Specialization is often a hot topic among youth parents and coaches. At what point should my son/daughter begin to play in goal exclusively? Though this is always a question to be answered on a case by case basis, there are some general milestones that can be used as a guide.
At the younger age groups, up to U10-U11, players and coaches should focus on developing a well rounded skill set. Players should be allowed to play in every position on the field in order to hone their understand of the game as a whole. Those who show an interest should be allowed to have their turn in goal. These players should be rotated in and out of goal frequently, generally playing no more then a half in a game. If you are lucky you will have 4 or 5 kids who will be willing to give it a shot between the pipes. It’s usually not a good idea to throw a player in goal who has no desire to be in there, though sometimes you may not have a choice. During this time, training of proper technique is key and should be stressed to all of your GKs. Having an experienced GK trainer work with your keepers for a few practices a season should suffice, but those who are interested should be encouraged to seek additional training as well.
As players get older, U11-U13, you will see your better GKs rise to the top and hopefully show interest in the position. Here, it is generally good practice to select two or three full time keepers who split halves or games. Your GKs should have regular specialized training to enhance their technical skills and tactical awareness. During these years, most players make a final determination that goalkeeper is the position they want to pursue or they lose interest or desire. At this point, attributes such as mental toughness and focus become keys to continued development.
As players near high school age, U14+, most goalkeepers (and many field players) are beginning to specialize in their respective positions. As the tactical and organizational factors of the game become even more important, GKs would continue to develop an in depth knowledge of the game in front of them gain a decided advantage. Couple this with weekly specialized goalkeeper training to perfect technique and push physical range and your GK should be learning how to manage a full 90 minutes. At this point, your GKs should be training in goal in every team practice as well supplementing with their specialized training.
As previously mentioned, some GKs will be ahead of this curve and some will be behind it. Always chose a development path by assessing what will benefit your players the most.