Player Development vs. Winning

Brian Jones

Goalkeeping Coach, Saint Louis FC

Director, St. Louis Goalkeeping Academy

As a goalkeeping coach/trainer dealing with goalkeepers across the experience spectrum, from 8 year-olds just learning to play the position to National Team goalkeepers of both genders who are at the very pinnacle of their game, it never ceases to amaze me at the lack of understanding between when it’s more important to develop a player and when it is more important to win.

If you have spent more than a weekend or two out on the vast spaces of today’s modern soccer complexes, you probably have experienced a young goalkeeper suffering a goal and the immediate roar of anger, indignation, disbelief and condemnation from the parents and coaches on the sidelines.  What I find interesting about this situation is that the vast majority of those contributing their two cents to the situation know very little, if nothing at all, about goalkeeping.  Yet they feel the need to berate a young player, more times than not destroying that young player’s confidence.  If you look at the way goalkeepers are developed in the rest of the world, the focus from the ages of 8-13 or 14 is strictly on the mastering of the core technical skill sets of the goalkeeper.  Young goalkeepers are encouraged to make mistakes while playing, with the idea that the lessons learned while making those mistakes will allow young goalkeepers to continue to move forward in their personal development.  Instead of yelling at the goalkeeper, situations are reviewed and studied and recreated in training sessions.  Yet, here in our country, we count wins, save percentage, and shutouts as the holy grail of success, regardless of the fact that player won’t even reach high school age for another 5 years.  As a goalkeeping coach at the professional level, I have never thought to ask one of our potential goalkeeping signees how many games they won at the U-11 level. 

Once a goalkeeper has mastered his core skill sets and developed proper training habits, he is ready to begin the next phase of his progression, which as they move up the competitive ladder, will include winning as an emphasis.  Usually, by the age of 15, most goalkeepers who are playing at a relatively high level will begin looking towards potential college or professional opportunities.  It is at this stage of a goalkeeper’s career that he must begin to put an emphasis on both winning and regional/national exposure.  At this age, players have had the time to mature both emotionally and psychologically, which will help them deal with the pressures that come with needing to win.  When burdens of this nature are placed upon players who are not mature enough to handle the demands of expectations, we frequently see some very talented players develop distaste for both the position and the game as a whole.  I often wonder how many young goalkeepers in this country have we lost to this lack of understanding, how much talent wasted, how much potential never realized? 

As we all know, there is nothing worse than wasted talent.  Unfortunately, the sad reality is that until our nation’s soccer culture can mature as a whole, we will continue to lose some of our best and brightest talent before they are even able to drive.