Goalkeeping tips from a professional

Qualified to the top coaching qualification, the Uefa Pro License, former Nottingham Forest and Wales stopper Mark Crossley tells Dave Clarke the knowledge he picked up during a 20-year professional career and how that relates to youth goalkeeping.

Mark Crossley and John Sheridan

Mark Crossley (right) with Oldham Athletic manager John Sheridan

Coaching, particularly for keepers, has changed a lot in the two decades I have been involved in the game. When I started out at Nottingham Forest back in the late 1980s you were taught by a manager how to play, but not coached how to play.

There’s an important difference there – it’s all about the attention to detail you’re afforded, and by specialist people who really understand your game.

Back then, unless your manager used to be a keeper, the chances are he didn’t really know what being a keeper was all about. At Forest we didn’t have a goalkeeping coach until Frank Clark took over in 1993.

Before then the keepers were often told “just go over there and kick the ball to each other, and practise a bit of catching while you’re at it!”

Of course, at youth coaching level, it’s not always possible to assign different coaches to different positions, but the more a manager can offer individual tuition, the more both he and the keeper will learn. And you can never stop learning.


I’ve completed my UEFA pro-licence – it took me seven years to go through all the different stages! It was something that I never thought I would do, but I’m delighted I invested the time.

The inspiration came from coaching kids – not only in making them better players, but better people as well. And doing it has really opened my eyes. It has been fantastic. For me, the secret to coaching is in investing time and patience.

There’s loads of psychology involved too, and at times those three elements can be more important that the actual tuition. That said, I believe that keepers should be made to work with their back four a lot during training because that whole area needs to operate as a finely tuned unit. In the past it was very segregated with the back four working together, but the game is more technical these days and much quicker, so there needs to be a more complete understanding between all defensive players.

I work a lot on that in my coaching sessions and it is the same at the other end of the field, with midfielders and attackers working as one. Other coaches often ask me what happens over the summer break.

Well, we send all of our players away with their own training or skills plan, and I see no reason why youth coaches can’t do the same. The fitness element can probably be put to one side – young players tend to be running about all the time and maintain a pretty constant level of fitness, whereas professional players can see their levels drop in no time.

True fitness comes with routine and good habits, the latter probably being the most important thing any coach can recommend to his players.


1. Age:

The first tip I would always give to a coach would be to involve the kids with older footballers as much as possible because it brings them on a lot quicker. Players love to learn things from other players, especially ones they look up to, and blending them into the senior teams for sessions can be invaluable. Keepers can really benefit as the learning curve is so great.

2. Technique:

This is a big part of football, especially when keeping goal. You can never coach enough technique so I work on this side of the game a lot with the kids at Chesterfield.

3. Fitness:

People think that keepers don’t need to be as fit as other players, but agility and reactions are all part of acting and feeling like an athlete, so this is an element of training that shouldn’t be overlooked.

4. Mental strength:

I like to work with my players on a one-to-one basis, building a relationship of trust between us so that we can bounce ideas off one another. Keepers are a special breed and need to be treated as such.

5. Team work:

When I was a keeper I always liked to know my back four’s individual strengths and weaknesses so that we could deal with problems as a group. I like to pass that type of unity on to my players now so that they don’t feel as though they have to confront situations by themselves.

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