As coaches, trainers, parents and players, we often focus our efforts solely on the physical aspects of the game. Bigger, stronger, faster players are a reality that challenges all athletes across all competitions. We place a high value on what is labeled as “God given talent”. While these factors certainly provide advantages for those players who have them, how do we build up those students who may lack in certain developmental areas? Concurrently, how do we keep those “naturally gifted” focused and motivated to realize their potential?
As goalkeeper trainers we understand that, like a fine wine, GK’s tend to get better with age. Outside of developing the necessary skills to be successful in the position, the more experience one has between the sticks, the more situations they see, the more information they process and the more they grow. It is no accident that we see many successful goalkeepers playing late into their careers at a high level. As coaches, how do we give our players the best shot at maximizing their skills? The trick can often be, creating a mental approach that facilitates this growth. In my experience, using the “Being Good vs Getting Better” model can be an excellent approach to how you coach your players.
It seems like a simple concept, but it can be the difference between building a student up and planting a seed of doubt. It’s about creating a mindset of improvement. The concept of being “good” is finite and infers a level of achievement. While setting goals is important, we should look to establish goals which can be ever evolving. If we tell a player he/she is “good” or has “given ability” right off the bat, we are creating a ceiling of expectations. When things get tough for these players, we run the risk of creating a mindset of “I am just not that good” or “I used to be good, but I guess I just don’t have it anymore”. For these players, growth and development will stagnate until they can adjust their mindset and push forward.
In turn, that mindset should be one of constant change and improvement. If we praise players on their improvements and recognizing the hard work they put in to get there, we are empowering them with a mindset that rewards persistence. Rather than thinking their talent is something just maintained through training, we are getting them to understand the power of resilience, toughness and hard work. By complementing constant improvement over current talents, we are able to both push our advanced groups and encourage those who are just getting the hang of things.
Please understand, I am not suggesting talent doesn’t make a difference or that we should not praise our students. This is about framing that praise in a way that reinforces how they got there and that they can continue to constantly improve. Make a concerted effort to adapt your mindset in how you approach your students and I promise you will see the difference in how your GK’s train and respond to your praises and critiques.