Interview by Mike Woitalla
Goalkeeper Tim Howard is on a well-deserved summer vacation. Within the last year, the 33-year-old goalkeeper played -- besides his 14 starts for the USA -- 44 games for Everton in the English Premier League and FA Cup.
But even during his month off, Howard keeps his eye on the ball. When we caught up with him, he was about to watch on TV his former Manchester United teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo, take on Spain in the Euro 2012 semifinal. He’ll spend the final week of his vacation training young American goalkeepers at a camp in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., with Tim Mulqueen, who coached Howard during his youth soccer days starting at age 12 and later with MLS’s MetroStars.
SOCCER AMERICA: What advice do you have for parents of aspiring young goalkeepers?
TIM HOWARD: Lots of encouragement. My mom tells the story about when I was playing recreational ball, and they would score a goal and I would start crying [laughs]. I was 6 or 7. And my mom would come around from the sideline to the back of the goal and tell me everything will be OK.
Encouragement is important. Goalkeeping is very unforgiving, at 6 years old or 33 years old.
SA: Looking back on the goalkeeper coaching you got as a young player, what was especially important to help you reach the highest levels?
TIM HOWARD: One of the things I learned at a young age, particularly with Tim Mulqueen, is the importance of training at a high tempo. Make training sessions high tempo. Make them game-like.
Goalkeeper training is manufactured, but you must strive to make it like it would be in a game.
I take that into my daily training sessions at Everton and the U.S. national team – keeping the tempo really high in training so the training is difficult and when you get into a game it’s the same feeling. …
As trainers and coaches you have to nurture children, of course. But we believe you hold goalkeepers to a higher standard.
If you pamper and baby a young goalkeeper, you’re not really helping him and doing him justice. Because the game becomes more demanding and the pressure increases as the keeper moves on to higher levels. You have to be able to deal with pressure as a goalkeeper.
It becomes more unforgiving the higher you go. Tim knows that demanding excellence from 9- and 10-year-olds prepares them for what they’ll face when they’re 30-year-old goalkeepers.
It’s like the oldest kid in the class, or the oldest kid in the household, you hold them to a higher standard because they should know better.
That’s one thing we believe as goalkeepers. We have to hold ourselves to a higher accountability on the field.
SA: How important was it that you also played in the field during your youth days?
TIM HOWARD: It helped me a lot. Little did I know back in the 1980s that goalkeeping rules would change, that we would have to play with our feet. [Editor's note: Since 1992 goalkeepers are prohibited from handling passes from their teammates.]
The opportunities we have in America, because of the climate, kids are playing fall ball, spring, they’re playing in the summer. They’re playing indoor. Our indoor facilities in America are amazing. I’ve traveled the world and people don’t have that everywhere.
So kids are playing year-round. A really good goalkeeper coming up is going to have the opportunity to play on three or four different teams. I think it’s important he selects a couple teams that allow him to play in the field and play different positions.
I played midfield and striker in high school at the same time I was on the U-17 national team playing goalkeeper. For my travel team I was playing goalkeeper while on my high school team I was playing in the field.
SA: What advice do you have for young goalkeepers?
TIM HOWARD: Play whenever you have the opportunity.
Goalkeepers have to play as many games as they can, whether that’s in the park, with a travel team, as a guest player for another team. Play as many games as you can.
With goalkeeping, the amount of games it takes you to get to the highest level is a lot more. Why does a goalkeeper mature at age 30 when you have a striker who plays for Inter Milan at age 22? Goalkeepers need more games under their belt to be top-level than the average field player.
At a young age you’ll make a lot of mistakes – but that’s good because you learn from mistakes in a game. Mistakes in training don’t really count, because there are no consequences. It’s important for young goalkeepers to get in as many game-like situations as possible. Training is good, but games situations are more important.
SA: What makes you want to spend your vacation coaching young keepers?
TIM HOWARD: Besides being on a soccer field in wonderful Florida weather … There are things I learned at the highest level over a long period -- tricks of the trade – that I want to share with the kids. They say that, with goalkeepers, you get better as you get older. Maybe we can help put some kids on the fast track.
(U.S. national team starting goalkeeper Tim Howard, a New Jersey product, has played in 268 English Premier League games for Everton and Manchester United since leaving the MLS’s MetroStars [now the Red Bulls], for which he debuted at age 19. He’s the head coach at the Complete Soccer Goalkeepers Academy in Lakewood Ranch, Fla., July 1-6.)