Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Note to Self

I left the National Team Program in 2006 amidst preparations for the 2007 Olympics in China. I had spent 6-years of my life traveling all over the world with the Canadian Soccer Association as the National Teams Goalkeeper Coach and have always wondered when and if I would ever be able to recall how far we traveled and how many places we have been. When I started with the program in 2000, I was brought into the youth team system and introduced to Gerry Knuttsen who was a Norwegian Goalkeeper Coach working with the Canadian Women's Senior National Team. He and Even Pellerud had won the 1995 FIFA Women's World Cup together while coaching Norway, and now, with Even in charge of the Canadian Women's National Team Program he brought Gerry over. It was an honor, a privilidge and a challenge all at once.

I had been a goalkeeper since the age of 4-years, at least those were my earliest memories. My father had been a legendary local amateur goalkeeper. My passion for the game grew as I pulled away from all other conflicting sports until the age of 14 when I was solely committed to the journey of becoming a professional soccer player. Out went competitive school sports in basketball, volleyball, plus baseball and lacrosse. The only sport I continued to play and enjoy to this very day is tennis, and believe me when I play tennis I play for fun.

So, in doing some research recently I came across a list with many of the events I had participated in while working for the Canadian Soccer Association as the National Teams Goalkeeper Coach. Before I get to this, let me continue forward from my earliest experiences and memories with the Women's Program starting in 2000. After meeting and working with Jerry, I was left in charge of the goalkeepers for the various youth national teams we had running at the time. To this day, I still recall the first training camp in which Erin McLeod attended. It was in Victoria, we were staying at the Tally-Ho Hotel and did some training at Blanshard Field, the very field I would have watching my father train and play at in my youth. I still remember the first time Erin was training, her passion for learning, for asking questions, for improving, for working hard- it was painfully evident in her eyes that there was something special.

Gerry was an excellent mentor for me at the time, he was fun loving and full of life. I learned how to challenge the individual and motivate from within. This was the key- open and close communication plus hard work with the goalkeepers. We spent hours digesting the glorious position of goalkeeper, traveling together and learning about the Women's International Game. It was a glorious time. When Gerry stepped away after a couple of years I was brought in as his replacement to the Women's National Team Program and never looked back.

I am now able to look back on this portion of my career and think more specifically of all the events and places we have been: Australia, Russia, Thailand, China, Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominican Republic, Finland, Brazil, Sweden, Norway and all across both Canada (BC, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, Quebec, Newfoundland, PEI, Nova Scotia) and the USA (Florida, Texas, Nebraska, Indiana, Oregon, California, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina). All of the events from CONCACAF Qualifying for Olympics, to the FIFA Women's World Cup, the Pan-American Games and the FIFA Women's Youth World Cups. It often feels like an entirely different lifetime now that I am settled into remote living, raising a beautiful family in a lovely part of the country.

Then there are the friends.

I recently made a quick trip out east to visit a close friend I have known for 15 years who lives in Toronto. While visiting we ventured to the CIS Conference Finals in which I ran into coaches whom I had not seen or played with since 1993. I came across players, one in particular who was playing and is the third generation of his family to have passed through our goalkeeper development programs that have been running since 1993 where he grew up in Victoria. I had dinner with the legendary Alex the Goalie who is a lovely young man from the Comox Valley whom I have had the pleasure of mentoring for the past ten years who is attending Queen's University and netminding for the soccer team. Oddly enough while having dinner at the Keg in downtown Toronto we were approached by a familiar face in the restaurant by the name of Scott Glanville, who used to have a soccer show called Direct Kicks that was around during my days with the Women's National Team Program. I also found time to have a quick lunch with Cathy Campbell, who is the sweetest and most sincere team doctor anyone could have (ok a close second to Dr. Rudy Gittens), however, the Doc and I spent many years working together and traveling all over the world with the Canadian Women's National Team Program.

It was an interesting experience running into all of these people and the returning home to Denman island, where we live and continue coaching in the Comox Valley. There are times when I forget about the history I have enjoyed in the game and all of the familiar faces there are scattered across the globe. In fact, the last time I attended a live game was the World Cup Qualifier in Vancouver between Canada and Honduras. It was remarkable, as I left the Concourse in BC Place for my seat I could see a familiar face in the distance waving back at me- it was Lewis Page from PEI and we had not seen one another in years! We were able to watch the game and reminisce while watching the Canadian Team Play. The first time I met Lewis was playing for the Nova Scotia Clippers in 1990 and we have been friends ever since. We worked together for many years in the Women's Program, the highlight being our second place finish at the 2002 FIFA U20 Women's World Championships held in Canada. To this day, once of my favorite photos and memories is the three of us- Head Coach Ian Bridge, Assistant Coach Lewis Page and Goalkeeper Coach Shel Brodsgaard standing arm in arm in front of a sold-out Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton singing the Canadian National Anthem before the final.


There are so many memories...


This past spring we ventured to Spain for a 10-day tour with one of our local boys teams aged U16. They were a relatively successful local team, making it to the A-Cup Provincials two years in a row, all the while training twice each week as a team for 6-7 months of the year and playing a game each weekend (the season is generally 20 games long plus another 10 games for the run to the provincials). All in all a relatively committed group of players who would also do extra training in an academy type setting and then of course play school soccer.  The trip to Spain was timely as we came across a highly competitive event which featured the top U18 youth teams from across Europe plus a few guest teams from other parts. The pleasure on watching these top youth team play in 60 minute games, was that we came to realize

A. Spanish Football will remain strong for a very, very, very long time

B. We in Canada are at best 100 years behind!

The feeling was overwhelming after watching 5-6 games daily when you observed the individual skill/technique, overall team tactics and shape, as well as the speed at which the players executed technique. We were in awe! How these 16-17 year old players were developing was beyond any of the local calibre we had seen in recent years. In fact, the following summer I recall sitting at a Whitecaps game with about 100 of our kids from the local community and thinking to myself that there was something missing.  It took me a few moments, however, I came to realize the impression the youth tournament had on me from our trip to Spain compromised my view and/or experience watching the MLS.

Fast forward to the MLS Play-Off Semi-Final played in Montreal at the Big O between the Impact and TFC. I honestly feel the ground shake beneath my feet as the game in our country leaped forward by 20-years. I tuned into the game from a stormy live feed on Denman Island. I recalled times gone by when used to kill time at the cabin during the winter months listening to the NHL on the radio, in fact, listening to Montreal play Toronto live (crica 1980's). It got me too thinking how far we have come. The build up to the game, the hype leaving one of these two teams to play in the MLS Cup Final. The simple fact that 61,000 + packed the stadium to watch the game live and more than 1,000,000 tuned in live. Now we are moving forwards. Sure, there can be arguments made that the league favors US born players even with the Canadian Franchises. Sure, the argument can be made there were few Canadians playing for the Canadian Teams. However, the simple fact that we are hosting two top teams in the most competitive league available with country wide awareness moves me.

