We don’t start this blog as a goalkeeper gloves brand, but as goalkeeper trainer of the lower ranks within a football club (9 to 12 year olds), but also as an active member of a goalkeeper school, we are regularly asked about the age at which they can participate.
But what do we mean by youngsters? By young I mean children from 7 years of age and it’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot and there have been some discussions about it. Is it beneficial to have specific goalkeeper training for youngsters? And should youngsters specialise in goalkeeping at such an early age?
I think the arguments for training at a young age are quite obvious and logical.
Why not train them at a young age to become better if they like it? They will get better in the long run from more years of experience and coaching.
As for the arguments against, there are a few more and I have picked a few below to look at them in more detail:
It’s too early, kids should just have fun at this age and it certainly doesn’t have to be a disadvantage not to start as a goalkeeper at a young age. David De Gea and Simon Mignolet, among others, were active as field players for a long time before they found their way to the goal (to stand between the posts :-D ).
30 years ago when we started playing football at the age of 5, it was not so strange that you only wanted to be in the goal, but we have to be honest, modern football is not like 30 years ago either. Goalkeepers nowadays have to be able to play football, so let them learn to play first!
What about children whose parents are not the greatest? Does this already play a part in making a choice? Modern football has changed a lot here too. Being able to play football and be a good goalkeeper is often not enough anymore when you don’t reach a certain height.
Children should just have fun at this stage
I completely agree with this statement, children at this age should have fun and enjoy the game they love. There should be no pressure on them to become the next big star or to join a club that others might envy.
Most 6-7 year olds who like to play in goal do so because they enjoy it. To throw themselves through the air or into the mud and enjoy the attention and praise they receive when they have made a great save.
But as long as the coaching, like football training in this age group, is focused on having fun, building their motor skills, staying healthy, developing social skills and having fun while developing their goalkeeping skills, I don’t see why it can’t be done from an early age.
The most important thing for me and many other goalkeeper trainers is that the children themselves really want this and are not being pushed to become the next big star. They must have the freedom to decide that they don’t want to play in goal anymore and want to continue as a field player. In addition, it is important to me that they have fun, are eager to learn and socialise with peers in a group environment.
And here comes the difficulty for many clubs or goalkeeper schools, the supply of young goalkeepers who would like to participate in these activities is often too limited, so the training can be too intensive at this age. Furthermore, it requires a financial effort from the clubs or parents with no guarantee that they will still want to continue as goalkeepers a few months later.
Some of the best goalkeepers in the world did not start out as goalkeepers
So, if they did not have to be in goal so early in their development, why should your child?
First of all, in the past there were not many opportunities for specific goalkeeping training for youngsters. Therefore, the goalkeepers they were competing against when they were trying to break through had usually not received goalkeeping training as we know it today, so it was a level playing field.
Secondly, natural talent will eventually emerge through training and development, no matter at what age you begin your adventure. Much of the goalkeeping training in the early years is, as described above, based on enjoyment of goalkeeping, developing basic techniques and building and refining motor skills. Starting goalkeeping at a later age allows the goalkeeper to understand and apply the techniques explained in more detail, having already developed his motor skills through other sports/positions.
Is it too early to choose the position of goalkeeper, because what if he/she doesn’t get big enough?
There is no rule written of a minimum height for a goalkeeper, anyone who thinks this about a 7-8 year old should take a step back and think about why they are looking for a goalkeeper school or goalkeeper equipment for their child.
At this age it is not about training them to be a professional goalkeeper, or the next number 1 in the world. It’s about helping them enjoy a sport and a position that they like, by giving them equipment and skills that they can use to perform better and have fun.
Goalkeepers nowadays have to be able to play football, 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 don’t have to look far to find this. Almost at all levels of the youth leagues the coaches and scouts look with priority at how good the technical skills are with the ball at the foot.
As a goalkeeper trainer you try to make sure that your goalkeepers are constantly working on their own kicking techniques during training sessions in order to build up these motor skills and technical ability, either through clear exercises or by simply kicking the ball into the goal in front of their fellow goalkeepers. In this way they learn to play with the right timing, speed and power which they will later see as an added value in the build-up.
Even when they are not on the field, they have more opportunities to work on their insights and also to gain tactical knowledge and understanding of the game from a whole new perspective. As a child, you may not fully understand when you hear the trainers giving certain directions to your fellow players. By working your eyes, however, you can see whether your teammates are doing what the coach asked them to do.
Youngsters from 5 to 10 years old should not be pressured to become a goalkeeper or to stay in goal if they want to change positions. However, if they are born goalkeepers and really enjoy playing that position, then coaching, if done well, can help them to enjoy it even more and develop as a footballer and as a person.
So in our opinion it is important to find a good goalkeeper trainer who knows how to stimulate the right techniques and elements of the young goalkeeper. Also the right level at which the young goalkeeper starts playing can increase the pleasure. At an easy level, the young goalkeeper might get bored quickly and stop making progress. If the level is too high, the young goalkeeper might get discouraged and lose the pleasure in playing goalkeeping. So try, together with the goalkeeper trainer, to find the right level so that the young goalkeeper is continually stimulated and wants to develop further.
The goalkeeper training sessions are important for young goalkeepers to update their goalkeeping techniques. The group training sessions offer a good alternative to improve the techniques of a football player. As a young football player, it is very important that you also master these. As described above, it is impossible to imagine modern football without a goalie who can play along with the ball. As a young goalkeeper, you may think: I want to catch balls and nothing else. Use these training sessions to develop that right ball sense, and you’ll be glad you did.
Finally, most children, no matter what age they start playing football, will unfortunately not make it to professional football, that is how the football pyramid works. But as long as everyone enjoys it, there are benefits. The outlet that the young sportsman has, the social contact with other children, these are just some of the advantages. So let them enjoy what they love most and make sure they are surrounded by people/trainers who believe in their abilities.
So it will not be easy to find a club or goalkeeper school that will give the youngsters specific training. Quite simply at whatever age they start you need to be able to teach the right basics, and the rich experience of so many clubs shows that the ideal age to start is often around 9. So let your child take as many balls as they want in their own way. When they are ready to take on the real work, they will be taught all the basics and that is easier than undoing something that has been taught wrong. Plus the experience as a field footballer will certainly come in handy.