Interview by Mike Woitalla
American Brad Friedel, who owns the record (310) for the most consecutive starts in the English Premier League, will enter his 20th season as a professional goalkeeper when he returns to Tottenham Hotspur later this summer. So how does the 42-year-old spend the offseason? Coaching young American goalkeepers.
On a cold, foggy Sunday morning in June in Berkeley, Calif., -- climate his Tottenham coaching partner Perry Suckling calls "barbecue weather in Britain" -- Friedel runs the third of five 90-minute sessions for goalkeepers and coaches of El Cerrito FC on behalf of Tottenham and its sponsor Under Armour. Afterward, the man who’s also famous for saving two penalty kicks during the USA’s quarterfinal run at the 2002 World Cup, spoke with us about his plans once he finally retires and his views on U.S. youth player development.
SOCCER AMERICA: Is youth coaching something you see yourself pursuing when you retire from playing?
BRAD FRIEDEL: I’m doing my UEFA A license now to get into senior management, head coaching, technical director … that’s where my ambitions lie.
However, while I’ve been playing I’ve taken a huge interest in the betterment of youth development.
We have far too big a population here in the United States not to be producing more talent.
Yes, we are light years ahead of where we were when I was a youth player. A lot of good things have happened, but I still think there needs to be a lot more focus on coaching at the grassroots level. All the way down to the 9s.
Too many people are focused the 16s, the 18s. And by that time we’re still behind when you look at the quality around the world. I’m not saying we don’t produce any good players -- but we should have a conveyor belt of talent. With the athletes we have here, the likes of Jurgen Klinsmann should have more players to choose from.
SA: What is it that needs to be improved at the grassroots?
BRAD FRIEDEL: It’s the technique, the technique, the technique, the technique …
I’ve been to so many states here and all the parents are so concerned about is winning, winning, winning.
Winning is irrelevant when you’re 11 or 12 years old. It really is it.
If you do win by playing the right way and you implement what you do in practice, that’s great, it’s a good team thing.
But I don’t take much notice at certain age groups and certain tournaments with wins and losses. At youth tournaments, I look at the technical ability of the players. Whether the team wins or loses -- I don’t care.
The scouts from Europe, they don’t care either. Some of the best systems -- you go into Holland, various parts of France. Germany. Certain clubs in England -- we’re [Tottenham] one of them right now, the way they run youth modules are exceptional and they do not emphasize winning.
SA: How do you see the state of goalkeeping talent in the USA?
BRAD FRIEDEL: I don’t see the goalkeeper position in the United States ever being an issue. That’s one position year in and year out where we’re very strong and I anticipate that to continue.
What I would like to see is creating more No. 10s, No. 9s, No. 7s, No. 11s -- all your attacking positions. I’d like to see more strength and depth.
SA: What advice do you have for coaches of young goalkeepers? One issue is giving young goalkeepers time in field positions …
BRAD FRIEDEL: They have to be good with their feet. They also have to have specialized goalkeeper training. I do not mean physical fitness sessions. I mean learning technique, because you can’t do the physical work related to the game if you don’t have the technique.
It’s about repetition. I’m 42 now and I’m still doing the repetitious exercises that I was doing when I was 19 -- and I still screw them up from time to time.
When you’re talking 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 -- yeah. It’s important for them to play in the field because they need to understand what a central defender needs to do. What a holding midfielder needs to do. What a striker needs to do.
The goalkeeper has to know that, because you get to an age where you have to communicate and have to have knowledge of the game.
I played in the field till 14, 15, 16 … I was never too bad on the field, that’s because I like to run.
SA: Youth soccer has become more year-round than when you were young. How do you feel about goalkeepers playing other sports?
BRAD FRIEDEL: Basketball and tennis helped me a lot. The footwork in basketball and tennis is so important. I played a lot of ice hockey as well, which may have given me a lot of my core stability and leg strength.
I would encourage other sports, but if they were good, I would always make sure they focus on soccer. I don’t think it’s bad thing to try individual sports and other team sports. When you’re a goalkeeper, tennis helped me out because it’s individual. As a goalkeeper, you’re part of the team but you’re individual -- so that helps.
SA: What advice would you give a young goalkeeper aiming to succeed at the highest levels?
BRAD FRIEDEL: Technique, Technique, technique. And there are different techniques in the world. You have to figure out what works best for you. If you’re a tall goalkeeper or a short goalkeeper -- if you’re a goalkeeper who has great spring in his legs or a goalkeeper who doesn’t – you have to get your own technique based on what works for you.
You can see your own body shape and find a world-class goalkeeper who’s similar and start trying to emulate.