On an personal note, I have enjoyed many professional soccer experiences in Montreal through the decades. My first trip to Montreal for soccer would have been to play in the Canadian Soccer League circa 1986 for the Victoria Vistas against the Montreal Impact. I had several amazing experiences with the Canadian Women's National Team in training camps and playing International Friendlies in Montreal (we beat Brazil in the final game before the 2003 Women's World Cup here). I have always been awestruck by the passion for the game and the commitment the Montreal Impact ownership has made to professional soccer in the city. I have also been a part of the coaching staff for an MLS Game in the Big O back in 2012 when TFC played the Impact during the start of the season and then again in the new stadium designed specifically for soccer beside the Big O.

The 2016 MLS Semi-Final First Leg brought me closer to friends all over North America, as we all follow the teams we support in Montreal, Toronto and Seattle.

The game got off to a great start (if you are an Impact fan). Patrice Bernier made an excellent pass to set-up the first goal for the Impact. Then suddenly we were down 2-0 and eventually 3-0. I felt like digging a really BIG hole as a TFC fan and hiding in it. But then something wacky happened. We scored to make it 3-1. The 3-2 (with away goals counting for double in the aggregate). Now we are back to Toronto for the second leg in which both teams have a fighting chance to make the final. Which brings me back to how exciting it is to see soccer on the map and people all across Canada tuning in. There are some brilliant players playing for both teams from all over the world.

I have always felt that when people ask you why we are so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to discussing soccer in Canada, I have always said "time." The most successful countries in the world have been playing the game for up to and beyond 100 years and have tremendous history in the game of soccer (take a tour through the stadium in Barcelona to observe some of the history of this remarkable  club).  I sincerely feel that we took one giant step forward last night embracing the MLS Semi-Final which was played between Montreal Impact and Toronto FC.  I look forward to the second leg and also find myself pulling for Seattle (who is on the other side of the draw). This is the second year in a row they have made the conference semi-final if I am not mistaken, losing out last year to the LA Galaxy.

Importantly, there is always a reference to hockey when it comes to discussing professional sport in Canada. I grew up a soccer player. I played many other sports in my youth, but hockey was not one of them. I have always been aware of the passion for the game in our country. However, I find it fascinating that the age old rivalries between Victoria and Portland, Portland and Seattle, Vancouver and Portland all have some resemblance of hockey roots (WHL) in the same fashion I grew-up listening to games with rivalries from the NHL we now face with the MLS. The winds of change are upon us and I certainly look forward to seeing more progress!

Wednesday, 10 February 2016

"Brodsgaard, Brodsgaard, Brodsgaard!"

We were playing against the Vancouver 86ers in Swanguard Stadium located in Burnaby. They had a direct free kick from 20 meters out, towards the right hand side of the goal if you were taking the shot, or towards my left (from the goalkeeper's angle). Dale Mitchell was lined up to take the free-kick, he was once of Canada's most renowned goal scorers of the era, in addition to Domeninc Mobilio who also would have been playing for the 86ers at the time. Mitchell strikes a right footed shot bending around the outside of the wall towards the top corner of the goal. I read/anticipated this very shot and took off, a quick step or two to my left and then leaping into the air (because of the way the defensive wall was set-up I lost sight of the ball momentarily while diving to cover as much of the goal as possible). Suddenly, the ball came into view and it was massive. The size of a beach ball. I had the majority of the area of the goal he was shooting for covered by my body/arms/hands and was lucky enough to make the save and prevent the goal.

"Brodsgaard, Brodsgaard, Brodsgaard!"

Vic Rauder and Graham Legget were tele-commentating the game, and it has to be one of the most memorable saves of my playing career shown live on TSN. That was a long time ago, in fact the VHS tape with the highlight reel used to be a show-stopper for some of the kids/coaches who I have come in contact with over the years at camps. However, I am not even sure where to find a VCR these days. There have been other great saves.  Through the years there has been a lot of training for myself, as well as training a lot of younger goalkeepers who also shared the same aspiration- to fly through the air and prevent the opponent from scoring.

I have been commuting to Powell River for many years to serve many different capacities with regard to the game of soccer. I used to watch my dad play back in the '70's. We played the Junior High Island Soccer Championships there in the '80's. I played there in the '90's as a goalkeeper with the Gorge Molson's in the VISL. I have run and continue to run coaching clinics and training sessions in the community to this day. But, let's rewind the clock to a Jackson Cup Semi-Final in which the Gorge Molson's were playing Powell River Villa to advance to the prestigious Jackson Cup Final. In fact, my father had played goal in the Jackson Cup Final in his prime, which added even more reason for us to defeat the mighty Villa. Playing Powell River at home was always tough. First there was the road trip, having to travel from Victoria and take the ferry to play the game. Then there was the crowd. The atmosphere around the field. The fans chanting and doing everything they can to help the home team gain an advantage. On this particular day, the game was undecided at the end of overtime. I was young, late teens. The game was going to penalty-shots. The home crowd circled the goal at which the penalty shots were going to be taken at. People in front, beside and behind- all around you cheering for the mighty Villa! It was a glorious atmosphere. It was one of those days in which before the final shot was taken I knew we were going to be victorious because I had a feeling that we were going to walk away winners!

We cycled through the first five shooters and went to sudden death. It was our turn first the shooter scored. The Villa player stepped up, the crowd was chanting and I was totally focused. As he stepped up to strike the ball with the right foot to my right hand side. I left a moment before the ball was struck and fully extended myself to tip the ball outside of the goal with my fingertips. It was over. The crowd was silenced. Too this day, I still recall walking into the clubhouse and seeing the look on all those faces- shocked and silenced.

While on the topic of the Jackson Cup and great saves, this would be a good time to speak about one of the best saves I never made. We were playing against the Victoria Athletics in the Jackson Cup Final, perhaps it was the game after we defeated the mighty Villa, however, it was a long time ago. So, we are playing at Royal Athletic Park in Victoria where I have been chasing balls and eating hot dogs since I was a young boy. The game goes into penalty shots and the following situation unveils itself

  • the goalkeeper playing for the A's that day was a call-up, which means that the regular goalkeeper was injured for the cup final, so they brought up a goalkeeper from the 4th division team
  • the penalty shot shoot out went all the way to the 11th shooter from each team, which means the goalkeeper was going to shoot last from the Victoria Athletics
  • the goalkeeper steps up, having played a lot less soccer than most of us playing in the 1st division and tries to strike the ball towards the goal, which sadly, dribbles over the goal line closer to the corner flag than the goalpost when he attempts to score the goal
  • this would simply be on of the best saves I never made!

