Part science, part art, goalkeeping is a trade that only benefits from ongoing education and alternative perspectives.
It's a truism lived and breathed by Chicago Fire goalkeeping coach Aleksandar Saric, who took advantage of the recent Copa America hiatus to reinvest in the global goalkeeping community. Saric, whose career as a 'keeper saw him man the pipes for clubs in seven different countries over 18 years, was a featured speaker and participant at the International Goalkeeping Coaching Workshop in Wroclaw, Poland, and presented his philosophies to representatives from some of the biggest international club teams in the world.
"They picked me probably because my goalkeeper from the national team was chosen for best goalkeeper of the Under-20 World Cup last summer," Saric said. "That was probably the reason they wanted to hear from me, how we worked and why we are different. I presented them with my previous work, and I presented them with my work here, what I’ve done here with the goalkeepers."
The Under-20 goalkeeper Saric is referring to is 20-year-old Maccabi Tel Aviv man Predrag Rajkovic, who captained the U-20 World Cup champion Serbian national team last summer under current Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic. Saric was a goalkeeper coach on that squad as Rajkovic won the tournament's Adidas Golden Glove award under his guidance.
The workshop, which took place from June 6-8, provided an opportunity for Saric to speak about his ideas on what it takes to play the position.
“My point in my speech was balance," said Saric, who was the workshop's opening speaker. "A goalkeeper needs to be fast and we need to be controlled at the same time, calm. It is absurd, because when you are fast you are nervous, and when you are calm you are phlegmatic. You are not fast. You need to combine two things in one person, which is very opposite. It’s to combine water and fire at the same time. It is very difficult, but with a lot of work and effort, it can be done.”
In attendance alongside Saric were members of the first team and academy coaching staffs from FC Barcelona (Spain), FC Porto (Portugal), Borussia Dortmund (Germany), Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) and RB Leipzig (Germany), among others.
“(The workshop) has a tradition in organizing that kind of gathering of goalkeeper coaches," Saric said. "It’s the fifth year that they’ve organized it. They follow a lot of different styles of goalkeeper coaches all around the world and they try to attract them. Last season there was also a guy from Spain, Luis Llopis, the Real Madrid coach who trained Keylor Navas.”
The workshop featured classroom sessions, trainings and shared experiences from representatives of top clubs the world over. Saric, who preaches the necessity of balance and awareness in a goalkeeper, had the opportunity to put some of the 120 coaches in attendance to the test.
"The ball is our main focus, but we need to also have wide focus on the players," he said. "You need to also find balance between those two, because you cannot be multi-tasking. If you’re always focused on one thing, something else happens. I also showed them one example of an awareness test."
To illustrate his point, Saric showed the group the below video -- a British cycling awareness advertisement -- to gauge how truly aware his listeners were.
"I asked them if they saw the moonwalking bear," he said. "No one saw it. 120 people looked at it and then they said, ‘We don’t see it.’ 120 people. I reversed everything and then they put their attention on the moonwalking bear and they saw it.”
Despite his vast experience as both a player and coach on the club and international levels, Saric still very much counts himself as a student of the position. He's earned licenses as a coach in Spain and Austria and spearheaded the efforts to create a UEFA "A" license for goalkeeper coaches in Serbia as well.
"In coaching education, I really like that area," Saric said. "I really like to make presentations. Except English, I speak Portuguese and German and I try to spread my philosophy to other parts not only in Serbia. When I’m spreading knowledge, I’m also receiving. I played in seven different countries as a player and I saw a lot of different approaches, a lot of different ways of coaching. I also saw what is good and what is wrong. I try to avoid the wrong things and to bring goalkeepers something new which will be challenging for them.”
Saric brought that open-minded approach with him to the seminar inPoland. With the high caliber of the clubs in attendance, he was bound to pick up a new technique or two during his stay.
“I appreciate a lot the individual practice of Borussia Dortmund," he said. "They have new and interesting exercises. I also appreciate a lot how they organize the work in Barcelona, because they approach it differently. They involve the goalkeepers in small-sided games, but in a different way. I liked these two things. I recorded everything so that I can improve my approach and my training.”
Saric has since returned to Chicago to resume his work with the Fire and has already applied a few new techniques to his day-to-day work with the Fire goalkeeping corps.
“I made a decision-making exercise two days ago with them," he said. "They liked it."