Are you a goalkeeping ‘outlier’?
February 2, 2009
Have you ever wondered why the lean mean kid always gets selected into the top rep teams, while you rue your chances on the sidelines? Ever think why no matter how hard you try, every trial you attend for top tier clubs kind of ends up with the “typical” goalkeeper in between the sticks? The reason why you are unsuccessful, are usually not the reasons why you think you are not making the grade.
Talent of course is an important conduit for success, yep, you have to have the natural ability to succeed in top flight football, though there are many other factors outside your direct control. I’ve been reading the new book by Malcolm Gladwell, (bestselling author of “The Tipping Point”), titled “Outliers” and his observations are quite outstanding.
From what I’ve read thus far, Gladwell takes a case in point and shows us the startling effect that some of the following components have on the measure of a junior athletes success in competitive football. In this case, the 2007 Czech National Junior Football team. Before we get to the playing roster, an excerpt from the book:
European Soccer, similarly, is organized like hockey and baseball – and the birth-date distributions in the sport are heavily skewed as well. In England, the eligibility date is September 1, and in the football association’s premier league at one point in the 1990s, there were 288 players born between September and November and only 136 players born between June and August. In international soccer, the cutoff date used to be August 1, and in one recent junior world championship tournament, 135 players were born in the three months after August 1, and just 22 were born in May, June, and July. Today the cutoff date for international junior soccer is January 1. (Outliers, 2008, Gladwell, M. 26-27)
Now let’s look at the goalkeeper’s of the Czech National Junior football team for 2007:
- Ludek Frydrych, born: Jan 3. 1987
- Radek Petr, born: Feb 24, 1987
- Tomas Frystak, born: Aug 18, 1987
In fact, players (goalkeeper included) ranging from the midfielders to defenders and strikers in the starting 11 were born throughout January, February and March, whilst those born later in the year did not comprise the first 11′s playing roster. Odds stacked up against you, think about it? In contrast, look at the England national under 20 football team roster…similar pattern.
There is a strong correlation that points to the fact that older players born in January, February and March are in favor over younger players born in the same year for European elite footballers. The reason, the cut off date for international selection now lands on Jan 1 in Europe. Harsh world yeah?
Now the other point that Gladwell points to is time and access to resources that your peers do not have access to, and yes, there is a magic number stacked up against us here as well. Want to be the very best goalkeeper in the world…heck, the very best at any endeavor…try 10,000 hours (equivalent of say 10 years) of training constantly.
The differentiators that separates the amateurs and those whom go onto play at the highest levels are not that much different at the outset of the players development, rather talent and the amount of time they continue to put into their passion for football are key determinants. Following is another excerpt that hits the point home from Gladwell’s book “Outliers”:
“The other interesting thing about that ten thousand hours, of course, is that ten thousand hours is an enormous amount of time. It’s all but impossible to reach that number all by yourself by the time you’re a young adult. You have to have parents who encourage and support you. You can’t be poor, because if if you have to hold down a part-time job on the side to help make ends meet, there won’t be time left in the day to practice enough. In fact, most people can reach that number only if they get into some kind of special program – like a hockey [in this example] allstar squad – or if they get some kind of extraordinary opportunity that gives them a chance to put in those hours.”
The above passage resonates a very important point about how a young goalkeeper should measure their own success, what it means to them (for each individual it is different) and finally, how he/she should set “realistic goals”. I get asked time and time again about how a young goalkeeper can get to the elite level, and I think that the above passages show some barriers, but also some unique opportunities. Most notably, what sacrifice are you willing to make to excel in goalkeeping, and how can you think outside the square to get you where you need to be…it’s doable, have a think about it.
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