Brad Friedel: 'We should have a conveyor belt of talent'

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.

19 comments about "Brad Friedel: 'We should have a conveyor belt of talent'".
  1. Peter Skouras, June 26, 2013 at 8:27 p.m.

    Brad Friedlel in my opinion is the finest American goalkeeper to have played the game. I remember at UCLA while on holiday from the Greek league "whacking" and "bending" balls at and this "giant" just "Drafted" by UCLA...Brad remembers! Since 1990, Brad has emerged. However, I agree with Friedel regarding the grass roots...absolutely a better job needs to be done to say the least. We need to understand that for the most part in every country around the world, (jokingly yet true to a point) a newborn innately understands which direction the offensive and defensive goals are. It's like telling a an English five year old to go play "right field!" CULTURE BRAD...! Now, regarding Academies, in England you have the U-18 Premier League, Football Youth Alliance and the FA Youth Cup. However, what is even at a higher level than the previously mentioned is the NextGenSeries. Competition Brad. For the most part, Promotion-Relegation is involved which is a major element regarding pressure. You will not find this setup in only England but all over Europe. Here in the United States the USSDA Academy is poor Brad compared to the above mentioned...can't even compare at the moment. Just look at the size and strength difference between the Americans and all the other National Teams at the U-20's in Turkey! THE UNITED STATES HAS A DOMESTIC STRUCTURE PROBLEM AND A COACHING PROBLEM BRAD! The only relevance this article really has is how "BRAD FRIEDEL MADE IT" to the top level. All this "Coaching, repetition, etc., etc., we know's redundant! Do you want to "give back" to the game in the United States (with your UEFA Pro License...:)run for US Soccer President, merge the MLS, NASL and USL and then something might happen...until then, it was great watching you thrive!

  2. Brent Crossland, June 27, 2013 at 11:29 a.m.

    Proposed new modification for youth matches in the US. The referee may require that a coach or parent move away from the field and repeat the mantra "winning is irrelevant at this age" 100 times before returning.

  3. Kent James, June 27, 2013 at 11:43 a.m.

    Words of wisdom from a man who knows. It's great when people who clearly are successful at winning can emphasize how unimportant it is a the younger ages. To back that up, I support Brent's proposed modification...

  4. Justin Motzkus, June 27, 2013 at 12:05 p.m.

    A youth can practice and run drills all day, every day. But that doesn't mean a keeper is learning and practicing the right technique. That takes specialized coaching to learn. And not only can that be hard to find in many areas, it costs $75-100 per hour. Few keepers get what they need and just end up standing in the goal waiting for the field players to develop enough to shoot during a "scrimmage." The problem with developing players is that the US does not have have a "conveyor" belt of a high level coaching accessible to enough youth!

  5. Erik Imler, June 27, 2013 at 12:22 p.m.

    I am very interested in the impact Brad will have but more interested as to how he will use his influence. I agree the game at the youngest levels needs to improve - it needs to improve by improving the quality of coaching. To Brad's point, technique, technique, technique. We need to resist the competitive urge to rush young players into the grown up version of the game. Technique Before Tactics is my mantra. Google it.

  6. william newsom, June 27, 2013 at 12:57 p.m.

    if you want to change things here are some items

    NO scores in games until U14

    NO tournaments until U14

    U9-U13 can only have friendlies , one game a day.

    Of course this has to happen at the top start with tournament sanctioning.

    tell US CLUB and CYSA to not sanction tournaments below U14.

    Of course no club is going to want this because of the money generated so there it will stop! So if you want to make change TAKE OVER USSF and force change!

  7. Allan Lindh, June 27, 2013 at 2:25 p.m.

    I'll never forget one rainy day in Palo Alto, my kids and I were whacking a ball around on the Stanford fields, and we noticed a young giant on the next field over, working for hours on his technique. It was young Brad Friedal, a Freshman then at UCLA, working at his craft the day before they played Stanford. But IMHO he leaves out one important lack in US soccer, playing in the back yard with your parents, friends, etc -- or by yourself -- when you are 4, 5, 6 years old. While your brain is still being formed, learning the loving touch of the ball on your feet. Whether that is possible in this country, the land of video games and TV, is far from certain. If you know a kid, buy them a #3 or #4 ball, and ask them if they'd like to go kick it around.

  8. R2 Dad, June 27, 2013 at 4:03 p.m.

    In agreement with Brad's comments with the exception of those regarding the need for attacking players only. We may have plenty of athletic defenders but after watching the U20s play, our U20 back line doesn't deserve a hall pass. You could argue that the USMNT needs better defenders than we need better midfielders. If there is any question, watch the Spain-France match to see what quality defenders at this age can do. Sad to say, but this country has made some progress since 2000 but the rest of the world has made more progress than we have.

  9. cisco martinez, June 27, 2013 at 11:17 p.m.

    Brad friedel's comments not only makes sense, but illustrates what is lacking in the US system. Notice what he says about winning and losing, how he omitted physical prowness, speed... But he emphasized TECHNIQUE! Technical ability, tactical awareness, system of play, closing down spaces, etc. Playing in the ODP programs they do teach technical and tactical techniques, but the main emphasis is speed of play, especially at the collegiate level where technique is on the back burner.

  10. Sam Matthews, June 28, 2013 at 5:01 p.m.

    Everything Brad says is correct, but I don't think it's that simple. 9, 10, 11, 12 year old kids want to play and they want to win. If they don't, you have the wrong pool of athletes playing for you. They're only going to do so many drills before they want to play a game, and keep score. If you shut that off you're going to turn a lot of kids off to the sport, and often it's going to be the competitive ones who just say screw it, and those are the ones you really want. There just has to be balance and I didn't hear any of that from Brad. He saw a problem and just swung the pendulum completely to the other side.