There have been other moments. The art of goalkeeping is exactly that- a form of art that takes many, many years to master. I recall a save at the age of 25 years, playing in a game after a professional career in North America, a little experience in both Europe and with the Canadian national team in which I came to realize that I had been doing it all wrong with regard to one versus one situations.  On this particular day, by accident I deducted how to perform the technique and/or execution entirely different than I had been doing all through the years. The key moment of learning came when I closed down a player one versus one in a very direct and intimate manner. The key to success for this action versus the hundreds of times I had made the exact exact same save before, was a combination of how much closer I was to the player before  committing to the ground, the fact that I was solely focused on the lower half of the body and of course the ball and the fact that I was going in hard and clean. It was an out-of-body-experience coming away with the ball and cleanly challenging the attacker in a one versus one situation.

In more recent years, during one of our annual 7-aside summer soccer tournaments on Denman Island I may have made one of my last memories playing in goal. We were playing a game against a talented, much younger, stronger and healthier crew from Powell River called "The Beavers." In goal for the Beavers was a close friend, a young lad whom I had coached many years prior who also had an absolutely massive afro. It was a sight to see him tending goal in the pink muscle shirt, large afro and goalkeeper gloves the size of Mickey Mouse's hands. Anyhow, they were clobbering us in the final of the 19 + Division on this given day, younger, stronger and faster...however, I was able to walk away with one personal highlight. There was a ball floated into the penalty box which I was able to collect untested. As I landed carrying forward momentum from the catch I decided to roll the ball out of the penalty area and progress towards the opponents goal. One touch then two. Suddenly, it came to me there was no defensive pressure coming from this youthful side. So, I took another touch, crossed the halfway line and decided to go for goal. The ball was driven hard and low to the  back post and directly into the goal. We lost 6-1. I still recall the look on the goalkeeper's face to this day having realized the ball was in the back of the net.

One of my favorite memories coaching goalkeepers was the game Taryn Swiatek played against China in the 1/4 final of the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup. The game was played in Portland, Oregon. It was a day where she was unbeatable on the ground. In the air. One versus one. In fact, it was such a thrilling experience to walk-up to her on the field at the end of the game and see the smile on her face. It was HUGE! Sure, she was thrilled to be going into the World Cup 1/2 final, but I know somewhere in there she was just as excited to know that she realized that she had played the best game of her life at the precise moment that she needed to. In fact, there are other memories related to goalkeeper's from this event. One that is not about making a save, training or playing games.

In each game at the international level three-subs are allowed to be made by each team. It is very rare that a goalkeeper will be one of these subs. So, being a back-up goalkeeper can be a very demanding role mentally. It was during the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup that I recall a very special moment. We had just beaten Japan in the third game of the first round to qualify for the 1/4 finals. While rewatching the game with the coaching staff several hours later that same evening I noticed something very special. Erin McLoed burst onto the field when the referee blew the final whistle and ran straight to the starting goalkeeper Taryn Swiatek to embrace her, congratulate her and share in the moment that we had just created. It was amazing to see the back-up goalkeeper so enthused, so pure, so engaged in celebrating the success of our team by acknowledging the success of the player playing the position I know she wanted to be in.

There was in fact another rather significant game which presented a rather important teaching moment for the back-up goalkeeper in my national team coaching career. We were playing in the 1/4 final of the 2004 FIFA Women's Youth World Championships in Thailand. The game kicked off and we had possession of the ball (we played the ball forward from the opening kick-off into the opponents half- from which they countered and for some reason there is a lone Chinese player heading to our goal all alone in literally the first or second minute in the match). The Canadian Goalkeeper approaches the player in a one versus one situation, goes to the ground to collect the ball and while making the save the player flies over top of the goalkeeper and tumbles to the ground in a heap. Penalty-shot and red card for the young Canadian goalkeeper in the first moments of the game. Oh @#$^! My initial thoughts are not to protest the call, but does the back-up goalkeeper have their gloves ready to go, shinpads on and realize exactly what has occurred? Into the game goes the back-up goalkeeper with little time for a warm-up as people scramble on our sideline to help her get ready.  She is inserted into the game and will directly face a penalty-shot in the 1/4 final of a Youth World Cup Final. WOW! What a moment! To this day I have not rewatched the game to see how badly the player was or was not taken down by our goalkeeper to produce the red-card and penalty shot. However, I sure would like to know what ran through the back-up goalkeepers mind the moment she was getting called into the action.

Years ago I was approached by a friend who thought I might like to be involved with the making of a beer commercial. Sadly, there was no beer involved in the transaction, however, I do recall being paid rather handsomely for the days work. The days work consisted of making the same save over and over and over and over for the photographer to capture the right shot. In fact, on this day, I probably threw myself into the air, to the right side, diving at full extension to make the same save 50+ times and landing on hard ground. At first we tried to have the ball served into the air, however, as I was the lone soccer player at the shoot, I had to rely on the camera person's assistant to toss the ball into the air for me to save which did not work out very well. The ball would have to be served into a precise location in order for the photographer to catch a fully extended goalkeeper about to make an amazing save. The next step was for me to hold the ball myself and pretend to be making the save while floating through the air holding the ball in my hands from start to finish. In the end they got the shot they needed and I have a brilliant photo that was displayed on billboard out east promoting Carlsberg beer.

These days, my body is run down. I am so sore after trying to recapture my youth. It was a lot of fun flying through the air in training and games. However, I get really excited when I see kids, of all ages stepping forwards into their goalkeeping career and making great saves. Flying through the air. getting up of the ground with huge smiles and a great feeling after stopping the ball from going into the goal.

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

My First Professional Contract

You know, I still remember the day the phone call came through. We Were sitting upstairs as a family in the tv room in our house in Victoria, I was 15.  "Hello Shel, this is the General Manager of the Edmonton Brickmen in the Canadian Soccer League and I would like to talk with you about playing for our team!" I am pretty sure that I almost fell over backwards, as this is something that I had dreamed about for years- the opportunity to play professional soccer. Which also meant moving away from home at the age of 16 years.

The first stages of my time with the team included staying with a 30+ year old Brazilian player in a one bedroom apartment while the team was away on a road trip. Since I was still in junior high, I had to wait to finish school for the year until I could make my way to Edmonton. After a couple of weeks of living on my own the team was kind enough to relocate me to live with Ross Ongaro, who was a former professional in the NASL with the Edmonton Drillers and finishing his career with the Brickmen. It was a much more suitable living arrangement, as I now had the benefit of living full-time with a former pro and his family. There was also another well travelled professional living with the Ongaro family by the name of Tony Peznecker. This would be the beginning of some invaluable mentorring, as during the season I became very close with John Baretta, who was a goalkeeper for the Brickmen with NASL experience. He treated me like a son, we would golf together, laugh together, train together and most importantly he provided guidance and security in a professional environment. The training was demanding and intense. It was a tremendous challenge each and everyday to train and compete with both the level of play and physical standard of the much older and experienced players. But it was so rewarding.

