Learning goalkeeper technique, and skill work in soccer in general involves repetition. I’ve mentioned before how much I love repetition in learning. It’s old school I know, but after all of the pedagogical hoopla out there, in the end “Repetition is the mother of learning” whether you are working a on the contour catch, like at Just 4 Keepers, or top of the foot volley, vocabulary for the SAT, Spanish conjugations, Mathematics formulas, Yoga Asanas, etc. You get the point, it is an important “Principle of Learning.”
As we advance as athletes and specialize our skills in goalkeeping eventually even to the professional level, we still “work on the basics” — watch Tim Howard in this video. But, what does “work on the basics” mean? To me, it means finding a foothold where muscle memory is able to respond accurately and repetitively to brain signals. Signing your name is an example. It is also when the nerve passageway has been fully developed, sending and receiving the correct message from the brain. This is why for any level of training session we start by working on the basics. It prepares the brain and reminds the muscles of what they remember. We then as instructors scaffold to the next level of skill, or “return to basics” when there are a lot of mistakes being made. There is nothing wrong with two steps forward and one back, or even back two steps, or even three if needed, really.
Advanced players are not immune to basic errors either and have to repeat the basics over and over. But, certainly they have a great deal of muscle memory to perform amazing feats, and usually recognize when having to settle down with basic reminders themselves to trigger their muscle memory, but can be reminded by a coach as well.
Six years ago I fell ill with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) also known as Acute Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (AIDP). I describe it as a syndrome where the myelin sheath of the nerve starts to erode due to being “attacked” by white blood cells that get the wrong message. Imagine a hose as the nerve conduit, full of water, like the electric channel, that has holes in it and the amount of water, the nerve message, reaching the end of the hose is diminished more and more. My illness left me paralyzed in much of my body. I would walk much like a 2 year-old, wouldn’t be able to hold things, and couldn’t balance myself very well without falling — the nerve channels were breaking down.
To recover, I would do basic balance poses and practice yoga to re-trigger the muscle memory lost to the mixed messages caused by AIDP. Now, the thing about a two-year old is that their myelin sheath isn’t developed yet and everything has to be triggered through continuous repetitive movements until that the nerve conduit is developed enough to make the message arrive with efficiency. Only after that can you build to muscle memory. The same goes for physical therapy after AIDP, or a stroke, or a joint replacement, or cancer, etc. And, for us that are around the 50 year mark, keep practicing the basics, because myelin can break down as we age too.
As we are training young goalkeepers think about training an entire process of memory brain, nerve conduit, motor function and the power of repetition that makes memory “muscular.” For athletes advanced beyond this stage, movements and positions that are memorized are “basic.” Remember then, that “failure” by the young athlete is often developmental . So, coaches remind yourselves that when checking for understanding, don’t always look at the performance, because they may be cognoscente of the task, but physically are still building the nerve channel to perform the task.