Since arriving back in the country more ‘permanently’ at the start of July, I’ve made it a bit of a mission to catch up on all of the meetings, coffees and catch-ups that I’d missed out on or had to delay during time away. Last week probably fell victim to that, with many miles clocked up and a fuel tank emptied, with trips across the country (plus a weekend with an England Handball performance camp), all with the objective and intention of hearing different stories from the goalkeeping world and learning from the expertise of those heavily within it and those looking in from the outside.
Among others within the goalkeeping world, I’ve had the chance to speak to a multitude of individuals who are currently outside of it: a diplomat (casually, on a train from Aylesbury to Marylebone), a WSL Head Coach, an astrophysics PhD student and a leading coach consultant. Naturally, in one moment or another, conversations managed to find their way back towards the topic of goalkeeping, the mission of the Goalkeeping Intelligence platform and the issues and hurdles that we see ourselves facing.
It was fascinating to hear their insight into themes that they had little or no exposure to, and the parallels that the goalkeeping landscape holds with many other fields. We’re incredibly lucky to be in an age where access and collaborations with world-leading professionals has never been easier, and organisations are publishing ever more information and analysis about how they operate and the culture that drives their successes or failures.
There were intriguing lessons to be learned from all of them, whether that be data mining techniques and models that can be repurposed from astrophysics to the goalmouth, the perspectives on a diplomat on the vehicle of educating the educators in third-world countries or the process of working with coaches in a sport, as an outsider, and how to develop trust, engagement and open-mindedness through that journey.
It led me to connecting the dots on some of my own recent reflections, reading and thoughts.
Goalkeeper coaches generally have incredible amounts of technical goalkeeping knowledge. They also have a tremendous ability to engage fellow goalkeepers (whether adults or children), through the vehicle of goalkeeping and the shared experiences they possess.
Because of the large amounts of technical knowledge and expertise a goalkeeper coach has, we generally* neglect ideas that may challenge other preconceived beliefs around areas where we do not hold particular expertise (for example, skill acquisition, youth development or physical performance).
We generally ask anyone from the outside world who questions or criticises standard 'norms’ in the goalkeeping world ‘what do you know about goalkeeping and how to develop goalkeepers?’. This is amplified by a confirmation bias: we tend to spend our time speaking about goalkeeping improvement to other goalkeeper coaches, within goalkeeping communities or occasionally to outfield coaches and managers.
In other words, we’re generally happy to learn from inside the goalkeeping community, but rarely venture further afield.
Of course, the goalkeeping world is massive. Many goalkeeper coaches will be very open-minded, and always curious to learn from different environments around them and others not so. This is an observation of a general pattern/trend, and not a 'blanket' criticism of all goalkeeper coaches.
Instead, we should* be seeking those with knowledge, experience and expertise of the highest domain in areas that we don’t ourselves have specialisms, as well as those where we do, and seeking to use and apply contextually as much of this as possible for the development and performance of our goalkeepers.
We should not be focusing on what other experts know, or don’t know, about goalkeeping. We should be focusing on what we can learn from what they’re saying about goalkeeping: taken with an open-minded approach, and considered with logic, evaluation and application to our context, what can I learn from what you’re saying about the goalkeeping world?
The truth is that the world of goalkeeping has many experts and authorities on technical knowledge and experience of having played the game and knowing the goalkeepers’ union. However, we have very few goalkeeper coaches with a specialism in physical development or performance (although we do have some!), and similarly very few with a specialism in skill acquisition and youth development.
In order for us to thrive in creating and supporting the development and performance of goalkeepers, we’re going to need to benefit from all of the learning from top-performing organisations that we possibly can. We should be seeking out the best-performing talent development environments (both beyond football and sport), and taking contextual lessons from them. We should be applying fundamentally agreed principles on training, physical performance and sports science to our goalkeeping contexts and be open to considering and taking in debates in the world of skill acquisition, applying trends in the overall sporting world to our goalkeeping environments.
We should be regularly holding ourselves accountable to ideas and perspectives from outside of our ‘goalkeeping world’: what thoughts does a corporate training online learning designer have about our platform? What feedback would another sport have about our practice? What perspective might a teaching and learning specialist at a school have on our individual development plans?
Beyond that, there is often expertise and realisations where we least expect it. I’d never expected to learn about goalkeeping from the study of astronomy. As an aside, I’ve wondered for a while now what sport could learn from those in drama and the arts: the importance of body language as a coach, how to connect through communication and manage behaviour through stage ‘presence’. That’s probably a thought for another day, though.
As I continue in a quest to broaden my own horizons (realising how narrowed they’d probably become after a long stint solely in the goalkeeping-football world), I’m constantly realising how much I don’t know, and how many other incredible ideas in the world might be able to translate to enhancing and bettering the goalkeeping world.
Being able to draw and pull upon a multitude of different experiences and insights can only help us as goalkeeper coaches, and surely these are where the biggest margins of development are going to occur: we’re unlikely to revolutionise our approach to coaching because of a couple of new technical ideas, but perhaps there might be some realisations or insights from somewhere that cause large-scale reflections and adaptations to the way we develop players and people.
With all the time, effort and enthusiasm that goes into a rather special world, and union, of goalkeeper coaches, it would seem an injustice for us all not to look to embrace as much learning and challenge from as many different fields as possible, from wherever that might emerge, in the interests of providing the best provisions to develop goalkeepers. It’s certainly something we’ll be developing towards with the Goalkeeping Intelligence platform.
In the meantime, David Epstein’s ‘Range: How generalists triumph in a specialised world’ is an excellent (and new!) read for spring further thoughts and ideas.
Yours in goalkeeping,
If you'd like to find out more about Goalkeeping Intelligence, our site is live at www.goalkeepingintelligence.com.
*I’ve used the word 'should' throughout this article. It’s purely opinion-based, and is drawn from my personal reflections on the ideas discussed above.
*I’ve used the word 'generally' to describe these characteristics. Of course, they’re not ‘universal’ but I think that we’re falling to a fallacy of confirmation bias in ourselves, and the people we surround ourselves with, if we don’t think that these are ‘general’ trends within the goalkeeping world.
Adam Woodage 2020