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CoachesNet Insider: U-14 GNT Training Journal From Carson, Calif.

U.S. U-14 Girls National Team Training Camp
Carson, Calif.
Aug. 23-30

Coaching Staff
Michael Dickey (Head Coach)
Michelle French (Assistant Coach)
Fran Kulas (Assistant Coach, Goalkeeping)
David Rubinson (Assistant Coach)

Camp Facts

  • 36 players invited into camp. All players were born in 1995.
  • Players were divided into two teams of 18.
  • The players were chosen from a pool of 101 that were invited into a U.S. Soccer-run U-14 ID Camp, held in Pomona, Calf., this past July.
  • The team trained at The Home Depot Center.
  • Games were played against local U-17 Cal South teams (Arsenal FC, Real So Cal, San Diego Surf and So Cal Blues).
  • The primary goal was to expose new players to how a national team camp is organized and run; how players should prepare on and off the field; and to prepare the next group for the 2012 U-17 World Cup.
  • Four goalkeepers invited to camp.
  • The goalkeepers trained all together at times and separately as teammates.
  • Following approximately 20-30 minutes of goalkeeper specific training, the goalkeepers joined the entire group of field players to participate in their games to goals and shooting and finishing activities.

Coach Kulas had very specific ideas in terms of what needed the most attention based on scouting and training the goalkeepers at the U-14 ID Camp in August. They worked on:

  • Accuracy with feet and hands in distribution.
  • Extending range in dealing with crossed-balls and making good decisions to catch/box in high-traffic scenarios.
  • Staying connected to the backline and dealing with back passes.
  • Judging the flight and spin of balls struck from distance.

Day 1 - Arrived in Southern California

  • Four goalkeepers in basic warm-up:
    • Alternating two ‘keepers as servers and two as actively training ‘keepers.
    • Focus on various handling techniques, in a space of 15 yards. Two active goalkeepers on the interior and the two servers on the exterior, in 2-minute segments. Servers on the exterior provide accurate service from their hands while the interior active goalkeepers alternate receiving serves from each server, turning to their left after experiencing a repetition and returning the ball to the server. Repetitions included: volleys, high balls, low balls, collapse dives, and bouncing balls at and before the goalkeepers’ feet.
    • The session was brief and served to get the goalkeepers re-acquainted with each other before they joined the team portion of training.
  • Joined teammates for training.
  • 9v9 game:
    • The focus was to allow players an opportunity to play free and get to know one another.
  • 8v8 (six minute games).
  • Coaching staff and players met in the evening at the team hotel.

Day 2 - Morning Training

  • Two goalkeepers:
    • Warm-up included footwork activities and progressed to a 1 v. 1 low-ball saving competition.
  • Moved to technical repetitions in various environments dealing with the ball at the goalkeeper’s feet.
  • Session concluded with goalkeepers being provided with serves from both still and moving ball scenarios from various distances, with the emphasis being on judgment of flight, trajectory, and spins of the ball.
  • 9v9 game:
    • Each team asked to defend and attack one large goal and two small gates.
    • Points awarded for scoring on big goal or dribbling through small gates and maintaining possession.
    • Focus is on defending as a group and transitioning to attack after the ball was won.
    • Eventually game is expanded to 11v11.
  • The session ended with technical finishing.

Day 2 - Afternoon Meeting

  • Coaching staff met with entire group to discuss roles of each player.
  • Roles, movement on and off the ball and formations were reviewed and discussed.

Day 2 – Evening

  • 11v11 controlled intra-squad scrimmage:
    • The coaching staff worked on team organization and defending and attacking concepts.

Day 3 - Afternoon Training

  • Two goalkeepers.
  • Warm-up provided goalkeepers with repetitions in catching and boxing high balls and introduced timing for crosses without pressure. Emphasis was placed on judging the flight of the ball, the goalkeeper’s first step, and leaving their feet to contact all air balls to capitalize on their ability to use their hands.
  • Goalkeepers were asked to apply the above concepts in a competitive environment where they competed for crossed balls served by the coach. An area marked 12 x 12 yards served as the area of play and goalkeepers who cleanly handled a ball received a point:
    • Any ball that dropped in the box, went in the goal, or did not clear the marked parameters in boxing scenarios, cost each goalkeeper minus one point. The first goalkeeper to three points won the round.
  • 11v8 shadow walkthrough.
    • The coaching staff focused on defensive shape and roles and requirements of each position.
  • The session ended with technical finishing.

