Representative Learning Design for Goalkeepers – Maths Elfvendal (IFK Norrköpping)


Note: Since publishing this blog Maths Elfvendal has been appointed head Goalkeeping coach to the Swedish national football team.Big congratulations!

Maths Elfvendal is first team goalkeeper coach at current Swedish champions IFK Norrkopping. He is also responsible for general goalkeeper development and performance throughout the club.  Maths has taken part in a few discussions and meetings that Daniel Bäckström (IFK Norrköpping youth co-ordinator) and I initiated. Some of the main themes at these rather “nonlinear” discussions are training design, skill acquisition, nonlinear pedagogy and how we can use these to develop a more inclusive approach with regard to player development.

A key challenge for coaches is to design training and create learning environments that result in sustainable motivation. Recent research in coaching is highlighting the importance of players experiencing and developing game understanding (i.e., technically, tactically, mentally and physically) by learning to play via learning environments that contain the key information sources present in performance or match environments. This will of course have technical and pedagogical implications. By moving from an instruction led approach to a more enabling and supporting role we can meet and support the skill acquisition and basic psychological needs that underpin a nonlinear pedagogy and self-determined motivation.

This citation from a previous blog was very much on the table for discussion in our last few meetings. Recently Dennis Hörtin (who I work with at Stockholm club Älvsjö AIK) and I were invited by Maths Elfvendal to attended a workshop he was giving on “Integrated Goalkeeper Training”.

The aim of the workshop was to initiate discussion and reflection by informing how we can design learning environments that can ultimately lead to highly skilled goalkeepers with highly developed game intelligence. Tradition often dictates that the goalkeepers are isolated, trained separate from the outfield players and join in later when needed (game situation or shooting exercise).

Using video analysis Maths explained how the modern game looks for the world’s best goal keeper’s, the contents of the goalkeeper’s involvement in the team’s offensive play and how they see and read the game. Once we know how the best goalkeepers in the world play, and we have a deeper knowledge of their role in the modern game, we can then look at designing the training environment.

From analysing the goalkeeper’s role at the top level in the modern game Maths Elfvendal made the following points:

  • The importance of the modern goalkeeper’s role in creating a numerical advantage in the build-up of play. Offensively always at least 11v10.
  • The goalkeeper moves up to 6000m per match
  • A goalkeeper makes between 25-35 passes per game.
  • Offers depth, availability to receive a pass and can offer width.
  • Utilise the offside rule.
  • Goalkeepers today have a higher frequency and variation of movement as they are more than ever adjusting their movement in accordance to the dynamics of the game. There is a concentrated and focused adjustment of positioning during the offensive play ( provide a pass alternative) and in finding the optimal defensive recovery position when the opponent wins the ball

Offensive play “Goalkeeper actions”

  • Creating Depth
  • Switching the play
  • Short – middle – long passes
  • Distribution of ball from hand
  • Distribution of ball with feet
  • Intercepting passes (especially during counter attacks)

 Representative Learning Design for goalkeepers

Goalkeeper training should be representative of the performance environment. It should be designed to contain key information sources that are necessary for the goalkeeper to become attuned to the appropriate affordance for action (“Goalkeeper action”). Affordances are about action they are invitations, possibilities for action in the environment. If they are to be perceived there must be information about them.

“Goalkeeper actions” are (non sequential) underpinned by

  • Communication
  • Decision
  • Execution of Decision

Football is a game of constant decision making based on communication/information. For instance, players can communicate and share information with each other verbally or with hand gestures. Isolated goalkeeping drills can lack the inter-individual communication of essential information. The movements of team mates and opponents provides information that can drive the goalkeeper’s actions (as does position of ball and where there is space). Every “Goalkeeper action” involves a decision.

The best goalkeepers are attuned to the information that is being communicated to them as circumstances on the pitch unfold. Game insight (the ability to read the game quickly, and decide on an appropriate “goalkeeper action” based on what is perceived) underpins the ability to make the right decision. It also underpins the ability to change that decision before it’s execution as new circumstances unfold and a more appropriate affordance presents itself. Goalkeeper training should expose the goalkeeper to as many aspects of the game as possible. The aspects used should interact and should also influence each other. Therefore, we need to design training environments rich in varied dynamic information.

Training sessions should offer affordances – possibilities for action, choice, challenge and variability.

Purpose of using Representative Learning Design for Integrated goalkeeper training

  • To develop goalkeeper – outfield player’s communication and organisational abilities
  • To develop the goalkeeper’s decision making
  • To develop the goalkeeper’s ability to perform the appropriate “goalkeeper action” under realistic game situations,
  • To develop the goal keeper’s concentration levels (which will be more representative of the game)

Coaches are designers

During a discussion with Maths Elefvendal sometime in late January the topic of integrated goalkeeper training came up.  I had early introduced the idea that us coaches should maybe see ourselves more as designers. We design the training environment for learning. We create a learning space. I introduced a session I designed from analysing one of the teams I work with.

Problem: Many young players have difficulty in applying the principles of the game under stressful situations. They become limited as to how they can become perceptually attuned to the dynamics of the game that is unfolding around then. One such situation is when a ball is played behind the last defensive line and the back line is turned facing its own goal. Will the ball reach the goalkeeper or does one of the defenders have to chase the ball and play it back under pressure from an opponent? When I speak with young players about these situations I try to encourage a different mind-set. Even though you are being chased down by a forward and even though you are facing your own goal with or without the ball (team mate or goalkeeper has possession), you are now an attacker. As a group you need to apply the principles of attacking play (width, depth, open passing lines, communication) once a teammate, in this case the goalkeeper is in possession of the ball and facing the opponents goal.

The training I designed to work with this problem seemed to interest Maths Elfvendal who had already been designing his own sessions based on his integrated goalkeeper training ideas. It was representative of the goalkeeper’s performance environment and afforded many opportunities for communication, decision making and the execution of various “goalkeeper actions”.

I was very happy when Maths used the session I designed in his Integrated Goalkeeper Training workshop. He was also kind enough to film it.

Design a task that simulates an aspect of the performance environment









9 thoughts on “Representative Learning Design for Goalkeepers – Maths Elfvendal (IFK Norrköpping)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s