The team played in Clarke Stadium, which would eventually play a massive role in my coaching career with the Women's National Team Program. Fast forward to 2002 for the FIFA U19 Youth World Championships, as this is where we trained when we were based in Edmonton and played games at Commenwealth Stadium. Back to the Brickmen. I still remember the bright yellow or gold umbro shorts and training gear that we used to wear. Funny thing, I have always kept a lot of the training gear from my travels, however, since this was now 30 years ago I am afraid that I do not have anything from the Brickmen days. During the season, there was a tornado which ran through the city, destroying anything and everything that it came into contact with. I do remember the day Tony and I were witting and watching tv when all of a sudden in the middle of the day a storm rolled in. It became very dark outside and then started to hail. As we were keeping an eye on the tv and the change in the weather we noticed the size of the hail increasing and strong winds. So we turned on the radio. It was a full-blown tornando! There were people on the radio screaming as they explained the damage that had been done to their homes and community. It was scary. I have never seen so much rain fall in such a short period of time nor hail fall from the sky the size of golf balls.

The summer with the Edmonton Brickmen would turn out to be an apprenticeship, one which introduced me to the pro game, experienced players and provide the idea of travelling down to the US when I graduated in pursuit of a scholarship at an American College. Times were changing and I was soaking it all up. I remember coming home from the experience at the end of the summer and going to school at Shoreline Junior High. I felt like I had grown very fast and became a part of a very different world my friends that I would be playing school soccer with had known. I started to train and play with men. I started to dream bigger. I stopped playing other sports to concentrate more on soccer. It was an amazing experience to spend the summer training and competing at the highest level and I was super-motivated to carry on. The training. The games. The culture, The experience moved me, I wanted more and would do everything I could to continue forward with a professional soccer career.

My next opportunity to play in the Canadian Soccer League would come in 1998-1999 when the Victoria Vistas became a part of the league. I was selected to the team along with Grant Darley, who was a lifelong friend, mentor and one of the instrumental goalkeeper trainers in my youth. We competed for the starting spot each and every week. It was great playing at home, back at Royal Athletic Park where I spent much of my youth watching my father play, chasing balls and eating hot dogs! There were many great experiences in the two years the team was in the league, most enjoyable was seeing my family in the stands enjoying the games. It was also this summer that I would be selected to play for Canada in the Francophone Games. This would be the first time I met Craig Forest.

The Francophone Games were held in Morocco, Africa and it was the experience of a lifetime. The opening ceremonies made a lasting impression on me, however, so did the fact that my luggage was lost and would not appear for several days. It was a gong show trying to find out if and when my luggage was going to arrive because the airport luggage terminal was in constant chaos. For the first few days I wore the clothing supplied by the Canadian Contingent morning, day and night. Plus I was able to access as much of the team training gear as required, however, I missed having my toothbrush. My deodorant. My own clothes. Maybe a book to read. Who knows back then, maybe my walkman and taper were stowed in my lost luggage. All the comforts of home were absent and I was a long, long way from anything familiar. We stayed at a compound outside of the capital, it was an old school with dorms, a pool and cafeteria. There were guards rimming the perimeter of the area with machine guns. We were well protected. The food in the dining hall was difficult. We all had diarrhea. It was a combination of bad water, high fat content in all dairy products with little or no refrigeration and a massive cultural shift when it came to the food that was prepared and presented. We came to avoid anything that was washed in water. Most fruit and veggies. we came to avoid all items such as yogurt and milk, as they were rarely refrigerated and it was hot. We were in the middle of a desert! In fact, there is a photo taken in which I have my arm over the shoulder of one of the armed guard and for the one and only time in my life you can see my ribs.

We all lost a lot of weight. It was a combination of diet and poor sanitary conditions. There was no air conditioning and we used turkish toilets. For fun, google a photo of a turkish toilet and imagine yourself running back and forth from your bed to the bathroom at all hours. Tearing off your adidas polyester and hoping to find the target. Enough said. The opening ceremonies were fabulous. For hours we were stationed in an arena with many other countries and athletes awaiting our turn to enter the national stadium. The African countries performed all kinds of dances, songs and chanting while we soaked it all in. The entrance to the stadium which held 60,000 was amazing. I remember seeing soccer players from African countries wearing soccer boots as they circumnavigated the stadium with their contingent. It was a moment I will not forget.

The markets in Morocco were frightening and I loved it. The smells and the poverty were quite challenging. However, the people were friendly and the crafts were remarkable. I could spend days walking around these markets enjoying the sights and smell now, but back then it was an adjustment, I remember children following us, asking for money and trying to sell plastic bags to carry our stuff.
The soccer experience was phenomenal. I remember training in 40 degree heat with long sleeved jerseys and pants because the fields we were playing on were not grass- they were very hard and unforgiving. Can you imagine training in that heat, with all those clothes and coming off the pitch to find warm-water? It was hilarious, all you wanted was a bucket of cold water to throw over your head, and of course, due to a lack of refrigeration there we were consuming warm water in plastic bottles. The event was spectacular. The Canadian team was remarkabley successful. We won the gold medal with a 4-2 victory over the host nation. I was lucky enough to play in the 1/2 final in front of 45,000 fans. It was a moment I will never, ever forget. The team was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame a few years ago.

Following the collapse of the Victoria Vistas I was drafted by the Nova Scotia Clippers in 1990-1991 as the starting goalkeeper. "Shel Shocks the 86ers!" was the headline after the first game. We were a first year team with a lot of young players and we managed to gain a draw against the defending champions, the Vancouver 86ers in the opening game. This would turn out to be a remarkable season, One in which I would meet Lewis Page and play with Kevin Wasden. It was also the year I fell in love with bandanas (used as headbands) and rainbow colored goalkeeper jerseys. Perhaps this was also the time I inked my first personal services contract with Umbro to receive free gear, although it had been a few years since I had paid for soccer stuff. The season in Nova Scotia was awesome. We were a tight nit group and we had a lot of fun. I also started running goalkeeper camps while visiting communities in the area, this would be the first time I would come in contact with the PEI Soccer Association thanks to Andy Cameron. Lewis Page would eventually take over for Andy and I have visited PEI many times through the years. The Maritimes was a lovely experience, awakening to see how friendly and genuine the people were. The team only lasted one season, we played out of Beasely Park. It was  astadium with a track around it, the nearest lights were for the baseball park beside where we played. In fact, we had a game called during the season because there was not enough daylight. However, the recreational youth baseball game beside us carried on as they had lights.

