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Is that a keeper? Spotting potential
by Tim Mulqueen, December 16th, 2010 1:47AM

TAGS:  youth boys, youth girls


By Tim Mulqueen

When I first saw Tim Howard at a camp I coached in Metuchen, N.J., he was 12 years old. I may not have said to myself, "Here's a kid who will play in the English Premier League." But I really did see the potential for greatness.

Very few goalkeepers will stand out as Tim did at such a young age. He displayed good footwork even before he began regularly doing goalkeeper-specific training. Players that young have much learning to do and will mature physically and mentally in many ways.

Already a big kid with exceptional athleticism, he displayed a healthy level of competitiveness. How does a coach measure competitiveness? Not by whether the player curses or gets upset after giving up a goal. A sure sign is when the kid tries as hard to make the save in the final repetitions of a rigorous drill as he does during a scrimmage.

Even at that young age, Tim always had the drive to succeed. He didn’t just go through the motions during the more repetitive and less glamorous aspects of training.

After the first camp Tim attended, he started coming to my weekly goalkeeper training sessions. He was always ready to give his best, always eager to get better. I also immediately noticed that Tim showed respect for the other players and for the coaches. No matter how competitive or athletic a player is, a goalkeeper must learn proper technique. And that requires listening to coaches and taking advice.

Perhaps most importantly, it was obvious that Tim loved soccer and he loved playing goalkeeper. He continued playing in the field in high school, which is one reason why he reads the game so well, but from the first time I saw him it was clear that he embraced the goalkeeper position.

The key to spotting potential in young keepers is to look for their strengths. When I look at boys or girls playing the position, I don’t pick them apart, detailing all their flaws to myself. I focus on what they bring to the table. I assess what they do well and consider how to build on that. And I ask myself some key questions:

Do they enjoy playing the position?

Are they brave enough for it?

Do they have the athleticism goalkeeping requires?

Are they coachable?

Being “coachable” means being eager to learn, ready to listen, and willing to work hard. No other position in soccer demands as much one-on-one time with a coach as goalkeeping does. Those youngsters who relish the intense training are those with the best shot at greatness.

(Excerpted from “The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper” by Tim Mulqueen with Mike Woitalla courtesy of Human Kinetics.)

U.S. Soccer Federation coach and instructor Tim Mulqueen has been goalkeeper coach for U.S. national teams at the U-17 World Cup, U-20 World Cup and at the 2008 Olympic Games. He’s been a goalkeeper coach in MLS, for the MetroStars, and the Kansas City Wizards when they lifted the 2000 league title.

  1. Donna Olmstead
    commented on: December 16, 2010 at 5:15 p.m.
    After I looked at the player, I would look at the parents: Do they have a tendancy toward martyrdom? Are they blind in at least one eye? Are they deaf (at least to the other parents' comments)? Are they willing to accept that their kid will never get credit for winning a game, only for losing them? Is their health insurance on their kid paid up to date? There must be more, but over the years I've decided these are desirable attributes in goal keepers' parents.

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