Coaching scheme puts Scotland's future goalies in a safe pair of hands
Nothing could stop 13-year-old Fraser Gowens from attending his goalkeeping practice at Netherdale in Galashiels. Even in the pouring rain, the Galashiels Academy pupil, who dreams of one day being a professional goalkeeper, is relishing the opportunity to receive specialist training from an experienced professional at the new SFA goalkeeping coaching school in the Borders.
The school was piloted last December and, following its initial success, it is about to start a second six-week run, this time at its full capacity of 11 children, aged 11 to 16.
"They were doing it just before Christmas time, and the weather was shocking, but there was nothing we could do to dissuade him from going, he just enjoyed it so much. He used to come back off that pitch covered in mud from head to toe, but he loved it," Fraser's mother Fiona Gowens told The TESS.
"He is really excited that there are going to be 10 or 11 boys his standard and his age group that he can train with who have the same ambition as he does. He likes that this is just for the goalkeepers."
For many of the children, the school is their first taste of specialised training for goalkeepers. One hour every week, they practice drills, learn hand positioning, diving, positioning and reading match situations, and coach John Dodds, former goalkeeper of Queen of the South and Ayr United, said their skills have already improved dramatically.
"They have good handling skills, which is something you look for in a goalkeeper, but you can see they have not had much coaching. But there have been massive improvements since I have had them," he said.
Mr Dodds added that goalkeeping-specific skills went beyond merely catching a ball: "Anybody can stand in a goal and stop the ball, it is the other aspects that they don't realise you need to be to be a goalkeeper. You need your positional skills, communication; you also have to read the game well. A lot of it comes from experience, but if you are not taught by someone who knows, you are not going to gain that experience," he said.
Andy Lawrie, Scottish Borders Council sports development officer and co- ordinator for the programme, said the need for the school had arisen from the lack of specialised coaching for aspiring goalkeepers in the area. Often, goalies had no choice but to train with the field players, and did not get an opportunity to learn skills and techniques from specialists.
"The majority of the time they are just roped into doing the running and the passing drills with other kids. As a football coach, I find it really difficult to coach goalies," Mr Lawrie explained. "You can talk about position and where they should be, but when it comes to techniques, it is a different ball game if you have not done it, and that is where John's speciality comes in."
Fraser's mother said her son could hardly wait for the next session next week.
Mr Dodds said he hoped the school would set the young goalies up for "bigger and better things". He added: "You never know, one of them might go on to become a premiership goalkeeper. They come every week, even if it is chucking it down with rain. That certainly shows that they are keen."
Further courses are planned for the summer, and children from all clubs and parts of the region can apply for places. Mr Lawrie said that while so far there had not been any interest in the school from girls, they would be welcome to take part.