Let’s start this article by posing some new questions. What abilities do you need to train? What type of training do you need to perform to be a better goalkeeper? Does your training need to be goalkeeper-specific? With a solid description of the physical determinants of performance (Part 2) we are in a great position to answer these questions. First, let’s recall our definition of a physical demand. We said that a physical demand was: (1) a precise description of the physical-mental actions, and the things that influence these actions, unique to a sport environment, and (2) non-modifiable. Next, let’s choose one specific physical demand that we identified as a determinant of performance: goalkeepers need to move very fast. From these two points, the question that naturally follows is how does one meet this demand? What about you, an athlete, but also a developing human being, allows you to move fast? It isn’t necessary to dive into great detail to answer that last question, but what we will say is that we all have physical capacities that allows us to meet our sport demands. In this case you have specific physical capacities that give you the ability move your body quickly. Let’s not go into detail to define precisely what physical capacities are. It is enough to say that the human body is a biological system (i.e. you), which is composed of many sub-systems (i.e. neuro-muscular system, cardiovascular system, etc.), and that the interaction of these sub-systems allow you to express a wide range of movement abilities (sometimes called bio-motor abilities), to meet the movement demands of life/sport. Besides, all of us understand physical capacities at the levels which are most important; what they do, and what they look like. The most exciting thing about our physical capacities is that through training we can improve them. Let’s then answer our first question and identify the physical capacities that we need to train to become better goalkeepers. To do this we will use the 8 determinants of performance we identified and match these demands with the capacities needed for success (Table 3).
Now that we have a grasp on the demands and capacities related to goalkeeping, we can finally start talking about what you can do in training to become a better goalkeeper! To start us off into our training discussion, let’s do a recap of the information we presented in Part 1 and 2 of this case study.
We started with a thorough investigation of the physical factors that determine success in goalkeeping. We did this by defining what a physical demand was, and then proceeded to dissect the position of goalkeeping to find out exactly what physical demands underpin the specific positional components. Via this process we were able to appreciate the general physical demands that are related to the context-specific demands of goalkeeping. This process was important because it gave us a roadmap of what you must be able to do physically to achieve success in this position, which in turn helped us identify what capacities to develop in training. When people think/talk about sport-specific physical training (not to be confused with training completed within the actual sport context), they often point to specific exercises and drills, that look like the sport being trained for, or even include equipment/implements used in the sport. However, at Novanta, we view exercises and drills as tools, that are not specific in and of themselves, but can be strategically used to teach/develop physical skills and attributes (capacities) that relate to the demands of soccer, and in this case goalkeeping. Viewed in this way, our physical demands description was important so that the training plan we develop is goalkeeper-specific in the sense that by design, we endeavour to effect positive change in the expression of those capacities that are most relevant to the position. By doing so, we can be more confident that our decisions impact performance where it matters the most, on the pitch.
As we said above, we view exercises as tools, so we are not going to tell you that you should do exercise A, because it is the best way to develop strength, or exercise B because it is the best way to develop agility for goalkeeping. Rather, we are going to lay out our framework of physical development as it fits into the larger LTAD (longer term athlete development) pathway that you are engaged in. We believe that by understanding the why behind what you are doing in training, you will not only be addressing your physical growth, but also your cognitive, emotional, and civic growth, as these things relate to building your autonomy as an athlete who takes responsibility for their development.
Thinking About Transfer
Very early in our discussion we acknowledged that physical demands/capacities were one component of the LTAD pathway for goalkeeping. We said that the technical, tactical, cognitive, and emotional demands/capacities of goalkeeping are fundamentally coupled with the physical demands/capacities, and that the development of high performance is only possible by developing all these components. We then went on to say that we develop these components in parts, but we also need to consider how these components interact as a unified whole to produce performance. This is a very critical point. From a physical training perspective this relates to a concept called transfer of training. This is a very simple concept to grasp, and a much, much harder concept to put into practice and measure. As strength and conditioning coaches, we want the adaptations from the training we do in the weight room, or on the pitch, to show up (for lack of a better word) in the movements, and moments, that matter in training and competition. Certainly, we are interested in adaptations showing up in the short-term (weeks/months), but from a developmental perspective we want to ensure that our training is setting a strong foundation for adaptations to manifest over the long-term (years). So how do we do this? We must approach this question with the utmost humility. Knowing with certitude that training is transferring is often quite difficult, if not impossible. It is beyond the scope of this document to get into some of the standard scientific/coaching best practices around this topic. However, we would like to present our synthesis of this knowledge, and how we approach this very important component of our training philosophy.
