What age should youngsters start goalkeeper specific training?

As a coach myself and someone who’s actively involved in the goalkeeping community, I often get asked about goalkeeper coaching for young kids.

By young, I’m talking about children from the age of 5 upwards and it’s something that I’ve always pondered; is it beneficial for children of this age to receive specific goalkeeper training? And should youngsters be specialising in goalkeeping from this early on?

I think the arguments for coaching at a young age are pretty straight forward and logical:

  • Why shouldn’t we coach them to be better at an early age if they enjoy it?
  • They will be better in the long run from more years’ experience and coaching

As for arguments against, there are a few more and I’ve picked some of them out below to have a look at in more detail:

  • It’s too early, kids should be just having fun at this age
  • Some of the best goalkeepers in the world didn’t start off as goalkeepers
  • ‘There was no specialist goalkeeper training around when I was a lad’
  • It’s too early for them to pick a position, what if they don’t grow tall enough?
  • Goalkeepers need to be able to play football nowadays, so let them learn to play first!

Kids’ should just be having fun at this stage

I completely agree with this statement, kids should be having fun at this age and enjoying playing the game they love. There should be no pressure on them to become the next big thing or to get into any clubs or academies.

This is why there is a rule that academies can’t recruit players until they are at least 9 years of age, although some get round it by having ‘development clubs’ based on fun.

Most 5-6 year olds who like playing in goal do it because they love throwing themselves through the air or into the mud and enjoy the attention and praise they get for making a great save.

But so long as the coaching – as with outfield football coaching at this age group – is focused on having fun, building up their motor functions, keeping healthy, building social skills and enjoying themselves whilst developing goalkeeping skills, I don’t see why this can’t be done from an early age.

The important bit for me is that the children want to be there – rather than being pushed there to become the next big thing – and have the freedom to decide they don’t want to play in goal anymore. As well as this, for me it’s important they are enjoying themselves, are safe and socialising in a group environment with peers of around their own age.

I personally think that one to one training at this age is too intense and focused on technical goalkeeping too much and shouldn’t be considered – particularly as it’s a large financial investment when the child may decide a few months later they want to play as a striker!

Some of the best goalkeepers in the world didn’t start off as keepers

A very factual statement, we’ve interviewed a few keepers in our time running Keeper Portal – both male and female and a good proportion of them didn’t start off playing in goal as well as some huge names who we’ve not interviewed!

Let’s check out a quick list of some of the keepers you might know who started playing in other positions and have all represented their country as a goalkeeper!

So, if they didn’t need to start playing in goal so early on in their development, why would your child?

Well there are two things here firstly, for a lot of these keepers there wasn’t as much access to goalkeeper specific training when they were younger. Therefore, the keepers they were competing against when trying to break into academies mostly hadn’t had much formal goalkeeper training either so it was a level playing field.

Secondly, natural talent will eventually come out through training and development no matter what age you begin your journey. A lot of the early years goalkeeper coaching is as above based on enjoying playing in goal, developing the principles, and building and refining motor skills. Picking up goalkeeping at a later age allows the keeper to understand the concepts in more detail and refine them having already developed their motor skills through other sports / positions.

There was no specialist goalkeeper training around when I was a lad

As above, this means that the playing field was level so it wasn’t a disadvantage to not have received specialised training in the past, now a lot of goalkeepers have access to coaching from a very young age and it can certainly make a difference to a young goalkeeper’s ability at that age.

But as academies don’t open their doors until age 9, there is plenty of time for a young keeper to start looking at specialised training much later than 5-6 years of age. 

It’s too early for them to pick a position, what if they don’t grow tall enough?

There is no height limit for being a goalkeeper, anybody who is thinking this about a 5-6 year old needs to take a step back and think about why they are looking for goalkeeper training for their child.

This shouldn’t be about putting them through training so they can become a professional goalkeeper, or the next England number 1. This is about helping them to enjoy a sport and position they enjoy a little bit more by giving them some development and skills they can use to perform better and enjoy themselves.

Goalkeepers need to be able to play football nowadays, so let them learn to play first!

There is certainly a big increase in the amount of time a goalkeeper spends with the ball at their feet compared to in their hands and you only have to look at the signing of goalkeepers like Claudio Bravo for Manchester City to see how important coaches are making it as a priority for their keepers at the top level.

A good goalkeeping coach will make sure that their keepers are constantly working on their own distribution and kicking techniques throughout the sessions to build these motor skills and technical ability, whether through obvious drills or by simply making them be the servers for the sessions who kick the ball at goal for their fellow keepers to save.

However, playing outfield has even more opportunities to work on their distribution as well as gaining tactical knowledge and understanding of the game from a whole new perspective. So in terms of goalkeepers playing outfield at any point in their playing career, I’m all for it!

Final Thoughts

Youngsters age 5-6 shouldn’t be pressured into playing in goal, or staying in goal if they want to change position. But if they genuinely love playing that position right now, then coaching – if done right – can help them to enjoy it even more and develop as a footballer and as a young person.

It’s important to find a good coach who is focusing on the correct elements of development for their age though and that the parent / guardian also share this belief that the most important part of the session is enjoyment and overall development, rather than the child being the next big thing by age 7.

Group coaching sessions definitely offer the above environment with a lot more ease than 1-to-1 sessions and help turn a pretty isolated position into one with a social support network for the youngster and the parent.

Most children, whatever age they start training, won’t make it to professional football unfortunately, that’s just how the football pyramid works. As long as everyone is enjoying it though – there are benefits to specialised coaching from a young age, but there are also huge benefits to complimenting it with other sports and playing other positions too.

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Daz @ KeeperPortal

Owner and creator of Keeper Portal, an FA qualified goalkeeping coach as well as being pretty impressive at keeping balls out of a net.

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