Day 4 – Morning Training

  • Warm-up. Pairs passing and receiving using various surfaces and various restrictions. Progressed to:
    • Balls played in from coach from one side of goal – goalkeeper receives ball and switches the point to the other side, following the pass across the goal, looking to get the ball to the front foot of one of the wide players (there are two total, one on each side). If they play to their back foot, the player plays the ball back to them.
    • Progress to continuous two touch; receive-switch, follow, receive-switch, follow, etc.
    • Finish with a defender at top of box. After ball is played the defender is live and can win the ball off the goalkeeper who is looking to receive and switch/clear to safety as soon and safely as possible.

Day 4 – Afternoon Training

  • Two goalkeepers.
  • Brief session providing goalkeepers with various agility, handling, and reaction repetitions.

Day 5 – Morning Training

  • All four goalkeepers participated.
  • After a brief dynamic warm-up, the goalkeepers competed in an activity involving five goals.
    • One goalkeeper defended two goals shaped in a “V”. If the goalkeeper makes the save, they have the opportunity to score on one of the three other goals (18 yards away – one on the left, one on the right, and one central) being defended by the other three goalkeepers.
    • The initial ball is played by the coach.
    • If the goalkeeper defending the “V” goals gets scored on, all goalkeepers rotate the goals they defend in a clockwise fashion.
    • This activity provided ample shot-stopping and distribution scenarios for the goalkeepers in a fun and competitive environment.

Day 6 - Morning Training

  • All four goalkeepers participated.
  • Technical warm-up addressed throwing distribution, low-diving/breakaway saves, and playing under pressure with the ball at their feet.
  • 2 vs. 2 + 1 (coach as neutral) to two small goals.
    • Team in possession plays normal soccer with the ball at their feet.
    • Defending team plays as normal goalkeepers while roaming the entire field, using their hands to intercept passes, win balls off the feet of attackers, or stop shots.
    • After the defending team wins the ball, they transition to become the attacking team and the former attacking team becomes the new attacking team – this takes place during/within the run of play.
    • This activity provided opportunities for goalkeepers to make decisions in a competitive environment with respect to distribution with both their hands and feet and execute accordingly.

Day 7 – Game Day

  • Blue Team vs. So Cal Blues
  • Red Team vs. San Diego Surf

Day 8 – Departure

  • Departures in the morning for players and staff

CoachesNet: How did you prepare for this training camp?

Fran Kulas: “In preparation for this camp, I reviewed my notes (technical report) from the U-14 ID Camp in Pomona, held one month prior to this camp. (The four goalkeepers invited to this event were chosen from nine who attended the camp in Pomona). After reviewing, I was able to create a training curriculum that addressed the most common areas that were identified as areas for improvement. I then reviewed the training and competition schedule for the camp, and planned training sessions accordingly.”

CoachesNet: Can you give us an example of a warm-up you used during camp?

FK: “One warm-up we used on a couple of occasions was one that is economical in that it provides for opportunities for the goalkeepers to warm-up in every facet of the game: technically, tactically, physically and psychologically. In particular, footwork, handling, low diving, bowling distribution, set position, angle play are all elements at the forefront of this activity.”

This warm-up can be utilized with either two or four goalkeepers:

  • The goalkeeper coach is at the penalty spot to start (backing up over time), with goalkeepers waiting on the posts (if there are four, there are two on each post, if there are two, then one on each).
  • The activity begins with a goalkeeper stepping into the goal frame and taking a service from the coach. Once the goalkeeper makes a save, they bowl the ball on the ground back to the coach, and shuffle back to the post opposite of where they started.
  • Immediately after the ball is bowled to the coach, the next goalkeeper from the other post closes the distance/angle between them and the ball and prepares to get set to make the save off of the one-touch strike from the coach.
  • The activity repeats – save, bowl, shuffle, for each keeper.
  • The coach strikes each ball first time, which creates a fast paced rhythm to the activity.
  • To start the activity, the coach strikes balls at the feet of the keepers.
  • As the activity progresses, balls progressively rises up the body line to where they have to extend and collapse.

“In this activity, as the goalkeepers are warming up with various handling and footwork opportunities technically and physically, tactically they must recognize cues for being set prior to when the ball is struck, getting set accordingly and trying to close down angles. Also, in navigating from the post and back to the post, the goalkeepers must be aware of the traffic of the other goalkeepers and adjust accordingly. Psychologically, they are preparing themselves to stay in tune to the game, whether they are directly involved or not, so that when it is their opportunity, they are sharp.”

CoachesNet: Is there a certain trait or two that you look for when selecting goalkeepers for a National Team camp?

