September 7, 2007
I’m hearing a lot of verbal vomit from armchair critics at popular blogs and news sites about the state of goalkeeping in the English Premier League. What gets to me is that there is a lot of talk, but not much understanding when it comes to “why” goalkeepers of Lehmann, James and Robinson’s caliber are stuffing up.
There are a few things that I have been thinking about lately when it comes to these reported “calamities”, and they are closely aligned with psychological and physiological aspects of the goalkeepers game. Let’s take a look:
Bigger Games, Bigger Demands: Every goalkeeper has been there at times in their playing career, when the toll of endless season after season dulls the senses. With so many top European clubs vying for so many titles, the time for rest or recuperation are tightening up.
Club management and external stakeholders have much more of a vested interest, and the relentlessness from club owners to chase silver, and bring in marketing revenue from large competitions are increasingly important for overall growth.
Unfortunately, it is usually the players (the cog in the giant wheel) that suffer the most. The goalkeepers mental state during a game is profoundly effected, and then amplified tenfold when there is a mistake. Paul Robinson’s mistakes (against Germany) although seemingly uncanny were the effect of the mental toll of continuous and unrelented competition.
Jens Lehmann’s injuries and subsequent poor performance are a direct result of a taxing competitive season without little break, where the body breaks down without any real de-training in off season preparations. De-training is the process of maintaining performance without in-season intensities.
Lack of Faith: If everyone thinks that high ranking teams mesh and every coach is a Vince Lombardi, you’ll be rudely surprised. From personal experience, there is much “ego” floating around, and even outfield team mates have an opinion about the way they believe their goalkeeper “should” play, even when they had never played the position in their lives. Go figure.
We saw the above scenario with Artur Boruc against Spartak Moscow. Though in extreme cases, a lack of performance in goalkeeping terms can be directly related to a lack of faith from outfield players and even coaching staff. These circumstances have an extremely negative effect on the psychology of the competitive goalkeeper.
But, a lack of faith from some team mates can also have a powerful positive effect on the competitive goalkeeper, enhancing their ability in times of hardship. One former team mate of Brouc’s stated recently:
“Having Artur in goals does give the team a lot of belief when you go into a shoot-out because you know that he is always likely to save a few.”
Having a goalkeeper who has a strong self awareness in their abilities enhances the team unit as a whole.
Lack of Preparedness: People may call him “Calamity” James, though his performance was a direct result of being pushed into the limelight for the national team without prior mental preparation (having not played for three years previously). Being thrust into the international spotlight after a long layoff can be mentally draining at club level as well, resulting in poor performance.
But having strong self belief in his own ability will give David James the drive he needs to succeed for the national team:
“He has come through a lot, but he is very strong mentally and has a fantastic bubble of self-belief around him. I think it has been quite tough for him, but he is just the most unique goalkeeper I have ever come across.
“I asked him how long he wanted to keep playing, and he just said ‘until I don’t enjoy it’. He is 37 now, but he has got the body of a 23-year-old. His physique is phenomenal. He is an athlete, he is agile and quick. His pace over 10 or 15 yards is up there with the outfield players at Portsmouth.”
The other part of the jigsaw for James is the unique athletic ability he maintains at the age of 37. Having a healthy physique and a strong level of fitness gives the goalkeeper a strong mental state. Ultimately, a strong physical state will in turn provide the mental state the goalkeeper needs to maintain performance in highly competitive conditions.
So, when critiquing the detrimental mistakes of goalkeepers in the EPL, it should be remembered that it is a combination of the high paced intensity with the increasing mental demands to stay focused year round with little or no effective rest periods.
September 3, 2007
Oliver Khan played an immense 535 Bundesliga games for Bayern Munich just the other day…which equates to…hold on a sec…48,150 minutes between the sticks! I get many emails from readers around the world with the same sort of tune, ie. I want to play at the highest level, or trial with the biggest super club on the planet, often ending with United at the end of it (and it ain’t Sydney United either)!
Now, when asked about how often they have played, at a highly competitive level, I usually get the answer “Well, I’m playing with my local kick around club” (or something along these lines). Making it to the higher echelons of competitive football means that you have played week in and week out…at a high level.
Larger sporting organizations look to game time as a sign of experience and maturity for the competitive goalkeeper. Sadly, this is where the “goalkeeping conundrum” as I call it, kicks in. How do you get around playing “experience” (ie. game time), when you have been playing for your club and not getting any game time at all (especially at an elite level)?
Local Pick-up Games: If you can get a full 90 minutes with a local team, you can increase your game time, and also enhance your performance. There are many teams that are looking for players who don’t play at an elite level, but do have some very good experienced players. I’ve come across some very good kick around teams with elite players who have moved on from the game but still like to have a kick. It’s a great way of getting your hands dirty, but also learning from experienced (non-elite players) who have gone before you.
Transfer Your Skills: If you are playing for an elite club and not getting much game time, chat with your coach to see if there is any room for you to move to a sister club (many elite clubs have sister clubs) so that you can get some full game time. This way you are still aligned with your elite club, but get full game experience somewhere else.
Link Up: If you have friends from other clubs, or guys that you train with whom have some extra time during the week, get together with them for some 6 a-side on small goals. This way, you get to have some fun with players you know and respect, and get some extra game practice, with different skill sets required on the small goals.
So don’t let a lack of play get you down, get creative and most importantly hungry. Every goalkeeper can increase their time between the sticks and playing experience by finding new and undiscovered outlets to gain some added match practice.