After the successful season with the Nova Scotia Clippers and upon my return to the west-coast I was anxious to find more competition and wound up at an open trial for the Tacoma Stars in the MSL. This was going to be a change, indoor soccer! Both myself and Kevin Wasden packed our bags and made our way down the I-5 to try out with the Tacoma Stars. It was a very successful campaign for myself, as I made the team and spent the year playing professional indoor soccer. Kevin and I became close friends in a short period of time, we first made contact playing for the Victoria Vistas. In fact, following the 1989 season with the Vistas Kevin and I made our way overseas for european trials. I started in Colchester, England, where I wintessed first hand the passion and desire for the game. The team was playing in the second division at the time, a mix of young hopefuls and older players towards the end of their careers. I recall watching a few games and thinking "Am i ready for this?" The style was very physical and the challenges on the goalkeeper very aggressive. I was 18 years old and thinking for the first time that this might be a little above me. Anyways, the time in Colchester was rewarding, it was an introduction into a passionate and intense environment. I would then make my way to Bournemouth, Scotland to meet up with Kevin and train with the first team. It was a lot different than Colchester. The club hosted us very well on and off the field. We were able to board at a home familiar to the players in the youth team system and train with the reserve team. Each morning the club bus would pick us up in front of our lodging and take us to training. It was a really fun and exciting time. We made good friends and worked hard, very hard. I remember a training session for the goalkeepers, it was one of the wettest and muddiest sessions ever! We trained for what felt like hours, soaking wet and covered in mud. We did take a break part way through to prepare a cup of tea in the clubhouse at the field, however, we warmed up and went back out for more. At the end of the session I remember crawling back to the stadium and trying to get cleaned up in the changeroom. There was a choice of cold, black, dirty water in the form of a tile tub suited for 20 or a single stream of water, cold water, acting as some form of shower. This was a character builder! We had a great time in Bournemouth and grew to love our time there. I still had one more stop before returning to Canada and that would be my first trip to Denmark.

I was able to stay with close family friends in a Munkebo, Denmark which was very close to Odense. I was able to arrange a trial with B.1909 who was coached by Richard Mueller Nielsen, who would later go on to coach the Danish National Team when they won the European Championships in 1988. This was a dream come true, to be playing in a professional environment in my fathers homeland. The combination of events training in England, Scotland and Denmark at the age of 18 years was inspiring. I had played the game at a fairly high level in North America and found myself well below the standards of my European counterparts. This would be a motivating factor in returning back home to work harder to create further training and playing opportunities.

Sadly, my good friend Kevin Wasden was tragically taken away from us at a very early age. I still remember the day after a game playing for the Nova Scotia Clippers, the entire team was circled around the tele in a pub, arm and arm rewatching the game and enjoying the halftime show with Graham Legget and Vic Rauder. They were going to do a story on Kevin and where he grew up. They started the story with a picture of Canada, and zoomed in on BC, then Vancouver Island and then this tiny little remote First Nations Community called Alert Bay. I never had the chance to visit Alert Bay with Kevin, however, the first time I did manage to get there was for his funeral. I was dumbfounded at the experience. My relationship with the community has and always will be one of the most amazing experiences I will carry with me. From this initial visit on a very sad occassion we established the He'et tla las Memorial Soccer Camp in memory of Kevin. His brother William created an awesome logo that we placed on the camp t-shirts and I would see hundreds of kids through the years. So many memories, the warmest of which are how they always made me, my family and my friends feel so welcome. It was an absolute pleasure to visit Kincomb Inlet and conduct a soccer camp for the children in this remote village. In fact, I have now extended the opportunity to work with Inuit children on the exact opposite side of the country, having visited the remote community of Iqualuit, in Nunavit on 1/2 dozen occasions to work with the children.

Back to the CSL, and the demise of the Nova Scotia Clippers after one season. The offseason saw me enjoy a year in the MSL playing for the Tacoma Stars and then get drafted by the London Lasers of the Canadian Soccer League for the 1991 season. The team was owned by Bob Facker, who was a construction company owner and thought that by having a professional soccer team in the community it would help him gain access to a contract buidling a new recreational facility in the town. Well, we landed, had a team meeting, tried to run a few training sessions and flew back home. The team folded in less than a week. I remember the team meeting in which the owner wanted the players not dressing to sell then uniforms out of the back of his truck at the stadium and he simply could not believe that we would require a physio and medical supplies. This was when the CSL was near it's demise. It was not a pleasant experience. The summer holiday was unexpected, until I received a call to finish the season with the North York Rockets, as their starting goalkeeper was injured and out for the remainder of the season. Out of something bad comes something good.

Playing for the North York Rockets was a lot of fun. They were a tight team. Tomas Razinski was 17 years old and playing for the team. He would go on to have an extensive playing career in Europe. Jack Coppetti and I became lifelong friends, in fact, we still keep in touch to this day. The owner of the team, Tony Fontana always had a thermos full of espresso post game and the club served the best italian sandwiches in the clubhouse after everygame. It was a lot of fun completing the season with a lot of player's I had played against for years. Nick Dasovic was also playing for the team. The last time we played together was the BC Provincial Team in our youth. He would go on to have a successful playing career in Europe as well as coach in the Canadian National Teams Program and MLS. We still see each other on occassion and chat on the phone occassionally, It is amazing how the web weaves itself together.

"The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step!"

I have and will always admire this phrase, as the initial contract with the Edmonton Brickmen in 1986 lead me down a path full of memories, experiences, friends, ups and downs- all thanks to the beautiful game!

Monday, 1 February 2016

Cindy Lauper "Time After Time" FIFA 2003 Women's World Cup Pre-Game Columbus, Ohio

One of my Junior High School highlight's was playing the drums in an airband with a few friends to "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" by Cindi Lauper. Who would have known that experience would have made such an impact so many years later. Of course, I have always had a soft spot for female singers. Sarah McLachlin was certainly one of my favourites. Anyhow, during the 2003 FIFA Women's World Cup we started with our first game against Germany, who were the defending champs playing in Columbus, Ohio. The stadium was gorgeous! The game got off to a great start, which saw us take the lead 4-minutes into the game. I have said this many times now, but I strongly believe that early goal awoke the "sleeping giant." We ended up losing 4-1 against the Germans which set us up for our second game in the tournament against Argentina.

The Canadian Women's National Team had never won a game at the World Cup and leading into this game against Argentina we needed a result if we were going to meet our pre-tournament goals. The preparation for this event started in 2000, when Even Pellerud took over the team and entire Women's program. As a program, we were just coming off of a fabulous result at the 2002 FIFAWomen's U19 Youth World Championships hosted by Canada in which we finished second. Several players from this successful youth team were also playing in the Women's World Cup. Erin McLeoad. Christine Sinclair. Brittany Timko. Kara Lang.