FK: “It is tough to narrow the selection of National Team goalkeepers to one or two traits, but for sure there are two critical/fundamental elements that are necessary for a goalkeeper to play at this level. The first is the goalkeeper’s physical make up – their size, strength, athleticism and agility. The second is the goalkeeper’s overall ability as a soccer player. With the evolution of the game, particularly at the highest level, the goalkeeper must be as comfortable with the ball at their feet as a field player. Over the past few years I’ve been using a phrase in our opening camp meeting – “National Team Goalkeeping – Beyond Catching & Diving”. What this means is that once you’ve achieved an invitation to a National Team camp, the understanding is that all of the goalkeepers can catch and dive – they can make routine saves without adventure and have the capacity to make a big save to keep their team in the game.

So now, once this is understood, we challenge the ‘keepers by asking them: “What sets you apart? All of you can catch and dive. Can you play with the ball at your feet? Can you stay connected to your backline and organize? What kind of presence do you bring to the game overall and, in particular, in 50/50 scenarios? Do you understand the flow of the game with respect to score, time of the game, situations, and can you play accordingly?” Historically, the goalkeeper has been someone who from a defensive standpoint has been asked to make saves to keep their team in the game. This remains the case in the modern game, however now the position has evolved to the point where we are asking the goalkeepers to play a bigger role in overall team play with respect to maintaining possession, building from the back, transition from defending to attacking, and the overall proactivity in the organization of the team.”

CoachesNet: At what age group should coaches focus on developing goalkeepers?

FK: “I am a believer that goalkeeper training should be offered to players beginning at the age of nine. At this age, players have not come close to reaching their final stages of development physically, technically, or tactically. I believe it is important to expose as many soccer players to the goalkeeper position as possible. In my experience, many young players around the age of nine, enjoy playing the goalkeeper position and since we know they are enthusiastic about the position, I think it makes sense to provide opportunities for these interested players to develop accordingly. When we talk about ‘developing’ young players in the goalkeeper position, we aren’t talking about extensive or intense training, but rather basic handling and shot-stopping techniques, footwork, agility, and basic positioning. Over time, these players will decide if this position is what they enjoy most and it is our job as coaches to foster this passion.

Additionally, I also believe it is important for today’s youth coaches to identify players with certain physical characteristics that I’ve discussed here, and make suggestions to players who they think might excel in the position, to experiment with it. Sometimes the best starting point is to identify some of our soccer players who might play other sports that require hand-eye coordination like baseball, softball or basketball. Many of the goalkeepers who have represented our full U.S. National Teams have excelled in various sports in their youth.

While I believe exposing a player to the position of goalkeeper at a young age is a good thing, I do not believe that a player should primarily/exclusively play goalkeeper before they enter the high school ages of U-13/14. I believe that below the ages of U-13/14, those players with aspirations of playing goalkeeper in the later stages of their career, should play half of their games whenever possible in the goalkeeper position, but also play as a field player. This helps keep their soccer field player skills sharp as well as maintain a healthy perspective of the demands the game imposes on the field players who play in front of them.”

CoachesNet: How did you determine the amount of minutes each goalkeeper played in the games you had during the week?

FK: “Each team had two goalkeepers and each team played three matches. For the first two matches, the goalkeepers played equal match minutes and split halves (each played 45 minutes). For the last match of the camp, it was decided that the goalkeeper for each team that played most consistently throughout the week, would play the entire 90 minutes of the final match of the camp.”

CoachesNet: At the National Goalkeeping course the word integration is used throughout the course. How did you ensure your ‘keepers received the necessary training but still stayed involved with the rest of the team?

FK: “To start with, Mike Dickey does an excellent job of communicating with the entire staff at the beginning and end of each day of camp with respect to his review from the current day and plans for the following day. Because our staff is together almost all of the time, both on and off the field, we are constantly communicating our ideas. As a result of this, I am able to structure the goalkeeping training sessions in a fashion that addresses the needs of the goalkeepers, at the same time preparing them for the environment they will soon be entering with the full team. Because of the organization and planning involved, I am even able to prepare the goalkeepers with an explanation of the activities they will soon experience with the full-team and what specifically they should be looking to accomplish while involved with those activities. Once the goalkeepers join the full-team, I am able to coach the goalkeepers and give them feedback throughout the activities as it relates to the areas we identified for improvement and/or based on what is naturally happening in the activity/game.”

CoachesNet: Do you feel the four main objectives you outlined going into camp were met?

FK: “Yes, I do. We have such a unique opportunity in this environment to complete the full player development circle. In essence, the goalkeepers are really the only players who are fortunate enough to train functionally on a daily basis in this environment. The goalkeepers train functionally and specifically for their position with a coach-to-player ratio of either 2:1 or 4:1 which is ideal. Then, on a daily basis, the goalkeepers are able to join up with the full team to apply what they just trained for, in activities that mirror the full game. Completing the development of the goalkeepers is their opportunity to apply their functional and team training in competitive environments against outside opponents.”

Stay tuned for future Insider postings on the U.S. National Teams.

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