Derek Soutar: Goalkeeping and Goalkeeping coaches

“Selsport Pro Titanium Wrappa Goalkeeper Gloves 1”by Aidan L is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Written by Colin Byiers

During his career as goalkeeper at clubs like Dundee and Aberdeen, Derek Soutar has worked with some of the best goalkeeping coaches in Scotland like Billy Thompson, Jim Leighton and Paul Mathers, and since retiring from playing, he has been running his own goalkeeping academy to pass on his experiences to the new generation of keepers.

Derek talked with me about the challenges of coaching young kids, the coaches he worked with during his playing days and what attributes a modern goalkeeper needs to have to play in the game today.

Derek, tell me how and when you started out as a goalkeeper.

I actually started out as an outfield player, playing as a winger or a striker and I loved scoring goals, but I always wanted to dive about in the mud as a kid. When I was 12, I went in goal and loved it. I was fortunate enough to go to games at places like Dundee and Rangers and I would watch the goalie. I was fascinated by it. After watching the games on a Saturday afternoon, on the Saturday night I’d be diving about on the grass or sometimes the concrete, trying to replicate what I had seen in the afternoon. When I was younger the goalies coming through were the likes of Andy Goram and Jim Leighton, but there were so many at the time, I used to pick the best bits of the ones I liked and try and put into my own game.

At 12/13 years old, what was the goalkeeping coaching that you received like?

I was fortunate because there was an older guy called Alan who came in and helped me, and my dad was good that way too. It was more people willing to invest their time in me, that was the biggest thing. Back then it was easy for outfield players, they turned up to training and they’d get passing drills, teamwork, running and sprinting drills, and for the keeper, they get throwing into a game or a 10/15-minute shooting drill at the end, so there was no work on the technique. It was just shots being battered at me. We never had anything about the hand shaping, positioning, foot movement, how to dive properly etc, where things have changed and goalies now have specific training.

When you moved to Dundee, did you notice there was a marked difference in the training?

I went there at 16, and I was there every time I was off school, and I was working with Billy Thompson and to me, the guy is a genius. He’s one of the best coaches and most respected people I have ever worked with. Big Tommo would put on his drills and he wouldn’t say anything during the drills, but you knew he was there. There was an aura about him. People fall down when they do coaching because they want to stop/start all the way through and what happens then is the session breaks down because the flow isn’t there. Billy would give you drills, and you’d work away at them, and he’d comment on them while the session is still on going so you didn’t need to stop and start the session. He was so thorough and meticulous with his training. He didn’thave the video analysis and clips etc like they have now, he just had the basic bag of balls, cones and goals. He got me started at Dundee as a full-time player and to have his support was incredible. He was one of those guys that wouldn’t think twice if a manager had said something to you during a game, Big Tommo would always have your back. If you made a mistake in games or in training, you knew you could go to him about anything. If you did make a mistake, Billy would say to you, “this is what happened. This is what to do next time,” and because of that you learn from it rather than dwelling on it.

When you were on your loan spells at Brechin and Alloa, what did you learn from them?

Credit: Football Ground Guide

I was still training with Dundee’s first team, so I was at those teams to learning about formations and playing 90 minutes. I was learning with Rab Douglas, training with him every day. Rab came from part-time football before joining Dundee. He was a bricky so he knew if he didn’tpush himself, he knew where he would end up. He then moved to Celtic, then (Julian) Speroni came in with a couple other foreign boys, so for me to work with these guys every day, then try and replicate it in a game environment, you can’t ask for anything more.

Once you made it into the Dundee first team, does the intensity in the training differ?

It’s very similar. Because you have worked so hard to get there, you must work a wee bit harder to try and keep yourself at your peak and stay in that position. Goalkeeper is such a unique position, even though there is a bond between the goalies, you know that if you don’t perform, you know that there is someone coming in the back of you for that spot. You have to be at your best in every training session and every game, otherwise you will be out of the team and that’s why when I was there, I felt like I needed to work a bit harder to just stay in the team.

What did the Italian’s bring to Dundee’s training?

Nowadays, you have the rebound boards, rebounding nets and things like that, our reaction drills were the coach would hide behind three wheelie bins on the 6-yard line and he’d stand up and just fire balls from side to side! It was the most bizarre training I had ever seen. There were drills where you would go to the angle and take a catch, do cartwheel into the middle of the goaland take a catch, then lie on your stomach and do a sausage roll and stand up and take a strike, but by the time you got to the end, you were dizzy! You would see 2 or 3 balls fly past you. Being Scottish keepers, we were told to catch, catch, catch, but we did drills where you were told we couldn’t catch. We did 5-a-sides, and we weren’t allowed to catch the ball. Even if the ball was coming at you so slowly, you had to parry it away.

