THE sight of a specialist goalkeeper coach in grassroots clubs is becoming ever so familiar. And hats off to clubs in the North-East that are recognising the importance of the technical aspects of the role of a goalkeeper, just as much as they would any other outfield player.
Goalkeeping coaches are easy to overlook, after all it's just one position in the team. With the sudden rush of many clubs trying to prepare properly, enforced extra administration duties and a 12-month long obligation of fixtures to fulfill, it would be easy for a grassroots team to neglect that vital number one role.
It's now not uncommon for goalkeeping coaches such as Chris Errington, Jim Provett and Andy Collett to be seen working with youngsters in North-East schools and teams such as Eaglescliffe Elementis or Billingham Juniors.
And it's the latter in Collett that has this week made the switch from part time goalkeeping coach at Hartlepool, to full time with York City. Aside from the technical aspect of positioning between the sticks, striking the ball, hand speed and awareness, keepers are also more in tune with the different levels of fitness and even injuries that their own breed are subject too.
Think about it for a minute - why should any club expect their keepers to be doing the same fitness routines and recovery techniques as an outfield player, who will rack up five to six miles during a game?
Andy Collett's career was ended by a shoulder injury sustained playing for Darlington in the very first few weeks of my physio career at the club and as a result we got to spend lots of time together chatting about the different injuries he'd picked up. Most of the injuries that a physio will see in professional football are things such as hamstrings, knee ligaments and ankle sprains. So Collett's shoulder injuries gave me a new perspective on the types of injuries that I might be looking at in the years to come.
If you're involved in a sport such as cricket or even rugby, then shoulder injuries such as rotator cuff tears, AC joint dislocations or even a complete snap of the biceps tendon suffered by former Durham and Billingham cricketer Mark Davies recently, will possibly be familiar to you.
And whether you're a player or you're a coach, something to be aware of is that aside from a spontaneous tackle or impact in a sport like rugby, most of the shoulder injuries that you'll come across are caused by overuse. Think about how many times your young goalkeepers might throw a ball out or even use their arms to punch or dictate play?
All of these combine to cause a 'shear' type wearing of muscles and tendons causing injury. Add in too the fact that kids have really poor posture, sitting at desks, playing on computers or slouching on the couch, which causes shoulder muscles to become stretched and weak, then you're fledgling goalkeepers are at risk.
And that's an area that the great goalkeeper coaches in the region such as Chris Errington are paying particular attention to in their sessions.
These keepers are specialists and more intuitively aware of the specific needs of their pupils - able to talk tactics and fitness. More so than most outfield coaches will ever be able to recognise trying to apply the same fitness principles to every man in the squad.
York City is gaining a valuable asset in Collett. Lest we forget that in his full time position at Darlington, Collett was responsible for resurrecting the now multi-million pound Premier League career of David Stockdale. What most people don't know about Stockdale is that he was released from York City with very few options and had his career transformed by the specialist attention and advice of a full time coach available to him at Darlington.
A full time keeper coach may not be an option at your club, but the benefits of having an expert goalkeeping coach visit your club even as little as once per week, can not only help improve performance, but may also reduce the risk of injury.
It's worth thinking about especially if your goalkeepers are faced with the option of spending nearly all of the session with the outfield guys.
Think of it like this. Lewis Hamilton and his racing car need to cross the finish line together as fast as possible, but you surely wouldn't expect Hamilton to be getting performance and fitness advice from the mechanics?