Interestingly,  we made a move to select another goalkeeper for the second game in the tournament and started Taryn Swiatek. Taryn is more mouse than monster, at least that is what we assumed going into the event, which would of course be severely altered once we advanced beyond the first round. Back to the game against Argentina. As with most international games, the time on the field is limited to 22-minutes. So, we had devised a plan to best utlilize this pre-determined amount of time to prepare Taryn for the match. We made our way to the goal and proceeded with the goalkeepers warm-up in the penalty area when I noticed "Time after Time" by Cindi Lauper was playing. It was hilarious. There I was warming up Taryn for what would likely be her most important game to date while under a tremendous amount of pressure. As I was singing the words of the song quietly to myself with a smile on my face and smashing balls at her she asked "what's up?" So, we quickly game together and I explained how in Grade 8 we had performed an air band to some of this music and that this particular song was one on my all-time favorites. This was an interesting moment, as we absorbed the humour amidst the chaos. With all this pressure to perform, we were able to take a moment to have a laugh. The game suddenly became less of a distraction, all be it momentarily while we savoured the opportunity to enjoy the moment.

The games ended with a victory for Canada, followed by a much needed victory in the next game over Japan to advance us to the knock-out stage of the World Cup.

The next game against China in the 1/4 finals was to be played in Portland, Oregon. It was satisfying to see how many Canadians had made the road trip south to support the team.  The atmosphere in the stadium was electric. There were Chinese Dragons running up and down the stairs in the crowd when we scored the go-ahead goal in the 7th minute. It was a phenomenal moment, a ball cleared away from the opponents goal followed by brilliant ball played in behind the backline for Charmaine Hooper to run onto and head into to goal. 1-0 Canada. WOW! The rest of the game saw us defend and counter. Swiatek made save after save after save after save. She completely dominated the box in the air. She was invincible one versus one. It was one of the best games played by a Canadian Team GK to date. The pressure absorbed by our team defensively trying to slow down the Chinese attack was remarkable. The feeling when the final whistle blew to advance to the 1/2 final was AWESOME!

For the 1/2 final we were up against Sweden. It was an amazing experience walking into the stadium while Germany and USA were playing in the game before us. As we unloaded from the team bus inside the stadium we could hear the crowd enjoying the game  and made our way to the team dressing room. Most of the players and staff made their way to the concourse to check-in on the game, while a few of us remained behind to unpack and prepare. The sound of the game coming through the stadium was brilliant, we had to go see some of the action. In the end, the Germans were victorious and advanced to the final leaving the US to play in the consolation game for third or fourh place. Our game against Sweden started remarkably well, as we went ahead on a strike from a free-kick by Kara Lang in the 22-minute. I remember watching the game clock count down minute by minute thinking this is too good to be true. In the 78th and 80th minute sadly we were scored on and lost the game 2-1. It was an unfortunate result, however, we had accomplished a tremendous amount support and the success was recognized by many.

The consolation game was played at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles in front of 24,000 screaming Americans. "USA! USA! USA!" For for the first portion of the match this was all we could hear and then it stopped. The game produced a favourable result for the US, however, we all received medals and the tournament was complete. We had finished fourth in the world. We had a remarkable journey with memories that will last a lifetime. Each and everytime I listed to Cindi Lauper's "Time After Time" I think of the experience warming up Taryn in Columbus, Ohio and what it lead to.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

It is time to give the game back to the kids

I found myself reading a local soccer blog recently, which I rarely do to catch up on some information relevant to the actual league we find our teams competing in. However, after reading yet more negativity in the local soccer community, it gave me an idea. It is time to shift away from all the opinions, negativity and misconduct when it comes to youth soccer. In this day and age, it seems that no program is good enough, no coach is ever given enough credit, nor the volunteers and the hardest part is that there is a tremendous amount of expertise coming from the sidelines which generally does not involve the highly educated soccer folks who are working very hard to make the game a safe, enjoyable and rewarding experience for youth.

Pressure comes in all shapes and forms. There is the internal pressure from the individual. There is peer pressure and of course pressure from parents. The most difficult part as a soccer educator is to see the conflict in youth who carry a tremendous amount of pressure from home. In fact, the simple beauty and enjoyment in the game, any game and/or sport for that matter is watching youth excel, compete, cooperate, develop lifelong friendships and mature through sport. Call me naive, but the journey for all participants in youth soccer is not solely about making the provincial team, playing for your country and/or making to the professional level. For the majority the game provides an experience, and experience shared growing up with other youth who have similar goals an ambition.

Respect comes in many shapes and forms. For the game, For the team. For the coach, team manager and volunteers. For the community. The game has taken a beating in youth soccer, especially in what is considered competitive youth soccer, which can start for kids ages 11  years an older in our region. Suddenly the game becomes much more serious for the coaches and parents. Some not all. It is the portion of the population who fail to see the negative influence they are starting to make on the development of youth, the game and community this article is being written. It is a very sad and common reality to learn of the number of occassions in which youth soccer officials are constantly criticized and abused from the sidelines because of their ability to influence a game, manage a game, or heaven forbid make a mistake. There is a severe absence of younger soccer referees coming forwards and in speaking with youth who have tried they share a common concern. Many have chosen not to officiate for fear of a coach running up the score in a competitive youth soccer game. Many have walked away for being criticized from the sidelines while trying their best. Far too much emphasis is being placed on the idea the game of soccer does not involve unpredictable movements, moments in the child's life which we do not control which often tend not to line up with the hopes, goals and/or aspirations of an over-concentrated coach and/or parent. The beauty of watching youth officiate lies in the mentorship that may be provided on the field with the player's they may be officiating, as well as the mentoring between officials. In all my years of enjoying the game, the process in which experienced officials nurture, educate, train and help younger/less experienced officials is charming.

Success. How do we chose to measure success? There is the potential for some many ways to measure to success. But let's think back to the first time our son or daughter stepped onto the soccer field. I can only assume we shared thoughts like.... I hope they do not run the wrong way? I hope they do not trip over an untied shoelace? I wonder if they will fit in? I wonder how they will react to being in a new group? What am I going to do if they start crying and want to go home? I can also imagine there would be a tremendous amount of laughter and good times. Let's fast forward to the age of 14, 15 or 16 years and regardless of level and/or calibre of play how much has changed? I can safely assume there is more pressure on the individual, team, parent and coach as the player's get older and play in a more competitive environment. With this in mind, can we stop for a moment and determine how much of the experience is pleasure and how much is pain? There is a severe absence of humor in parents watching their children play as they get older and enter a more competitive training and/or playing environment. Sadly, this pressure comes out in many forms. One of my least favorite is the parent who storms up and down the sidelines telling players what to do whether they have the ball or not. Even better, spectators, who show up and start communicating their wisdom to the player's/team involved in a game that a coach may have implemented a game plan/strategy to which the comments from the parent/spectator may have absolutely no relevance.

How can we give the game back to the kids?

