Thursday, 28 January 2016

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.

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