In search of SA's next generation of female goalkeepers

2017-08-02 08:28
Searching for SA's next female 'keeper (Supplied)

Cape Town - Shahida Jacobs speaks to South African Football Association (SAFA) performance analyst and goalkeeper coach at the High Performance Centre at the SAFA academy for girls Shilene Booysen about finding South Africa's own Hope Solo, Hedvig Lindalh or Nadine Angerer, as well as the rise of performance analysis in soccer.

Finding quality goalkeepers is one of the most difficult jobs in soccer at any level and, in the women's game, it is even more challenging - the pool is so much smaller when compared to that of their male counterparts.

Female goalkeepers are often stereotyped as not being agile or athletic enough to play in goal. Whenever a women's game is televised and the 'keeper gets beaten from distance, one of the most frequent suggestions is along the lines of 'women should play on smaller fields, with smaller goals'.

But many don't realise that the majority of women's teams at international level often don’t have a goalkeeping coach - and don’t provide their keepers with goalkeeper-specific training, let alone at club level.

However, the South African Football Association is addressing this issue - and now female players as young as 15 are being identified at grassroots level. Teams are now also roping in female experts to train the up-and-coming stars. One such person is Booysen.

Although coaching female players is quite different to coaching male 'keepers, Booysen is happy that female goalkeepers are finally receiving adequate training.

"There are probably many differences in training, but coaching females is different to coaching males. Mood swings and physical ability are all very different from boys to girls. Coaches have to be able to relate to this, to get the best out of their goalkeepers or just generally their players," Booysen tells Sport24.

"I don't think there is female-specific (goalkeeper) training.  What I do believe is that they are receiving goalkeeper-specific training, something not previously given much attention."

She has been part of the Banyana set-up for many years and has worked with the likes of Andile Dlamini (Mamelodi Sundowns) and Roxanne Barker (Cape Town Roses), to mention just a few.

Barker has already had a stint in the Netherlands, but what excites Booysen is the next generation.

"We do have quite a few young goalkeepers who I am excited about. We have never before had the opportunity to scout so extensively, like we do now," she adds.

"I think a lot more can be done to identify and then put these goalkeepers and other positions in a program to advance their capabilities. Jessica Williams (17-years-old), from the Western Cape, is currently at the Farouk Abrahams Goalkeeping Academy - and has progressed so much in the last three months that she is a serious contender for a place in the Under-20 national team. 

"Also a young goalkeeper, Gugulethu Pitso, is a 15-year-old currently playing in the Regional League with Blue Birds Ladies Football Academy in Johannesburg."

Convincing youngsters to play in goal remains a tough proposition, but when someone as passionate about goalkeeping as Booysen shows them the ropes, they tend to get fired up about the position.

"I think once they realise what opportunities there are for goalkeepers, then they become excited. Some players are born to be in goal and others are forced. You will see the difference on the training grounds and also in matches. Those who are born to do it just love to be falling around and getting dirty. Diving is second nature. Others do it and you can see the effort they have to put in to match the other ones."

Performance analysis is another aspect of the beautiful game that Booysen is passionate about. So how did she end up with this dual role?

"Funny story actually, I have always been interested in the analytical side of soccer. When a new coach (Vera Pauw) was appointed for Banyana in 2014, she asked me, then just a goalkeeper coach, what else I was interested in. I told her analysis and she gave me the opportunity to learn and work with her. I have never looked back."

Analysis is part and parcel of most sports these days and it plays a crucial role, as everyone from the coaching staff to the medical team and the players can receive feedback on just about anything. Whether it is related to the opposition team's tactics, how a player picked up an injury or a performance review on an individual player, players can receive feedback in a heartbeat.

"I think Banyana pretty much always had an analyst, but more for opposition analysis. On the other hand, I have only worked with the team for the last three and a half years, so I'm not sure how much emphasis was put on it [before I arrived]. 

"These days, however, we do analysis every day - whether it is with the team, groups or individuals. Some players are very keen, others you have to try and 'force' as they do not have this at their clubs, so it is new for them. It is getting more and more popular, though, and in qualifying for the (2016 Rio) Olympics, this was a tool that played a huge role to get us there."

The success of the women’s team means her role has been expanded, another coup for women in sport.

"I recently started working with the men’s national team, Bafana Bafana, and they pretty much do analysis every day too. Straight after games on match days we will have a debrief on the match with clips to emphasise our performance."

So what exactly does a performance analyst get up to during a typical week?

"It depends on the week. If I am at a camp with a national team, I could code and watch as many as seven to 10 matches (opposition mostly) and then during the week I would record and analyse the training sessions of the team," Booysen explains.

"As a technical team, we would assess from the footage if we have succeeded in reaching our objectives. I would also code and assess individual players who have their own objectives - whether they have set them up themselves, or we have set them up together. If I am not in camp with a team, I am downloading matches, coding them for future reference and also to see which clips we can use for teaching."

Analysing soccer matches and coaching? Sounds like a dream job, doesn't it.

Banyana Banyana's next major assignment is the COSAFA Cup to be held in Zimbabwe in September 2017 and then the qualification round for the 2018 African Cup of Nations, which will be held in Ghana.  

For Bafana Banana the next few months will be even busier as besides the World Cup 2018 qualifiers, there is also CHAN 2018 qualifiers as well as the AFCON 2019 qualifiers.

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