teach. They can demo various elements, but lack the ability to break down the technique, correct it and set the demands required to develop. The sessions often end up being a “shooting gallery” with coach serving shot after shot with little critique and fixing of problems. If we valued GK training, then the hiring would not be done so carelessly. It cannot be assumed "because you played, you can teach." This mentality extends across the board from youth level to major college programs. For most college programs the GK coach is a graduate student. Not that this can't be successful, but is an example are an "experiment" of sorts hoping the ingredients are not a volatile solution keeping your team from under achieving. Yet, if added up over the expanse of the soccer landscape in the USA, we see how this leads to the "void" in the GK position.
Details Matter! Experienced and inexperienced coaches alike allow bad fundamentals and habits. Attention is not given to the little details. I equate it to this, Legos are small, plastic blocks that with only one or two, you can’t do much. But get 100, 1000 or more and you can build some incredible models. Legos are like problems…one minor detail won't do much harm, may not lose the game. But ignore it, often it breeds another problem, then another, till you have several bad habits, requiring an arduous amount of time, effort to correct.
TMI (Too Much Information)! "Paralysis by Analysis" is caused by coaches at all levels trying to fix everything at once. The opposite of #2, not realizing one issue is often feeding other issues. Fix the overriding factor, the other issues will usually be corrected. If you don’t realize what leads to the breakdown, you can’t fix the breakdown.
Double, Double Toil and Trouble
“The US Soccer player development system is broken. A new curriculum comes out every few years...for field player development. Where is a curriculum for GK development?"
Five years ago it was hailed as " The Tab Ramos way must be the future for American soccer!" Fast forward and a new USSF curriculum is in place, once again being touted as the way to get the USA player on par with the world. Personally, I think it is great to have fluidity in curriculum. Lets also be realistic, NO ONE is reinventing the wheel. The game will always be predicated on the ability to play with skill. In terms of goalkeeper development, where is the curriculum? I am not speaking of a "Coaching Education" curriculum. I speak of a GK development outlining the process through the differing stages of age, various foundational skills, even gender specific which some speak of, which is addressed in the USSF Curriculum for field players.
At the end of the day, everyone must do a better job in valuing the GK position, offer consistent, quality training, creating challenging, uncomfortable environments leading to building a better GK. If the US wants to challenge the world in soccer, it must do so leading in developing the deepest position on the pitch. It starts and ends with the most important position on the field, the Goalkeeper.