Someone from a soccer forum I frequent asked for my thoughts on whether a potential keeper should begin specializing (become “full time”) at the U-9 level. There had been an ongoing discussion in a thread with parents falling on both sides of the fence. So here it goes …
From a developmental perspective only, at U-9 a kid should not be specializing as a keeper. That is, they are in goal the whole game, every game. That would be a huge mistake. If you want to produce a high level keeper, they need to have good technique and a good soccer brain. Not to the extent of a center mid, but it’s an absolute must that they be comfortable on the ball under all scenarios. Without adequate field experience, you can kiss that goodbye.
Maybe, maybe at U-12. But even then, they should be playing on the field at every opportunity during training (drills, scrimmages, etc …). In case you weren’t aware, this goes for keepers up to the professional level. Most recently, I attended the Barcelona training session at the Rose Bowl in preparation for their game against the Galaxy. Victor Valdez did every field player activity.
Additionally, keepers must be capable of barking correct orders throughout the game. They can only develop that by knowing what the hell they’re talking about – which doesn’t come without playing on the field.
Field Players Specializing?
As for other positions, there is and should be far more flux. It’s possible, you won’t know what you are best suited for until U-18. A large majority of professionals did not play their current positions at the youth level. The most frequent case are defenders. Most of them were converted from the midfield. Oh and just a couple weeks ago, Dani Alves (Barcelona), arguably one of the best outside backs in the world was slotted as one of the three strikers in the game against Real Madrid.
You can not develop a complete player without them having played everywhere. But that doesn’t mean implementing some harebrained scheme of player rotation. Experiments for the sake of experimenting is the sign of a newbie.