In my experience working with youth soccer players in North America, it is common for the parents to drop their son or daughter off at the game and/or training session and make their way to the fence surrounding the perimeter of the field. From this vantage point, there are few, not all that take the liberty to holler at their kids, perhaps other players while observing from the outside of the training sessions and/or game at hand. One of my distant but favorite memories involves a training session at a venue in which there was a very large open space of grass, possibly the size of 3-4 soccer fields with no specific dimensions. Amidst the training session being run in a 30 x 40 meter area within this vast open space, the lone parent who was watching came up and eventually onto the field to yell at a player. As the sessions wore on and the parent continued to interfere with the training session, I noticed the parent was now yelling at more than one player. So, I quickly collected the players in and gave them a water break. Immediately walked over the the parent and asked them how they were doing. I then proceeded to advise the parent that if they wanted to communicate more clearly with one of the player's they were yelling at, that perhaps the parent should speak spanish as the player in question was an international exchange student and was not fluent in english. Interestingly, in Europe, when the player's are dropped of at the soccer training session by the parent, the player's enter and environment which is controlled and absent of parental influence.

How can we give the game back to the kids?

Humbleness. I was in conversation with a parent of a very young soccer parent some time ago that was pleasantly refreshing. The young soccer player in question was 8 years old and had not been playing regular soccer over the winter. So, one day, after a 10 week block of training indoors the parent and I were having a conversation. When I was asked how the player was doing by the parent I responded with the following: "Well, you know, the player looks a little rusty having not played since the summer, however, he was very driven and motivated to catch up and match up with the remainder of the players in the program. When they were able to do in the timeframe of the indoor program."
What floored me was the response from the parent, who politely said "thanks, but did he have fun and enjoy himself!" This was coming from a family with a young child who is passionate for the game of soccer, train and play together at home, in the backyard, at the community field on evening and weekends and to this date at the age of  11 years still does not participate in organized or structured club soccer. In fact, the player is playing at or beyond the top of their respective age group, wise beyond their years. This was a pivotal moment for me, as I work with hundred of kids a year coaching, mentoring and inspiring youth soccer players, parents, coaches and volunteers. To this day, each and every time I see this family I think of how few times a parent has ever responded with " did they enjoy themselves and have fun!"

Coaches. By far one of the most enjoyable, transformative and hilarious experienced I have had in many years came while observing a match between two female U18 teams. On this occassion, I walked towards our team, which I would be observing as the technical director and marched right past them on the sidelines to embrace to long standing soccer friends who were coaching against us on the particular day. This would turn out to be the most rewarding and entertaining 15 minutes on the sidelines I have enjoyed on a long time. The two coaches of the opposition whom I was standing with began to address the need to 'have player number 13 taken off the pitch from our team because she was doing and outstanding job and deserved a much needed break!" In fact, in a jovial manner while we were standing together that one of the two coaches hollered over to our team's head coach that they were speaking with me at is was essential that he give the number 13 a break for doing such a great job. As the game wore on the humor flowed, light, positive remarks were made as to how well certain players were playing and how enjoyable the experience was for their players and so on. It will be one of the greatest memories for me, standing with the opponent, laughing with the coaches while the game was being played and complimenting the players/coaches while the game was being played. How often does this happen? Not enough. What has become common. Sadly the exact opposite. There is one rare example of a particular coach who, when visiting our region with their team for a game the moment that the car is parked in the adjacent parking lot to the field the game is being played on you can hear them yelling and screaming at the players. In the warm-up. During the game. At half-time. It is really discouraging.

Volunteers. How many of you are familiar with the saying " there are too few volunteers and far too many critics?" In my experience to date, there is always a need for more volunteers, but few if and available people to fill those roles. So, the workload of many ends up on the hands of the few. Far too common. Even more difficult to digest is the thankless role these people serve, giving, giving, giving and more giving. How often do you as an individual, family, parent or spectator take the time to thank the volunteer for the role they are filling? Sadly, the majority of the time a volunteer is approaches is when there is a prob/em, some deserved of the attention of the organization, but for the most part, generally issues easily resolved without the time and energy of the volunteer. What does it take for the general public to realize and accept the value of these volunteers, there a few new people coming forwards to feel these roles. Even better, what does it take to shift away from the constant criticism from parents who feel that their son or daughter, and/or their team is not being treated fairly? What does it take to turn the negative into a positive action? Importantly, regardless of the outcome, regardless of the presure, regardless of the result how often do we approach the referee, the coach from the opposition, the opposing players, the volunteers in the club/community and say "thank you!"

Goal Setting. Realistic Goal Setting. There are so many distorted values placed on youth in this day and age. There are 2,000 players ages 6-18 years in the region we call home, one of which trains more than any young player I have ever met. Yet, each and every player, parent and family have goals. This one particular player has elevated the concept of drive and determination to new levels. Each time I speak in front of a group of youth soccer players familiar with this particular individual I ask them directly "how many of you are willing to work as hard as you know who?" The reality of the situation is that very few, if any will have similar drive, passion or determination. However, in other parts of the world, Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America this is how and where the dream is created. There is a massive gap between where we are as a soccer culture and where the rest of the soccer rich cultures exist. There is a massive gap between expectations and performance.

Expertise. When I hire a contractor to build a house, do I hover over them and instruct them along the way? When we send our children to a teacher for piano lessons, do we interrupt the teacher and tell them how they should be teaching our child to play the piano? What in the world is going on with youth soccer. In fact, each and everytime I have a conversation with a parent about a soccer match, inside myself I sit and wait until they express an opinion about what was wrong with the game, how the team failed to play up to par, which players underperformed and so on. In fact, there are a few special parents who will invade your space during a halftime speach to the players by instructing you from the sidelines as per what they feel the team requires to improve. Absolutely hilarious. When I envision myself attending an event my child participates in, specifically none which i will know nothing about, I simply cannot imagine advising anyone directly involved about what they should be doing differently, However, the moment my child steps away from the activity the first question will be "did you have fun?" Once an awhile it is a pleasure to see parents who observe their children participating, not expressing opinions to the coaches, not yelling instructions to any of the players, simply watching their child excel. Through the years there have been many examples of proud parents enjoying their children training on a friday night, acknowledging how nice it is to see them working hard at something they enjoy and staying out of trouble. It simply amazes the amount of expertise in youth soccer from highly uneducated sources. Did you know that soccer coaches with more than 30 years of experience in the game as players and.or coaches sometimes have an understanding of the greater good for your son or daughter? Why is there so much negativity towards these people who step forward to help make your son or daughter a better person? We have been running residential camps as a family on a remote rural island for almost 20 years. There have been youth soccer players and coaches attend from all across Canada. Many of the players and coaches have been involved with the national team system, the provincial team programs and even the professional clubs academy model. However, when they come together for the week with players they have never met do you know what they measure of success is? How well they get along, trust, respect, laugh and motivate one another. There is a natural cycle of mentor coaching embedded in the culture of these camps, rotating through groups as they graduate from the program as players and return to work with the next generation as mentor coaches. There is no experyise with regard to the level of coaching these mentor coaches provide at this early stage of their career, however, they do have an amazing understanding of the program goals and work hard to ensure the next generation of your attending these camps follow the same path.

