Goalkeeper coaching is a subject that is sometimes overlooked and often undervalued but it is area of hockey that has changed significantly in recent years.
Today, we have the pleasure of interviewing one of the brightest and most talented Dutch goalkeeping coaches in the game, Dennis Van De Pol.
In the following interview, Dennis speaks about his inspiration to pursue a career as a goalkeeper trainer, his experience working with Goalkeeping Guru Martijn Drijver & also a glimpse into what it was like to train the Indian men’s hockey team goalkeepers.

The Interview : 

You already have an impressive CV as a coach but can you tell us a little about your early days and what inspired you to pursue a career as a goalkeeper trainer?

I would already play as a goalkeeper for a long time in a small club in the east of Holland before I started working as a Goalkeeping Trainer.
It all started when I was 22. I was invited to work as a goalkeeper coach in a small camp close to my club. I really liked and enjoyed teaching young kids. It was also great to learn from experienced goalkeeping coaches.
The following year, I attended a bigger hockey camp in Amsterdam for “Sportways” and there I came in contact with Martijn Drijver.  The camp was great, because from there on I learned a lot from Martijn through the hockey camps.
I really liked teaching and learning at the same time during those camps.
Finally eight years ago, I was able to completely switch from my full time job as a project manager at an Architectural company to being a full-time goalkeeper coach.

You went to India to train the Indian Men’s Hockey team Goalkeepers recently. How was your experience working them?

I had a great time working with all of the Indian goalkeepers. I really liked their enthusiasm and eagerness to learn. Even when they got tired they kept on going. They are a pretty determined bunch and one of the hardest working.

How was your experience working with the Indian main goalkeeper – PR Sreejesh?

Sreejesh is great, he has so much experience and still he was patient enough to listen to everything I had to say, and tried everything out!
I also liked his group performance, he really helped out the Junior goalkeepers as well in coaching and would give them a boost to keep going. Sreejesh is an awesome team player!

How many hours a day did you train them? 

In the morning, we had goalkeeper training sessions which lasted for 1.5 hours and in the afternoon we trained again for another 1 hour. This was excluding the warm up sessions. In total we had 9 session on the pitch and 3 video meetings.

Talk us through an average day as a goalkeeper coach with the Indian Team. Specifically, what went into a ‘normal’ training session?

My typical day when we trained was pretty simple, starting with a light breakfast before an early morning session. Our session would start with a solid warm up to make sure nobody got injured.
We would start with the basics in the first half of the session. The second half would feature more rebounder drills and groundwork exercises. The last part we would focus on penalty corner or shoot-out drills.
I would also then prepare for the video meeting so that we could sit together and review the sessions.

What are a few things the younger goalkeepers or goalkeepers who are starting out need to work on/focus on?

Basics! They need to focus on working on the basic goalkeeping fundamentals such as; positioning themselves, the body stance and the ability to dive in a timely fashion.
Because specialised goalkeeper training is not very popular in most countries, players are more busy with stopping a ball, but most of the times there is an easier way of stopping a ball when they really think about it.
It is important for a player to learn and know what a  “good basic stance” is. A good basic stance enables you to keep your balance and use each part of your body independently, switching from one move to the other without losing energy.

There has been explosion in demand for foreign coaches in India who are being called on short assignments. How valuable do you think such an experience can be for a player – training with professional and foreign coaches?

I feel it’s a great value for the players and the coaching staff as there is a healthy exchange of skill and management experience.
Sometimes, the new training methods that are brought in by foreign coaches – young or old can very well make a very big difference in the game.

Your passion and dedication to your role is very clear, but what is your overall philosophy and what drives you every day as a coach?

Modern-day keeping is not just about shot-stopping. A keeper is similar to an air traffic controller. He’s a player. The only difference being is that he can use his hands.
Also, every goalkeeper is different, so needs a different approach. There is no such thing as ‘the perfect goalkeeper’, so you have to find out what works the best for the goalkeeper you are coaching.
I believe in being flexible as a goalkeeper coach and not force my ideas too much on the goalkeeper when it doesn’t really fit with them.
Making everyone a better goalkeeper by finding out what works for them and helping them raise the bar for their game is what drives me every day!

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