AT a recent meeting in Croke Park, the GAA made the sensible decision to allow size four footballs and sliotars to be used by players involved at the u-15 age group.
Previously players at this grade were required to play with size five footballs, a ball that they would play with for the rest of their careers but one that they had never played with before. As a coach of players at this age group, I fully welcome this decision as it will give both players and coaches alike far more control over their development than with having to use the larger, heavier size five footballs/sliotars.
This is a pivotal age group for all players development for a number of different reasons. Physically, these players will be going through puberty, a time when their bodies will naturally be going through various physiological changes, hormonally, muscularly, growth, personality, socially even sexually.
This age group marks the beginning of these young players transition into adulthood. But, for me, it is a very important age regarding confidence and self-belief.
You will of course have the full spectrum in terms of confidence from the ultra-confident alphas to the ultra-shy betas. For the majority of players though, they will find themselves within the middle ground in terms of their confidence levels meaning that it can be very interchangeable in response to various positive and negative stimulus.
It is important that we, as coaches, nurture their development as much as possible, and keeping their confidence in a strong position is key.
Therefore, the decision by Croke Park to change the size of ball down to size four is so important.
Players that are13 and a half who have just moved up to this grade will be afforded the time to develop themselves physically which will allow them to develop their kicking technique at a more favourable pace. Allowing them to continue to use the size four balls gives them more time to develop with this ball before transitioning to the larger, heavier size five.
What goalkeeping coaches will also realise is that this is also the age group that goalkeepers transition from taking their restarts out of their hands to taking them from of the ground or their kicking tee.
For most goalkeepers stepping up to this grade, changing from restarts from the hands to off the tee can be a difficult transition by itself without also changing the ball to a larger, heavier ball as well. But Croke Park’s decision will now allow the goalkeeper to transition to a size five football at a more promising age group.
Whenever I coached young goalkeepers in this age bracket, I always make appoint of starting them on the most comfortable ball size for them. I have used balls as low as a size three when working with these players because it allows them to execute their skills competently.
For me, correct skill execution and being able to perform the correct techniques correctly are paramount for any goalkeeper’s development.
The more comfortable you can make the environment for the goalkeeper, the more encouraged they feel to perform the skills while also allowing themselves to make mistakes without a fear of failure.
Beginning with the most comfortable ball size for them and then gradually transitioning up the sizes to larger, heavier balls, allows the goalkeeper’s development to grow in tandem with the confidence of their skill execution.
Eventually, the goalkeeper will be able to move to the top size five ball and some goalkeepers will be able to transition quicker than others, but it is very important to ensure the goalkeeper has maximized their development at the smaller ball before introducing the larger ball.
There will always be a period of overlap when transitioning from one ball to the next and this is normal.
It is also important to remember to use the size of ball used in competitive games, in this case a size four, more than any other ball. This ensures the goalkeeper’s performances remain as consistent as possible because they will have regular practice with the size of ball that they will usually be competing with.
When coaching goalkeepers over the past 10 plus years, I have learned that using smaller balls in all areas of goalkeeping can have massive implications in terms of player development.
The adjustments the goalkeeper’s body must make when trying to execute skills with varying sizes of ball are phenomenal. Being able to master skills with a ball that is exceptionally small allows the player a better control over a ball that is much bigger.
The control that translates from using the smaller ball when using the larger ball gives the goalkeeper a greater sense of confidence in their ability and as a result they can perform at a higher level.
I have used balls of all shapes, weights, and sizes. From small tennis balls the size of ping pong balls, normal sized tennis balls, juggling balls, size one to five footballs, basketballs, reaction balls, rugby/American footballs and tiny rugby balls. I have even used shuttle cocks when trying to improve one goalkeeper’s diving. But, like anything you do as a goalkeeping coach the must be a purpose for the type of ball that you use in any situation.
All age grades will have specified ball sizes that they must use for competition, but it is vital for you as the coach to understand that your goalkeepers will develop at different speeds.
Whenever they step up to a new grade it is important to know that not every goalkeeper will be comfortable with the increased size in ball.
Your duty as their coach is to develop them correctly at their level, and this may mean having to continue with the use of a smaller ball than they will be using in competitive matches, while also progressively weaning them onto the larger, heavier ball during the season.