Sep 17, 2013

How does India’s goalkeeping fare on the international scene? Part 3

Whereas goalkeeping coaches have tried to work with systems that only suit certain goalkeepers, there is not always an exact science, in the sense that coaches should coach out the natural talents an athlete instead of forcing them to play in a way that does not suit their abilities. Goalkeeping is a science that can be broken down into reaction times, angles etc., but that isn’t to say it is definitive or based on absolute truths. Angles, positioning and attacking play to cut those angles, and the maths of calculated ball speed and reaction times and so on. Although objective analysis and quantified results are important, it is not an absolute.

Darwin himself believed that (true Darwinism is not the denial of alternatives, Darwin wanted to confirm this when he wrote On the Origin of the Species, and writes so in the introduction of the second edition!) , or Einstein who defined madness as expecting the same results from different variables, and whilst the New Europe is intent on everything being scientifically analysed, it does not mean to say that it is a definite. It is not always an objective art, goalkeeping, even though sports analysts can pick apart every aspect of the technical game that would remove chance or luck and skilful creativity. It is a fine balance of technique and flair, but one that can be achieved if India finds a suitable approach combining these aspects. Peter Schmeichel wasn’t always the most technical, he will still be remembered as one of history’s best football goalies due to never giving up on the game, but no-one will complain how the save is made if it comes down to keeping the score down; sometimes who cares if it looks ugly, so long as you keep the ball out the goal!

On limited resources, India has been creative in trying out new drills and ways of pushing their goalkeepers in training sessions, where other nations have not; another tick in India’s favour. There is also the inventiveness of their own players and goalkeepers particularly, with Adrian D’Souza creating his own right hand glove out of a TK left hand, so that he could make the most of its blocking surface and use it as a mirrored glove on his right side, which looks a lot like the new Monarch rhp (right hand protector) in some ways. But it needs harnessing and India and their coaches, all all levels, need to be careful to ensure another career and life threatening injury like that of Baljit Singh and his freak eye injury does not happen again.

Poland also produce some very good goalkeepers and are always experimenting with equipment tricks and styles through their junior to senior ranks and placing well in the indoor format. So India is not as bad as critics make out, even though there is still work to do. There is always room to improve, even if a high standard is achieved, otherwise goalkeepers can never achieve perfection and therefore never hope to be the best for a long time to come. But for now it’s a case of restructuring, refining, bit by bit, step by step, in order to establish a goalkeeping style that works with India’s goalkeeping talent rather than against it.

Singh’s story was incredibly tragic and heartbreaking, causing a threat to his livelihood outside the sporting arena, but his determination to make a comeback (which he has, and done so with aplomb) should be applauded as heroic. The fact that he still has the elite skills and ability to play even though technically blind in one eye is miraculous and mind-blowing. But the danger is that the fear of failure could stop this innovativeness, so if this desire to experiment and innovate can be combined with well thought out, planned approach, without the risk of catastrophic injuries or similar, then India could be able to redefine the way their goalkeepers play and return to producing some of hockey’s best goalies in the world yet again.

But too, a sport is more than just tactics and planned out play scale boards. And where modern sports, which are now businesses, in Western Europe and America have brought in all sorts of additional support for their elite athletes, where they are assisted in multiple ways outside the training room through physiotherapist, dieticians and all the rest, India does not have this luxury. In football in Germany, sports psychologists has been brought in to ensure their players’ personal lives are grounded and aided so that they can play well in front of an oppressive crowd or harsh media. As a result of the brutal tragedy of Robert Enke’s suicide, being unable to deal with the depth of his depression or its related stigma, due to the trappings of fame as a result of his desire to be his country’s best unrelated to ego, all German professional teams now have a sport psychologist to help deal with not just personal issues, but the way these affect the player’s performances game in, game out.

They say that sport is 10% technical ability and 90% psychological, with the mind being more important to playing well, and if the goalkeeper is not “in the zone” or out of kilter mentally, then cannot perform to their best, like a golfer having a terrible game. Brazil’s Gomes again in football was the epitome of this, sparkling when in Holland and then struggling to rediscover that form at Tottenham; making world class saves and then horrendous silly mistakes when out of sorts, where all he needed was a sports psychologist to come in and give him his confidence back. If a goalkeeper is thrown to the wolves too soon and they are not ready to deal with all of these pressures, then they playing career could be very short as coaches lose faith in them and they themselves and never get back to the quality that made them shine out in the first place.

And this also seems to be the case for India as each time the management looks for another star rather than sticking with what they have and letting them ride out the storm. Right now though that has not been happening. Rather than riding out the storm and letting their goalkeeper grow in mental strength in dealing with adversity, India is juggling goalies going from one to another who runs hot (as they say in American sports), playing incredibly well, and then goes cold, with the lead coach having to constantly look for someone else to “get the job done”. This and studying other aspects of sports science mean that India’s goalkeepers do not have a well rounded game, without the additions of off-field work that would help them have a better rounded game, benefiting from video analysis or target setting that would set them on the right track to success like their peer group already has sufficient access to. 

Feel free to leave your feedback and opinions through the comments section or discuss on Twitter via @Grim_GK. To read more of my writing, especially goalie related analysis, you can check out my blog at

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