- Learn the position we are working with and what is needed for success
Although it is challenging to know if any dose of training is going to transfer, we can be much more confident that it will not if we are chasing the wrong training adaptation to start with. For example, if we were to suggest you train like a marathon runner (an event that has drastically different demands than goalkeeping) we could be very confident that the adaptations you achieved through your training would not transfer. We would not be very good coaches if we suggested this! This is another reason why conducting a thorough physical demands description is so important. By identifying the right physical demands and conducting training to improve the capacities associated with those demands, we are more confident that our training adaptations will transfer.
- Appropriately integrate part and whole training
What do we mean by part and whole training? When, early on in this document, we narrowed our focus to the analysis of physical demands/capacities, we made a very important qualification and said that we were going to ignore the role that perception of the environment played in influencing your physical actions. We did this deliberately to highlight the purely mechanical physical demands of goalkeeping. We have discussed at length why we believe that grasping these purely mechanical demands is of practical importance. However, it is impossible to attain a full and accurate physical demands description for the goalkeeper, nor a sufficient template for training, without taking into consideration the perception of relevant environmental and task information, and how it influences movement. Of course, when we say we are interested in improving performance, what we mean is that we want to give our goalkeepers the capacity to solve evolving movement problems in game-contexts over the course of their careers. This is a goal that we work hand-in-hand with your technical coaches to achieve by appropriately blending part and whole physical training. Let’s think about these two general descriptions of training occurring on a continuum (Figure 1). On the far left of the line we have part training, that by definition is removed from the need to perceive and act on game relevant information in the environment; in other words, it is de-contextualized. Very often, part training is focusing on developing a specific attribute in isolation. For example, suppose we identify that you are very deficient in ankle range of motion, and we embark to improve it, since this range is important for many goalkeeping actions. We would want to do very specific movements/drills that simply focused on improving the mobility of the ankle joint in isolation. By doing these drills we would probably achieve an increase in your range of motion, but is our work done there? Should we expect that this increase in ankle range of motion that you can exhibit in a de-contextualized environment (e.g. on a training table), will show up when you need it? The answer is, NO. For that adaptation to transfer, we need to progressively make the context(s) under which that adaptation is expressed more like those in training/competition situations. For example, we might progress and ask you to perform a lunge, or squat, since these patterns would force you to coordinate ankle range of motion with movement at other joints to assume functional positions. We could then add load, increase the speed demands, ask you to repeat actions for longer durations, change surfaces and so on. In all these examples, we are increasing the context to our training, and moving to the right on the continuum. At some point (indicated by the diagonal line), training transitions into the domain of whole training. In this domain, the main difference is that relevant environmental information is introduced to guide movement. In this domain the physical training departs from purely “physical preparation”, and at a certain point is simply just goalkeeper training and governed exclusively by your technical coaches. The objective is not to improve the ankle range of motion, or ensure movement is expressed over increasing demands, but it is for the range of motion to be seamlessly integrated into whatever movement behavior is needed to respond to the actions at hand. In this domain you aren’t thinking about your ankle, you are just performing, you are immersed in the training and capable of executing whatever movement is needed depending on the situation without being constrained by your ankle range of motion. We believe that by approaching training with this philosophy we ensure that the time you spend working on your physical development transfers to your performance on the pitch.
Building a Foundation of Athleticism
In our demands/capacity description we identified a large set of movement requirements and abilities important for the goalkeeper. Are we suggesting that all of these attributes must be addressed right away in training, and that if you do not meet these requirements very soon you are going to be limiting your ability to perform as a goalkeeper? Absolutely not. Let’s first establish your specific context. You are a developing athlete. Based on our national LTAD model (Canadian Sport 4 Life) you are in the Train to Train stage, consolidating basic sport-specific skills and tactics, and beginning to focus more on one or two sports. According to the model, you are also approaching a sensitive period of accelerated adaptation to aerobic, speed, and strength development. That’s great news! In this regard, you must appreciate that our mindset and approach from a training perspective is to design and implement interventions that (1) match your developmental age; (2) sequence and complement your sport training; and (3) progressively challenge you to grow as an athlete and skillful mover. As we said earlier, we want to ensure that our training is setting a strong foundation for adaptations to manifest over the long-term (years).
If you look closely at Table 3, you will notice that the first two physical determinants, and the capacities linked to these determinants, are a component of each of the following demands/capacities listed in the table. We organized the table this way deliberately to highlight that from our perspective, there are a set of fundamental physical abilities that can significantly impact an athlete’s expression of physical performance as they navigate their athletic development into adulthood. Let’s run through some examples to really bring to light what we are talking about.
