by Don Williams
With regards as to when a youth soccer player should “specialize” in a particular position; you original instincts were quite correct and I firmly believe, that goalkeepers (and for that matter all youth soccer players in general) should never be pigeon holed into a particular position until their teenage years.
It is crucial for keepers to develop great foot skills in both dribbling and passing with both feet early on in their soccer careers. One only has to watch the any soccer game on TV to see the importance of great foot skills under pressure to see the great results of those skills and conversely, the tragic results of not having those skills.
A goalkeeper with the ability to handle a back pass, get it under control and put it back up field to a teammate quickly will not only be an asset to her teams attacking ability but will also instill confidence in her teammates to go forward and help in the attack. That being said, the only way that a keeper can handle the ball and pass accurately under pressure is to get multiple (meaning thousands) passing and receiving repetitions under match conditions. The way the game of soccer is played, if a keeper is always in goal they will only get a few times a game at best to get a chance to receive and pass with her feet and this is not enough repetition. This means that a keeper must have lots of field time as a field player in addition to opportunities to play in goal.
I have seen keeper after keeper left behind at the high school and collegiate levels because, while they may be athletic in the goal, their foot skills are far behind where they should be. All one has to do is watch any youth or high school match and see that the keeper cannot even take their own goal kicks which in and of itself puts her team at a distinct disadvantage due to the fact that in an 11 a side game her team is down one player on the field with 9 field players available on her team to receive the ball vs the 10 that are available to the other team, not to mention the implications that are brought about by the offside rules.
In conclusion I believe that the perfect developmental path for keepers looks something like this:
Under 6 – No keepers
Under 8 – Everyone on the team plays keeper in at least one match
Under 10 – Everyone on the team plays keeper in at least one match
Under 12 – at least 6 players are identified has wanting to play some keeper during the season and the duties are shared equally
Under 14 – 3 – 4 players are identified as having qualities of a good keeper and they enjoy playing the position, again the duties are shared amongst those players. When they are not in the net they are getting time as field players.
Under – 16 – 2 keepers share the responsibility of minding the net and again the time that they are not in the net they are getting time on the field
Under – 17 through under 19 – Keepers are now very specialized, are competing against each other for the starting position, and are sharing time in the net. If possible the keepers can still get time as field players from time to time during the season.
Hopefully this clarifies the issue of keeper specialization and your daughter can go on to enjoy the sport, develop into a well-rounded player, and to be the best player she can be.