In this article we are going to be unpacking the physical demands & determinants of goalkeeping. Before we do so though, let’s remind ourselves that although we are looking specifically at the goalkeeper position, the larger objective of this article series is to educate you on our systems and philosophies training athletes. This an important article since the demands analysis of any sport is critical to informing a coach about the type of training that is best suited for an athlete. We will get to training soon enough (article three), but right now let’s dive right in (pun intended) to our topic for article two.
Table 1 is a summarized version of the physical demands description for goalkeeping that we have completed as a staff. This condensed version will be enough to highlight the main demands and determinants of performance. As a summarized version, we have grouped the many goalkeeping skills and competencies together into categories that are reflective of their similarities. We will consider both game and training environments since each pose different challenges. Undoubtedly, this summary will miss some of the finer details, and will not expand on larger points, however, our main goal is to uncover the fundamentals, and in this regard we will not fall short.
As you were working through the table, a thought that might have crossed your mind is that you didn’t realize that goalkeeping was made up of so many specific skills! After all, when you train and compete you don’t think about all the details presented in the table, you just do them; and this is the way it should be. Doing the work to get down to this level of detail, however, was necessary for us to continue with the path we are on. As you certainly noticed, goalkeeping is composed of many specific skills, which in turn impose specific demands. However, if you look at the information presented in the table through a different lens (looking to find patterns rather than differences), you will notice that on balance, all these specific skills are composed of a collection of general demands. Looking through this lens, let’s summarize the general demands we can identify for both games and training:
A goalkeeper is required to execute many different forms of motion, integrate motions of the upper/lower body, and transition between motions constantly. These motions occur in many different directions, and the goalkeeper is constantly changing direction. Generally, the goalkeeper covers short distances with their motions. Although often some of these motions occur at slow-to-moderate speeds (especially in games), the goalkeeper is required to move very fast to be successful for many of their actions. Generally, the goalkeeper does not have to repeat actions in close time intervals or maintain prolonged motion. Although in some situations, and especially during training, the goalkeeper often does have to repeat actions in close time intervals. The goalkeeper must predominately move their own body mass, and for certain motions use their upper body to do so.
Now, we can do a better job in generalizing the motion demands than just saying that goalkeepers must perform different forms of motion. To do this we are going to look at the set motions presented in Table 1 (e.g. running, jumping, throwing), and break them down into the fundamental patterns that they are related to. We are then going to look at the joint positions that are required of an individual to move into to execute these fundamental patterns. It is true, some specific goalkeeping movements like making a reflexive save, are always slightly different in nature. However, our objective is to establish an acceptable model for describing motions such as a reflexive save, or a dive, and we can do this by relating these movements to representative patterns and positions. As you will see very soon, generalizing the specific goalkeeping motions in this way will provide us with large advantages when we start talking about training. Let’s turn our attention to Table 2 before moving on with our discussion.
With this new information in hand, we can improve on the summary of general demands we previously put forward. Let’s go ahead and update our summary:
A goalkeeper is required to execute many different forms of motion, which are all unique variations of the 5 fundamental patterns of movement. To perform these motions/patterns a goalkeeper must express range of motion (sometimes small, sometimes very large) about all the major movement-based joints of the body. It is typical for the goalkeeper to perform movements that integrate patterns of the lower and upper body, and they are constantly transitioning between different motions/patterns. Thus, the goalkeeper is always moving in, and out of, different joint positions in a way that requires coordination and control. These motions occur in many different directions, and the goalkeeper is constantly changing direction. Generally, the goalkeeper covers short distances with their motions. Although often some of these motions occur at slow-to-moderate speeds (especially in games), the goalkeeper is required to move very fast to be successful for many of their actions. Generally, the goalkeeper does not have to repeat actions in close time intervals or maintain prolonged motion. Although in some situations, and especially during training, the goalkeeper often does have to repeat actions in close time intervals. The goalkeeper must predominately move their own body mass, and for certain motions use their upper body to do so.
Determinants of Performance in Goalkeeping
With all the work we have done thus far, we are now ready to start identifying physical determinants of performance for the goalkeeper. You probably noticed that we underlined specific words and phrases in our updated general demands summary. These are the demands that best represent what goalkeepers must do during training and games to be successful. We call these demands non-modifiable, because they can’t be changed, they are goalkeeping. Think about it. If you are a goalkeeper, and the ball has been struck on target low, and towards the left post, you must dive and attempt to make a save. You can’t decide not to dive, and still be successful in preventing a goal. Stated another way, there is no other way to achieve success in that situation other than to execute a diving save. So, let’s not delay any more. Below is our list of physical determinants of performance for goalkeeping.
A goalkeeper must be able to…
- Express many different joint positions, some small, and some large, required by the motions/patterns they must perform.
- Actively organize their bodies into a collection of specific shapes that are represented by the 5 fundamental movement patterns.
- Execute the demands described in 1 & 2 in many different directions and be able change directions constantly.
- Execute the demands described in 1 – 3 at different speeds, ranging from very slow, to very fast. Many of the critical moments in goalkeeping occur at very fast rates of movement.
- Cover relatively shorter distances compared to outfield players while executing the demands described in 1 – 4. Many of the critical moments in goalkeeping occur over very short distances.
- Repeat the demands described in 1 – 5 in close time intervals often in situations where there is not enough time to fully recover.
- Execute the demands described in 1 – 6 moving their own body mass. In certain situations, the upper body takes on a more prominent role.
- Execute the demands described in 1 – 7 in training/game situations over time, that is across the developmental pathway without getting injured. In other words, a goalkeeper must be resilient.
The last determinant of performance might seem out of place because it was not mentioned in our general demands summary. However, this particular determinant of performance is applicable to all athletes regardless of their sport. For you to develop your skills and competency as a goalkeeper you need to train, compete, and exploit the numerous learning and growth moments that these opportunities have to offer. It is impossible to do so if you are injured or have a nagging pain that keeps coming back and limits your ability to train and compete. We will discuss how this determinant of performance is related to the other 7 in the third article.
Alright, so we have finally identified the physical demands that determine success in goalkeeping! So now what? Well, you might have been asking yourself why we went through this lengthy process in the first place. You might have said to yourself at some point; okay, this is all well and good, but I just want to know how to be the best goalkeeper I can be, I don’t care about all this demands stuff! As coaches, it is our job to help you achieve your best, and this is exactly why we went into so much detail; in order to determine what demands you must be able to meet, and surpass, to be a top-notch goalkeeper. Identifying the determinants of performance tells us as coaches how to best direct our training interventions so that what we do off the pitch can transfer to what you need to do on the pitch. We always knew where you wanted to go, but we needed to establish a map on how to get there. In the third and last article of this series we will shift our attention and focus on training.
Photo courtesy of Aedan Currah