At your stage of development, most high-performance athletes will start to engage in activities designed to improve the relevant bio-motor qualities important for their sport. As a goalkeeper you have probably already been asked to execute a variety of exercises such as squatting with weight, jumping over hurdles, and throwing medicine balls. Further, you consistently engage in drills in training where you must move into positions requiring large ranges of motion in response to game-relevant information. One thing all these things share in common, is that they require you to achieve specific joint positions in all the major movement-based joints of your body. To squat in the manner beneficial to improving performance, your hips need to be able to achieve specific ranges of motion. We can say that same thing about a hurdle drill, a medicine ball drill, and really any movement you will encounter as a goalkeeper during your development. But what if you have a range of motion restriction in any of these joints? Perhaps you have not been exposed to a variety of different ways of moving that would have challenged you to move into these ranges, or maybe you currently are limited in getting into some of these positions despite having a varied movement background. Either way, will this limit your ability to adapt to these methods of training both now, and across your development? We believe that, in the long run, if an athlete possesses significant positional, range of motion limitations, they will reduce their adaption capacity to the training that they will be exposed to, and potentially increase their risk of sustaining an injury. Let’s be very clear, the human body (especially the developing human body), is wonderfully adaptive. We are capable of finding many ways to compensate around range of motion restrictions. Further, all of us have unique body shapes and sizes, which means that we all have unique signatures of movement. Having said this, if a young athlete either has, or develops, a range of motion restriction(s) in critical movement-based joints, from our perspective this represents a movement constraint that is more than likely modifiable. They key here is the word modifiable. This simply means that it is changeable in response to training. Many features of our physiology (e.g. height, limb lengths, and yes, even range of motion), are non-modifiable, which means they are not changeable in response to training, and it would be silly to try and do so. Our aim then is not to take every athlete and make sure they can hit the exact same ranges of motion in every joint, but rather, we want to ensure that athletes are not constrained by modifiable range of motion restrictions, so that they can achieve important positions in a manner that reflects their individual make up.
Looking at the second determinant of performance, we identified that how you move into positions, more specifically the 5 fundamental movement patterns, is also critically important. We said that to meet this demand you needed to have coordination, rhythm, awareness/control, and foundational strength. What do we mean how you move? For example, every time you sit into a squat, or drop into your set position, do your knees cave inwards? When you step into a handstand, or when you reach overhead to parry a ball away, do you excessively shrug your shoulders? When you are transitioning between patterns, for example, when you change direction, does your upper body move excessively over your hips? These examples all highlight movement executions strategies that have been shown to be performance limiting, as well as increase the likelihood of an injury occurring. We want to emphasize to you is that how you move, how you execute movement, matters, when it comes to performance outcomes (e.g. speed, smoothness, making a save), and your physical health (i.e. resiliency to injury).
Now, just because we recognize that how you move matters, we are in no way suggesting that you need to be constantly thinking about how you move; this could be further from the truth. Training a developing athlete to be a skillful and adept mover is about changing movement behavior over time, in such a way that the expression of desirable movement becomes natural, and stable; in other words, it just becomes how you move! Let’s be clear though, we are not suggesting that there is one, correct way to move; again, this could be further from the truth. We described what you do as a goalkeeper (and more generally as an athlete) as finding solutions to movement problems. We recognize that for any given movement problem there could be a multitude of “correct” movement solutions that are specific to you. Training is not about getting everyone to move the same way. However, we must recognize, and respect, that being able to stabilize certain patterns of movement across many different contexts (e.g. load, speed, fatigue, informational demands), and many different “correct” movement solutions, can play a very significant role in the development of a solid base of athleticism.
Building Training Programs for our Athletes
In the Thinking About Transfer and Building a Foundation of Athleticism sections we discussed the pillars our approach to building training programs for young goalkeepers, and young athletes in general. Let’s finish by talking about what our training plans look like generally.
Figure 2 depicts a very basic framework of all our programs. The 4 pillars should be very familiar to you by now! The arrows linking the 4 pillars indicate that the exercises, drills, and skills that fall under each pillar are not independent of each other, but rather are integrated within our programs. Our programs place a large emphasis on developing Positions & Shapes, followed by integrating these into Patterns & Features. From here we challenge athletes to express movement under different demands, such as higher load, speed, coordination, and information-based challenges. This will be the Adapted Demands portion of the program. Lastly, throughout the program we expose athletes to movement skills that will mostly likely be new to them. Many elite athletes, and for that matter “normal people”, who have maintained an athletic and/or movement practice throughout their lives have a Repertoire of Movement Skills at their disposal. As we start to specialize, we tend to focus our movement more narrowly, which of course is necessary to chase mastery and excellence. But we must remember that being exposed to diverse ways of moving as a developing athlete can confer both performance and health benefits as the athlete works towards the elite level.
The programs we create for our goalkeepers do, indeed, include unique components specific to each athlete. This is also true if we are working with an outfield player, or an athlete competing in a different sport. However, for any program that we build, we apply the same methods discussed in this three-part article series. By doing so, we believe that we provide our goalkeepers the best opportunities to develop their full physical potential, which in turn will support their growth as footballers and healthy young adults.
Photo courtesy of Rhett Lewis on Unsplash