How More Goalkeeper Coaches Have Transitioned Into Other Coaching Roles

By Stewart Ross

News • Jan 22, 2024

How More Goalkeeper Coaches Have Transitioned Into Other Coaching Roles

In the ever-evolving world of football coaching, a number of goalkeeper coaches have made the transition into broader coaching roles. 

Traditionally, goalkeeper coaches were confined to honing the skills and techniques of their goalkeepers in a corner of the training pitch away from the rest of the team. However, this has changed drastically in recent years with more and more goalkeeper coaches going on to break into other coaching roles. 

As football has become more tactically sophisticated, so too has the role of the goalkeeper, and in turn the role of the goalkeeper coach. 

Historically, the goalkeeper coach was a figure on the periphery, focused solely on developing the goalkeeper's traditional skill set. Their primary responsibilities included shot-stopping, distribution, and communication with the back line. 

Modern goalkeepers are expected to do much more than simply keep the ball out of the net though – they are now required to act as a sweeper-keeper, initiate attacks, and possess exceptional ball-playing abilities.

As a result, the role of the goalkeeper coach has expanded to encompass a broader set of skills. This evolution has equipped goalkeeper coaches with a diverse skill set that goes beyond just the technical aspects of goalkeeping.

One of the key reasons why goalkeeper coaches are transitioning into other coaching roles is this enhanced understanding of the game as a whole. Goalkeepers, by the nature of their position, have a unique perspective on the pitch. They see the game unfold in front of them and are often involved in organising the defence. 

This heightened awareness of the game allows goalkeeper coaches to bring with them a tactical acumen honed through years of analysing opposition movements, understanding defensive structures, and anticipating attacking threats. This broader perspective has become increasingly valuable for clubs seeking coaches who can contribute to overall team strategy and development.

Goalkeepers are natural leaders on the pitch. They command their defence, organise the players in front of them, and often serve as the vocal heartbeat of the team. These leadership qualities are transferable to coaching roles that require effective communication and man-management skills.

As goalkeeper coaches evolve into other coaching roles, their ability to communicate and lead becomes a significant asset. They are adept at motivating players, providing clear instructions, and fostering a cohesive team environment. Clubs recognise the value of having coaches who can inspire players, build team morale, and effectively convey tactical nuances during matches.

The transition from a specialised goalkeeper coach into another coaching role requires also high level of adaptability and versatility. Coaches who have goalkeeping backgrounds bring a unique perspective to their roles, offering insights into not only goalkeepers but also defensive resilience, set-piece strategies, and counter-attacking opportunities. 

While the transition of goalkeeper coaches into broader coaching roles is gaining momentum, it is not without its challenges. The perception of goalkeeper coaches as specialists in a niche area can pose initial resistance, especially at lower levels.

Clubs and players may question their ability to contribute meaningfully to outfield coaching aspects. Overcoming these preconceptions requires a combination of effective communication, practical demonstration of coaching skills, and a track record of success.

On the flip side, the evolving landscape presents numerous opportunities for goalkeeper coaches seeking to broaden their horizons. The demand for coaches with a diverse skill continues to rise, and clubs are increasingly recognising the value of individuals who can contribute to all aspects of team development. As a result, goalkeeper coaches with aspirations beyond their traditional roles find themselves in a position to break new ground. 

There are a growing number of examples of goalkeeping coaches moving into other coaching roles, including manager/head coach roles, in recent years. 

On the continent, former Sassuolo goalkeeper coach Francesco Farioli, aged just 34, has led Nice to the upper reaches of the Ligue 1 table. Nuno Espirito Santo has recently returned to the Premier League to take the Nottingham Forest manager job. The former Wolves and Spurs manager held goalkeeper coach roles at Malaga and Panathinaikos before moving into head coach roles. 

AC Milan goalkeeper coach Tony Roberts was considered the club's set-piece specialist when he worked at Wolves, and Scott Parker's goalkeeper coach at Bournemouth, Rob Burch, also took on a similar role (if unofficial). 

Another example is former Reading Assistant Manager Andrew Sparkes. The Welshman’s move into another coaching role was not a planned one but one the former Southampton First Team Goalkeeper coach  embraced, as he told, before his time at the club came to a premature end due to Reading's ongoing financial difficulties. 

“My move away from a goalkeeper coach into an assistant manager was a forced one due to having surgery on my hip just before the conclusion of the Premier League season, with a six to nine month recovery time, meaning I couldn’t actively continue as a goalkeeper coach until the start of 2024", Sparkes explained. 

The Welshman already had experience of transitioning into other coaching areas, though, taking up set-piece coaching duties at Southampton towards the end of last season, a role many goalkeeper coaches take on due to their experience coaching how to organise defences. 

“In the Premier League, there are very few goalkeeper coaches who do the set pieces as most clubs have a specialist set piece coach. At the end of last season, I ended up doing the set pieces at Southampton after the change of coaching staff.  This was a new challenge for me but one I stepped up to take as I felt there was no bigger challenge than doing set pieces for the first time in the best league in the world. 

“Outside of the Premier League and certainly in U21/U18 set ups, the staffing structure is smaller due to budgets, so the goalkeeper coach often ends up taking the set pieces either exclusively or with an assistant. This would be to balance out the workloads between the smaller staff, often just a manager, assistant manager, first-team coach and then goalkeeper coach. 

“As a staff (at Reading), we contributed and shared ideas, but ultimately the manager has the final say. With a goalkeeping background, you can give your insights and experience from a goalkeeper's standpoint in certain situations; build-up from goal kicks, starting positions when defending the space etc.”

Sparkes believes goalkeeper coaches continuing their education journey is key in making the transition into other roles a success, especially at the higher levels. 

“All goalkeeper coaches who want to do their UEFA Goalkeeping A Licence must hold at least their UEFA B outfield licence, so they will already have a good understanding of that. But for me, I think it’s essential for goalkeeper coaches to also do their outfield A licence, which will give them more confidence and experience working with larger groups of players. 

“This will make them more valuable as a staff member and also set them up for future roles, perhaps doing a team's set pieces or moving more into an outfield coaching position. This could be through choice or a situation like mine, recovering from a surgery. Luckily, it gave me the flexibility to explore a role outside of goalkeeping for the time being.” 

On the challenges of moving between coaching roles, Sparkes reflected: “The biggest difference between moving into an assistant manager role from goalkeeper coach is you are dealing with a group ten times as big! Instead of dealing with three goalkeepers, I’m now dealing with a squad of 30 players. I’m trying to get to know all the players personally and build relationships with them all, but obviously, it’s harder to do so.”

“There are also a lot more roles and responsibilities when assisting the manager with the whole team rather than just a smaller group of goalkeepers. I try to take as much off the manager's plate as possible so he can just focus solely on the team. This could be logistics of away travel, scheduling or other things around the training ground.”

The shift of goalkeeper coaches into broader coaching roles is indicative of the continued evolution in football coaching dynamics. As the game becomes increasingly more sophisticated, the traditional boundaries that confined goalkeeper coaches to specialised roles are breaking down. 

In the years to come, we can expect to see more goalkeeper coaches embracing diverse coaching roles, further enriching the footballing landscape with their unique blend of skills and experiences.

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