  11. Sam Matthews, June 28, 2013 at 5:07 p.m.

    Additonally, I wonder what people feel the "point" of youth soccer is. Listening to Brad it sounds like the entire objective is to produce a pool of talent for the national team. Well, sorry, that leaves out 99.9% of the kids playing soccer. So is that vast majority of kids supposed to defer, and ultimately never have, the joy of playing in games to win so that a decidedly tiny group of guys can play to win in national team games?

  12. Chris Sapien , June 28, 2013 at 7:27 p.m.

    Sam, your points are very thoughtful........I too get tired of the same argument in the article, as well as the conclusions by those who say the suggested change is going to effect anything. The world is a big place, and with it come the myriad of reasons kids play the game, coached or not.

  13. Sam Anderson, June 29, 2013 at 1:05 a.m.

    1st, Sam Matthews point is the most important point.

    Second, you can teach technique and still play to win. Imo, it's part of why U.S. players have a reputation for playing hard and never quitting. Ferguson:"the American thing." The coach of Sweden: "if 'heart' was all it took to win, the Yanks would be lifting the WC every 4 years."

    Teaching technique and winning are not incompatible.

    btw, Go Bruins!

  14. beautiful game, June 29, 2013 at 11:38 a.m.

    Brad's comments remind me of the Clifton Stallions U-10 travel team which fielded Giuseppe Rossi et al. The Italian coach, an elderly gentleman, watched in silence throughout the game as his squad showed solid technique and efficacy on the pitch which at times was jaw-dropping. This U-10 squad was well prepared and took care of business. The ball movement was crisp, simple, and there was purpose of play. The opposition was physically bigger and pounded the ball up-field to score the first goal; game result, 6-1, to the technical team which kept its composure throughout the game.

  15. Kent James, June 30, 2013 at 10:33 a.m.

    Sam, I certainly agree with your comment about youth soccer's purpose (for the 99.9% who won't make the national team). And you're right, kids do want to win. But it's for precisely that reason that coaches don't need to emphasize winning. And sure, kids keep score (even if the adults won't) but many times, especially a the younger ages, kids won't remember things like team records, unless the adults remind them (through championships, standings, etc.). And that is what Brad's point about de-emphasizing winning is based on. An emphasis on winning encourages coaches to stack teams and use big fast players to play route 1 soccer, which won't develop winners in the long run. I think it is more important that kids are forced to compete, than that they are encouraged to win. Which means balancing the playing environment so that players are constantly challenged. It is a challenging balancing act, since gradually the focus does shift to winning, but that shouldn't be until late adolescence.

  16. Daniel Clifton, June 30, 2013 at 12:24 p.m.

    I have enjoyed reading all of these thoughtful comments. I agree with Friedel that there needs to be more emphasis on technique at the younger ages. I also liked the comment of Allen Lindh that parents need to be going out and playing in the backyard with their children. That is how they really learn how to play at a young age. As for who has been the best US goalkeeper of all time, I have always been inclined to say Kasey Keller. However I will never forget that run by the US in the 2002 World Cup. I remember thinking how is it that Friedel starts ahead of Keller. Then I watched that World Cup and understood why he was starting in front of Keller. That was some of the best goal keeping I have ever seen by a US goalkeeper. He was like a human wall in front of the goal. Where Keller used his cat like reflexes and anticipation to block shots, Friedel used his length, playing the percentages, and anticipation to basically blanket the goal. It was awesome to watch.

  17. Sam Matthews, June 30, 2013 at 5:39 p.m.

    As I mentioned, I agree with Brad about de-emphasizing winning, to a point. Where we may differ is in how to do that. I say you don't do it by not playing games or not playing games to win. When's it's game time, kids should want to win and play to win. Where you emphasize technique over winning is in practice. First, by having the right ration of practices to games. Second, by what you do with those practices. The quickest way to get a youth team to win is to spend all of your practices on systems - spacing, shape, set pieces, etc. The problem is that shortchanges technique - passing, shooting, touches in general. In short, practice 3 times for every game you play, and in those practices don't do much that involves all 11 players at once or a bunch of standing around. Stations and small area games should be 90% of what you do, in my opinion.

  18. eric simpson, July 1, 2013 at 8:59 a.m.

    Peter Skouras,when he talked about promotion-relegation hit it right on the nose. It will be the only way for us to clearly see the talent in this country. I like Brad's comment about technique, and offensive capabilities. Too many coaches in this country limit and put restrictions on the "Creativity" of the young athlete. Soccer is an improvisational game of the street. We also have issues with the reserve systems and how many ganes they play, but that's for another article at a later date.

  19. Francesco D'Agostino, July 1, 2013 at 9:13 a.m.

    I agree. I recently did a keeper course in Foggia Italy. I have never played in the goal nor have I coached goalkeepers but I think that at a youth level it is important that coaches know how to coach their keepers especially technical things at first. They should continue to do individuals with a goalkeeping coach but the sad truth is that not all teams have a keeper coach so I think that we should continue to cultivate our athletic ability but not rely on it. More coaches should be taking goalkeeper coaching courses to prepare their team better. A lot of our keepers are just getting shot on and for a lot of the practice are not being used. They should also be used as "plus" players or "Jollys" to get them using their feet and comfortable on the ball. Thanks Brad

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