Q: I'm 21 so I'm not really looking to becoming a professional since it's too late for that. But I do want to get better and possibly play in a couple amateur leagues if I actually become somewhat good, which with practice anything is possible.
A: Welcome to the goalkeeper union! So happy that you have found your love for the position regardless of age or technical skill. No matter the age anyone can become a goalkeeper provided they be willing to put in the practice time. The only thing age determines is how far you’ll be able to make it in professional soccer, but it certainly has no bearing on how far you’ll be able to get in terms of skill. Most goalkeepers who are serious contenders for professional contracts have grown up playing in academies or with coaches who have enough connections that they are both playing and being scouted on a regular basis. This doesn’t mean that making it pro at an older age is impossible, some keepers have signed professional contracts in their mid-twenties or older, but it definitely helps to get into the network at an early age. I myself was a late bloomer. I didn't start goalkeeping until I was 16 years old and I was so bad in goal that my varsity coach did everything possible to make sure I didn't play. He even brought in a player who was suspended due to grades to start over me when our two other keepers were injured. That did nothing but ignite the flame under my butt. My improvement over one year was phenomenal, by summer I had made one of the most competitive clubs and taken over the starting position and by the end of the year I had a scholarship to play division II college ball at Newberry College. My story is not unique in the slightest. So, let’s talk about how you can follow suit and become the best keeper you possibly can be.
Practice, Practice, Practice
You’ll have no trouble finding opportunities to get in the game on an amateur level. Sunday and even higher caliber leagues are always looking for decent goalkeepers. When I was in my late teens I was getting called out every single night to play for different teams, amateur, travel, and even a few academy scrimmage matches. Some of these games had people betting on them and would result in a lump sum of cash for me if we won. Everyone knew me as the "goalkeeper" and my phone was never silent. Basically any opportunity to practice is worth your time, but what you should still be aiming for is to get on the most competitive level team as possible. Once you’ve found your team, club, whatever it might be, you need to put in the practice time- a lot of it. The old adage that it takes 100,000 hours of practice to master a skill holds true even in goalkeeping. Even when you’ve land a spot on a team, no matter the level of play, team practice will not be enough to get you where you want to be. You must also train without them on your own time. Outside of team practice there will always be someone willing to shoot on goal, all you have to do is find a willing party and invite them to help. This isn't the time to be shy! Reaching out to fellow players will teach you confidence and you’ll make many new friends! In the off chance that no one can come out there is always individual training. Every single day is an opportunity to improve and a chance to learn.
Fitness & Nutrition
You are an athlete first and foremost which means that for your body to perform at the level you expect it to, you have to take good care of it. This means eating clean and being keeper fit. While your diet may vary due to health conditions and dietary preferences you should at least be aiming to cut out junk foods and sugary drinks. I myself am guilty of not always making the best food choices (just can’t say no to a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich with a large soda) but I at least try to keep junk food intake to a minimum. Just eat your fruits and veggies, drink your 8 glasses of water a day, and your body will thank you when you’re out on the field. Keeper fitness is very different from field fitness. Here, you should focus on explosive energy and anaerobic drills that might be showcased in CrossFit sessions or even p90x. Yes, you should be able to run along with the field players during conditioning but that is not our goal as a goalkeeper. A goalkeeper you’ll be doing HUNDREDS of dives a day so you need to be able to throw your body to the ground and get up as quick as possible. Core fitness should really be the center of your workout regime. Planks, push-ups, sit ups, suicides, and burpees are all great exercises that build your core strength.
Although you might be limited to a few drills there are still many things you can do to improve pivotal parts of your game. Agility and footwork are crucial because to make those big saves you first need to be able to get into the right position. I have a few videos that illustrate some drills you can do by yourself . These drills focus agility, footwork, and when possible diving forward, always pushing the ball forward and getting your body over your knee. Take your time and perfect your technique.
So there you have it keepers. If you put in as much practice time as you can, and take care of your body the way an athlete should, your age really won't matter much. All you need is hard work and determination. If you have any questions feel free to comment below and be sure to check back for more tips and updates. Good luck!