Moving to Aberdeen and working with Jim Leighton must have been a tremendous boost to your career?

Credit: Aberdeen FC

Jim wanted me to sign for Aberdeen because I had worked with Jim through the Scotland squads, so as soon as I was available from Dundee, Jim was straight on the phone and he sorted it all out for me. I loved working with Jim. Jim was old school training. It was physical and hard, but when you left the training pitch, you knew you had done a day’s graft! He, like Billy, had your back with the manager if anything went wrong, which as a goalie coach, is brilliant. Your goalies mustknow that their goalie coach has got their back and I think that is a huge part of their role.

When did you start your goalkeeper academy?

I started it back in 2011. After things didn’t work out in Cyprus, I came home but I didn’t feel like I was wanting to go back into full-time football again, so I started to prepare for the future. I spoke to a few people about setting up the academy and it just took off. I’ve had a consistent number of kids coming in for the last 10 years and I want them to do well and I want them to be playing in Dundee’s first team or Aberdeen’s first team. That’smy dream.

I want the kids to enjoy it, first and foremost. If you don’tenjoy being a goalkeeper or enjoy playing football, then they won’t stay. If they come to me, then they will enjoy it, but they will have to work hard. If they work hard and enjoy it, they will have a chance. All I am there to do is to give them my experience and help them with the techniques of being a goalkeeper, but they have to enjoy it. Some of the groups are quite big, so I oversee it all, but I have guys who come in and volunteer to help. I’llput the sessions on but sometimes they’ll offer to put the session on, and we learn from each other too.

When I first started, I was the only one in this area to offer such a thing, but now there are a lot more people starting them up and they are becoming a bit more regular. It’s ok starting them up and telling the kids what you think they need to learn, but you have to know the basics, you have to have a structured programme. I’mlucky I’ve got the experience to put such a programme in place where from week 1 to week 6, there is an obvious development.

What are the attributes a modern goalkeeper must have these days to be successful?

They have to be much more agile these days because the balls are lighter and faster which means the ball moves in a different way. There is a lot more foot work in goalkeeping these day’s so it is short sharp feet workthat is needed. You have to be able to produce the speed and power in your legs to make the saves. The biggest thing now is the distribution. In years gone by, the game was a lot slower and the goalie would get the ball and he’d take his time, then launch it up the park. Now everything is about building from the back and the rule change where you can now take a by kick inside the 18-yard box is where the game is at the minute. The game is changing all the time and keepers have to be so good with their feet now. It could be a case of pass out to the full back, cross over to the other full back, then a 30/40-yard chip into the channel for the winger to chase or a clip into the halfway line. The goalkeepers today are almost playing like an eleventh outfielder, like a sweeper. With teams pressing so high these days, back then when a goalie came out of his 18-yard box, people would be going “oh my God, the keeper’s out of his box,” where as now, if you aren’t out your box then you aren’t doing your job. The game now means a goalie has to play to make the saves, play to distribute and play as a sweeper.

Of the keepers who play today, are there any you enjoy watching?

Credit: Brad Tutterow

I love watching Ederson (Man City), I think he’s class. He’s so athletic, so solid and so reliable. It’s the same with Alisson at Liverpool. They are so reliable with anything coming at them, whether it’s on the deck or catching or at their feet, they’re hand’s and body are so solid. What I like about them too is they take the ball all the time, even when their centre half is under pressure, they’ll take the ball. What is coming back in the game is goalkeepers coming out and spreading themselves like what Peter Schmeichel used to do. I love seeing a goalkeeper coming out, arms spread, legs out and if it hits them in the face, throat, or chest, it doesn’t matter, a saves a save.

Finally, any young, up and coming goalkeepers we should be keeping an eye out for?

Conor Hazard at Celtic. I worked with him when I was coaching with Northern Ireland, and I think he’s got a huge chance. His attitude is second to none, he’s willing to learn and looking to better himself. I was delighted when he got into the (Celtic) team. I watched him when he was on loan at Dundee, but I think he should have been given a longer chance at Celtic. He’s playing for one of the biggest teams in Europe and he may make mistakes, but he’s got to make mistakes to learn from them and get better. I think for him to develop and improve, he needs to be playing in that environment for a lot longer than he has been.

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