What does it take for a goalkeeper to be “the best”? Is it talent or dedication? Nature or nurture? Or are both required for success on the soccer pitch?
Niko ALexopoulos is a talented and successful youth soccer coach who is the Director of Coaching at Just4keepersInterantional Academy in New Jersey and the-owner of SoccerSkillz.
As an ex player Niko has loved the sport since he was 4 years old. That was the 1st time his dad, an ex professional goalkeeper for FC Olympiakos, took him to the stadium and Niko started to experienced pro soccer in Europe at a very young age. The rest is history. Soccer has always been part of his life, both on and off the pitch. From his early years as a 4year old playing in his dad’s pro team peanut programs for kids, to the older training sessions, through US high school, college and eventually going back to Europe and playing at the pro level Niko has loved the game, and the lessons it has taught him both on and off the pitch. The lessons are never ending and as a coach a new chapter is written on a daily basis that brings new dynamics into his coaching that are on a much different perspective than that of a player.
Malcolm Gladwell in the book Outliers tells the stories of many successful people. He highlights the fact that successful people all have natural “God-given” ability and a passion for their field of expertise. Gladwell also talks about major turning points in their lives where they as individuals recognized the opportunity in front of them, seized that opportunity and then displayed a high work ethic to reach the pinnacle of their given fields. These people were blessed with a natural talent, were high achievers and recognized that they were in the right place at the right time.
Now let us explore the development of the goalkeeper and ask the question: Is it the role of the coach to develop the player or to create the environment that allows the goalkeeper to develop?
This ignites the question; for a goalkeeper to be successful, are there some ingredients that he/she needs to bring to the table as well, and what are they?
There is no doubt that the successful and experienced coach requires many skills to create the environment for successful goalkeeper development, and coaches that lack management skills and soccer knowledge will hinder player development.
That said, in just4keepers international academy the success of a goalkeeper is much more than that and is based around two major concepts that are completely out of the coach’s control.
The first is the natural “God-given” talent that the goalkeeper brings to the table. Call this the players “Talent Potential.”
The second call it the goalkeeper’s “Learning Potential.” What this means is the overall drive of the goalkeeper, his or her personality and work ethic. Is the goalkeeper a high achiever or not?
From the J4K perspective, when we discuss the “Learning Potential” of goalkeepers we are talking about their desire to become the best they can be. Goalkeepers with a high learning potential have a true passion for the game, it is always in their thoughts, and they love to watch the game when they are not playing. These goalkeepers never miss a training session, and best most dedicated goalkeepers treat every training session and game they play like it’s their last. All these youth goalkeepers focus within the session are always high and they ask questions of the coach about the tactics.
Goalkeepers with “Learning Potential” have no issues getting constructive feedback from the coach – they want feedback, and they have a thirst, a hunger to learn. They are strong mentally and can deal with and bounce back from disappointment. They are patient and understand that the journey towards success is a long one.
In essence they are “High” achievers. Goalkeepers (and parents) that have and understand the traits required of a high achiever are not only a coach’s dream, but will have a much higher chance of success.
We use the term “Talent Potential” to discuss the “nature versus nurture” topic. Daniel Coyle, author of the book, The Talent Code, discusses this topic of talent in depth. What comes across from the book is that talent is a function of “deep practice,” “ignition” and “master coaching.” Greatness is not born, but it is grown. Great read book; it is a must for coaches, parents and players.)
Although we agree to an extent that talent can be developed, from experience in coaching youth soccer players we believe they are born with a “Level of Potential” that we as coaches do not control. Coaches nurture that potential, refine it and guide the goalkeeper to success. Let’s just categorize the level of potential of these players into Type 1, Type 2, Type 3 and Type 4. From a young age coaches and parents can easily identify these goalkeepers, they are:
Type 1: This is the young goalkeeper who has the natural athletic ability (genetics) and an innate soccer insight and technical ability for the game. You know the one I mean; the goalkeeper who naturally is not only quick, but has quick feet and a quick mind. He or she has had very little training at this time, but all that are watching cannot help but applaud the skills and physical capabilities of the goalkeeper on show. This goalkeeper has been blessed genetically with a talent potential to play at the highest levels of the game.
Type 2: This is the young goalkeeper who is a genetically gifted athlete, however currently falls short in regards to the innate soccer insight and technical ability to excel within the game. In the correct environment, and with a high learning potential, this goalkeeper can both compete with, and evolve into, the “Type 1” player.
Type 3: Unlike the Type 1 or Type 2 goalkeeper, this goalkeeper lacks the natural physiological traits required at the higher levels of the game but does display the innate soccer insight and technical ability for the game. With the correct environment this type of goalkeeper has the potential to play college soccer, but his or her lack of natural athletic ability will hinder their chances to play at the higher levels of the game. This goalkeeper requires a very high learning potential to achieve his or her goals.
Type 4: This goalkeeper falls short on natural athletic ability and the innate soccer insight and technical ability for the game. Although this goalkeeper will have the same opportunities to compete and enjoy the game, unlike the other types of goalkeepers this goalkeeper does not have the talent potential to play at the higher levels of club soccer and will generally not be good enough to play college soccer, no matter how high his/her learning potential is.
We should point out that when discussin the physiological aspect of a goalkeeper, we are not talking about the height and build or size and strength of a goalkeeper, but more about the soccer-specific agility, mobility, speed, strength, power and endurance. An example of two different goalkeeper types would be Valdes and Buffon. The two are different in their physiological make up, but both possess incredible athletic prowess on the soccer field.
When we discuss the “talent potential” and the “learning potential” of goalkeepers we challenge coaches and parents to have more open and honest conversations concerning the ingredients the goalkeeper is bringing to the table. We challenge goalkeepers and parents to look deep inside and ask the question: Where am I/where is my child on the talent and learning potential scale?
Everyone has the ability to develop the skills required to become a “High Achiever.” Playing soccer creates the perfect foundation for success in life, not just soccer. Many goalkeepers will realize their dreams and play college soccer, while others will not. But let us not forget no matter what goalkeeper type, with the correct attitude and a high potential to learn, every goalkeepers can strive to become the best they can be and have many enjoyable years playing the beautiful game!
Whether the reader agrees or disagrees, we hope that our perspective of what we believe are the primary factors of goalkeeper development here at just4keepers international academy, and provoke some food for thought and at the very least reminds every goalkeeper that their quest to greatness is to some extent in their own hands!
Soccer has always been an endless source of life lessons on and off the pitch for Niko.As an ex player Niko has loved the sport since he was 4 years old. That was the 1st time his dad, an ex professional goalkeeper for FC Olympiakos, took him to the stadium and Niko started to experienced pro soccer in Europe at a very young age. The rest is history.