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Paradigm vs evolution in goalkeeper coaching

Deportivo Alavés B goalkeeping coach, Rubén Arce, brings us a very interesting reflection comparing paradigm and evolution in goalkeeper training today. He ends the reflection with one of the most valuable concepts in our last articles: the goalkeeping coach adaptation.

Here I am in front of my computer to try to explain the (metaphoric) meaning of the title along this article.

I will try to be as honest and open as possible, trying not to offend and, of course, unpretentiously. Just my reflections and my considered opinions.

Let’s start with PARADIGM definition: this word was already used by Greek philosopher Plato. Today, scientific vocabulary and epistemological expressions use this term to talk about models o patterns.

A PARADIGM shift is usually dramatic because it changes what is considered stable and mature.

In one of his master classes, Plácido, a brilliant sport psychologist, told us about a scientific experiment to see clearly the relationship between PARADIGM and the training methodologies. It states as follows:

“Three hungry monkeys are put in a cage that has a banana tree inside. When they see the bananas, they climb the banana tree, so they can eat them. At that moment, the three monkeys are hosed with very cold water. Each time any of them tries to climb the banana tree, the three monkeys are hosed with cold water. So, they get to a point in which if one of them tries to climb the tree, the other two hit it because they fear being hosed. When none of the three monkeys – let’s name them A, B and C – dares to climb the tree anymore, they decide to exchange monkey A for a new one: monkey D. Monkey D is hungry, so it tries to climb the banana tree as soon as it sees it. But B and C hit it and prevent it to do it because they are scared of the hose. When none of them climbs, they exchange monkey B for another new one – monkey F – with same results: it tries to climb and the other two (C and D) hit it to prevent it to do it. They decide to remove the only monkey that was there from the beginning – C – and cage another new one: G monkey. Once again, we see the same results: the ones inside the cage – D and F – hit G monkey to prevent it to climb the tree but, why?”





I am in the good habit of observing everything I find regarding football and, specifically, goalkeeper coaching. I often have the feeling that goalkeeping coaches are experiencing the same situation that fitness coaches lived years ago, when they started to apply athletics training to football players. Who doesn’t remember those lengthy race workouts and endless exercises without touching a ball?

Luckily for football players today, there is a trend based on new coaching methodologies: integrated method, tactical intensity, tactical periodization, sequential methodology, etc. Within them, generical EVOLUTION has been the sports specificity we have been applying, even to the game model.

In my opinion, a similar development is taking place regarding goalkeeper coaching. Sometimes I have the feeling that everything goes, anything eye-catching of other cyclic or acyclic sport. If it looks right for YouTube or creates the illusion of fatigued goalkeeper, it seems just perfect! As I see it, the best for this profession would be to look for as much transparency to the game situations in competition as possible, as well as specificity, especially regarding the football goalkeeper position.

Personally, I dislike “Paradigm coaching” – although it is just my point of view, my way of understanding and living this beautiful profession. For instance: I try to coach using simulated actions from game situations, contributing according to where my focus is. For me, the technique is variable, and it has to be worked in variable situations and executions too. I prefer to manage uncertainty in dynamics (in its different grades) rather than being always completely certain: specific stimuli to find specific answers, meaningful feedbacks. I prefer closeness to coldness, to smile rather than frowning. I prefer learning by guided discovery, problem solving or even peer education. I do not like so much direct education (without completely dismissing it at very specific times).

This is the way I believe in, the one that makes me feel fulfilled, the one I consider best for our goalkeepers’ EVOLUTION. I believe in goalkeepers able to generate superiorities, 2vs1, able to support even in front of centre-backs. They must be able to see where the unmarked player is and be precise when kicking and passing, watching the teammates direction and giving them useful information, so they can be in advantage, etc.

Aside from proper receptions and saves depending on teammates and opponents, a goalkeeper without a ball must cover like the best “líbero” (an already extinct position, the equivalent of the sweeper role), must watch when we are in possession of the ball or not, change things up when the rival attacks in a position of advantage, even must be able to verbally communicate in a clear, fast and useful way. And always using a proper language, reinforcing his/her teammates positively, without bothering anyone inside or outside the playing field. Naturally, the goalkeeper also should master team sports visual perceptions, full attention span, resilience, etc.

In a nutshell, the keeper has his work cut out! A former colleague back in Galicia used to say, in a humorous tone: “coaching goalkeepers is just about making them sweat, so they’d go home tired”. Obviously, he didn’t mean it, but I’m sure there are coaches out there training that way.

I call EVOLUTION to all given above, not to say Active Methodology, a term coined by M. Sotelo, a master and inspiring colleague who I deeply admire.

Manu Sotelo has the best definition for today goalkeepers I ever heard:

“He’s the player whose specialty is saving”.

The proper definition for us, the goalkeeping coaches, would be:

“Coaches (with all that entails regarding skills, knowledge…) and also, goalkeeper specialists”.

Medical specialists are the most skilled professionals, they practice General Medicine and then they specialize in a medical specialty. They can be a great example for us all. Our skills must go beyond our “operating room” (the goal), even beyond football (systemic thinking has let a mark on me).

We have great professionals working in Spain: Borja Fernández (Valencia CF), Nico Bosch (Levante UD), Manu Sotelo, my Alavés colleagues (Sanro, Damian, Javi, etc.), Villarreal CF former teammates (led by Marc) and I could go on by naming low-profiled but very well-prepared goalkeeper coaches (almost all of them) such as David (Cartagena), Borja (Almería)… and I shall not go on because there are a lot and I would hate to forget someone. Everyone mentioned above follows the ideas presented before, and you can watch it on YouTube. They are skilled and close coaches we can follow, listen to, ask the whys, so later we can draw our own conclusions, ideas, dynamics, our own EVOLUTION: we must avoid copying or doing what others did to us (specially drills).

Personal thoughts: if we talk about usual, goalkeeper coaches have been too late to the coaching staffs. However, I think coaches, assistants, analysts, scouts and fitness coaches should go hand in hand, so we can adapt to society and football today. We can contribute much more than kicking balls… not to mention all we can give to our goalkeepers! How? By showing the new scientific evidences and by being more than a technician for the keeper “tune-up”. If we do not do this, I am afraid we will end up being expendable as we were in the past.

About the author

Ruben Arce

Ruben Arce

Responsable departamento de porteros del Deportivo Alaves
Entrenador de porteros del Deportivo Llaves B
Curso especialización en el entrenamiento del portero de fútbol (FGF,FEF 2015/2016)
Técnico especialista en Fútbol.Cented 2015/17.
Curso superior y Master en entrenamiento de porteros.CENAFE.2015.

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