Community. Once and awhile the game presents moments which make you go hum. Recently, I received a letter from a parent. Inside was a note and a check for $1000. The note read like this. "Recently, we came into some unexpected money that I wanted to share with you. Thanks to you, your family and your coaches who always made my son feel special. For all those years you let him come to camp for free I anted to share this donbation with you so that you can provide another opportunity for another young person. Thank you so much for your guidance and passion through the years- my child is a better person thanks to your program!" Instant tears streaming down my face. Why? Because this is not about a gold medal, a championship game or award- this is about people. We are here to build a better community, all of us. Like it or not, beyond the results lie a more important detail that seems to be lost. What happened to the days when youth played soccer in large groups mixed with all ages and genders. When children played soccer without instruction and/or officials. They still do this in many parts of the world with tremendous success. Have you ever driven through a remote latin american fishing village and noticed a field turf soccer field? Have you noticed in this same community that all shapes and sizes of people young and old are wearing soccer gear all over the place? Have you ever noticed how this soccer field brings the community together for the sport they are passionate about? Have you ever noticed what is it like in your community? Do all players, parents, coaches and volunteers work toward a common good? I sure hope so, but I can assure you there is a small part of the population picking out what is going wrong with your community development regarding the game of soccer. The next time one of these people try to inform you of what you know, or even better, the next time on of you try to write more negativity on a blog try to find something POSITIVE. It is time we gave the game back to the kids.

Thinking Behind the Back Four

Years ago while watching a U21 soccer game with a close friend, colleague and soccer educator I noticed there were two goalkeepers working together at the halfway line (which was especially odd). When goalkeepers warm-up for a game they generally stick to their own goal and warm-up with their team in their own end of the field. Not on this day, what I noticed was in fact both goalkeepers involved in the game actually warming up each other. Really? Preparing to do battle for the elusive 3-points for the win and they are warming each other up? This does not make any sense. As we discussed how great this was and looked deeper into the meaning behind this the story came out as follows:

- the two goalkeepers were now 18 years of age playing at the U21 level
- the two goalkeepers had met at a training camp for goalkeepers at the age of 11 years and had trained together in this program for 6 years
- the two goalkeepers attended a school soccer academy in addition to the goalkeeper development program from grades 9-12
- the two goalkeepers had never played on the same team, in youth soccer, school soccer and now U21 soccer

Importantly, as the two goalkeepers continued to warm-up one another and while I was speaking to my colleague who had been working with them since the age of 11 he quickly stated that this was a common practice for the keepers in the community who had participated in the goalkeeper development program which tied them together. Which got me to thinking, you know, I recall a similar situation years prior that was shared with me. Some time ago there was a group of teenagers who shared a common passion. They were committed to training, working hard and learning. When this crew came together in a similar fashion as to the two goalkeepers mentioned above at the age of 10-11 years, there was instant chemistry. This chemistry stayed with the core of the group into their eventual departure from youth soccer and eventually gave away to post-secondary education which took them to separate geographical locations. While this group of talented young goalkeepers were growing up together, around the age of 15-16 years they started showing up at each other's game to warm each other up prior to the start of the game. Not playing against one another, but helping each other. This same talented and aware group of individuals went on to become legendary at the residential camps we run each summer on Denman Island. Mentoring the next generation of youth to work hard both on and off the soccer field- showing them how to work hard and have fun!

I still recall the day when it came to me that these kids will have to be replaced, as mentor coaches, as an instrumental part of the residential camp experience. It was rather nerve racking to imagine not having them around, to help each other, to guide the kids, to create the lively intense and humorous atmosphere around the camps. You know what happened? The next summer several candidates were selected from the residential camp program to replace this crew who had been watching and learning- there was instant success and hope. The torch was passed and the stories continued.  In fact, as I re-read this while writing this makes me realize there have now been several generations of young goalkeepers who have travelled the exact same path. A journey which starts with a passion, willingness to work hard, improve and deal with setbacks.

The first group of goalkeepers I started to work with was in the early '90's and there are some familiar names for who emerged from this program. Raegyn Hall. Bob Stankov. Nic Stankov. Nicci Wright. Sian Bagshawe. Each of which has inserted themselves back in the game as goalkeeper trainers at the professional level, the national level and the community level. From there the seed was planted. Goalkeepers who trained under the influences of our initiatives have made a global impact. There are professional goalkeepers playing in Europe, played for Canada, the provincial team program, CIS and College Soccer, there are goalkeepers competing in a a variety of leagues for Adults that would be competitive and/or recreational. In fact, there is one family we have worked with through the years who had all three children pass through the program at different times.  To this very day, I am honored to observe the next generation, perhaps the 7th or 8th generation of young goalkeepers to move through our programs aspire to achieve the same dream we all share. Several years ago in the Comox Valley we started a player development academy, which produced a handful of talented and devoted young goalkeepers who now compete in the local competitive league. This all came about because as we started the player development program there was one hard working, kind and motivated mentor coach who was fueled by the same passion we have all shared for goalkeeping. This young lad infused another generation of talented young goalkeepers to train hard, learn and wake-up thinking about goalkeeping. It is a long time ago, but I recall a very similar experience when I grew attending the Team Sales Goalkeeping Clinic in Victoria, however, I will share this story for another time.

Is this an article about friendship? Comradery? Support? Mentorship? Perhaps this is a story that combines all of these qualities. The one thing that is certain, the game is a beautiful place to learn, to live, to love, to laugh, to develop new friendships, to grow and reflect on. Throughout my entire adult life I have been very lucky to travel the word several times over thanks to the game of soccer. But, you must know, one of the most enjoyable part of the experience at this stage of the game is getting together with my childhood friends, my team-mates from youth soccer each summer for a recreational 7-aside soccer tournament. It is a weekend full of laughter, teasing, humor and of course trying to make our aged bodies do what we did in our twenties and watching the little ones play as we reflect on the memories we shared growing up together and playing for the Gorge Soccer Association. Thinking back, finishing second in the world at the 2002 FIFA Women's Youth World Championships was AWESOME! Finishing fourth at the 2003 FIFAWomen's World Cup was AWESOME Playing in front of 60,000 at the age of 18 years in Morocco, Africa and eventually winning the gold medal at the 1988 Jeux De La Francophone Games was AWESOME!  The game has been good to me, thinking back and reflecting on the people and the experiences who were a part of the joureny is an absolute pleasure.