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June 29, 2012
Tim Howard's advice for keepers, parents and coaches

Interview by Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

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.)

June 28, 2012
When they were children (Mario Balotelli & Philipp Lahm)

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

Here are a few more glimpses into the childhoods of players starring at the 2012 European Championship:

‘Bad boy’ was fragile baby
Mario Balotelli (Italy). Life-threatening complications of his intestines required Mario to undergo a series of operations after he was born in Palermo, the capital of the Italian island of Sicily, in 1990.

His parents, Thomas and Rose Barwuah, were immigrants from Ghana who struggled to make ends meet. After moving to the northern Italian city of Brescia with their three children, living in a cramped studio apartment, the Barwuahs sought social-service aid and were advised to put 3-year-old Mario into foster care. He was raised by Francesco and Silvia Balotelli, a white middle-class couple who had two sons, Corrado and Giovanni, and a daughter, Cristina.

Soon after moving in with the Balotellis, Mario ran and slid down the corridor and breaking several vases. "I'd be in the bathroom drying my hair when he'd appear at the door, turn the light off and run away," Cristina said. "It was the attention he wanted."

His passion for soccer – the young Mario insisted on kicking the ball around even in pouring rain – led to him joining a team of older players when he was 5. As is still the case, Balotelli often got into trouble, like when he was suspended from a youth team for mooning a jeep full of Italian soldiers from the team bus. Once when Silvia grounded him, he sneaked out and walked 50 minutes to practice.

Meanwhile, Balotelli’s skills on the field were undeniable. At age 11 he joined AC Lumezzane and at age 15 the club wanted him to play for its Serie C (third division) team, although 16 was the minimum age to play pro ball.

“I was watching the juniors train and saw Mario on the field -- after just five minutes I knew I had to have him in the first squad,” said Coach Walter Salvioni. “He was incredible. His touch was fantastic.

“I went to the junior coach and said, ‘I’m taking that boy for the first team.’ I didn’t know he was only 15 until the coach said, 'You can’t, he’s too young.’”

The league ruled that it would make an exception for Balotelli if the club obtained a doctor’s certificate declaring him fit to play with men. That it did within a day and he made his pro debut five months before his 16th birthday.

After an unsuccessful tryout with Barcelona, Balotelli joined Inter Milan at age 16 and scored his first Serie A goal at age 17. He won three league titles and the Champions League with Inter before moving to Manchester City, last season’s EPL winner, in 2010.

Ballboy 'bribe' leads to Bayern

Philipp Lahm (Germany). The 28-year-old captain is one of six players in the German squad who played in the youth program of Bayern Munich, for which Lahm also wears the captain’s band.

But it took some convincing to get the 11-year-old to leave the friends he played with in the Munich suburb of Gern.

“He was always with a soccer ball,” said his mother, Daniela. “In the house, in the yard.”

First Philipp was invited to a tryout at 1860 Munich, where he noticed the fence surrounding the field was riddled with holes. “No, I don’t want to play here,” he recalled in his autobiography.

While courted by a Bayern Munich scout, he insisted he had no intention of leaving his pals. But the Bayern man promised he’d be a ballboy at the Olympic Stadium for a Bundesliga game if he tried out -- an offer he couldn't refuse.

He remained skeptical until arriving at Bayern and an older player took him under his wings, which convinced Lahm he could make new friends. When Bayern offered him a spot, he really had to contemplate leaving FT Gern -- the club down the street from his home where his grandfather, father and uncles played, and where his mother served as a team manager.

“One of the important things about my childhood was I could be a kid,” Lahm said, “but at the same time be taken serious. My sister and I were consulted when it came to making holiday and free-time plans. When I was 11 it was about going to FC Bayern, and my parents did not pressure me in either direction. They gave me the feeling that they would support me no matter what."

With a November birthday in a youth system with a Jan. 1 cutoff, Lahm was already among the youngest in his age group. Bayern’s youth teams all play up one year, which meant Lahm faced much older and bigger players. (At 5-foot-7, he’s still among the smallest.) And though his coaches protected him when necessary, subbing him out if he was getting hacked too much, he excelled at every level.

Lahm’s favorite subject in school was math, and he figured that if he didn’t make it on the field, who could be a banker like his grandfather and uncle. But pro soccer it would be.

He went from central midfield, to winger before settling at outside back, which he can play on either side. At age 19 he won his first of four Bundesliga titles and at 20 he debuted for Germany.

Further reading -- Euro 2012 Stars: When they were children:
Nani & David Silva
Cristiano Ronaldo & Welbeck
Schweinsteiger, Iniesta & Shevchenko

June 23, 2012
When they were children (Nani & David Silva)

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

Here are a few more glimpses into the childhoods of players starring at the 2012 European Championship:

From shantytown to millionaire
Nani (Portugal). When he played pickup games in Santa Filomena, a shantytown northwest of Lisbon, Nani picked weaker players for his team so he would see more of the ball.

The five-a-side games, winning team stays on, were played on a concrete field near his home. But getting to training with his first club, Real Massama, required a 3-mile walk along railroad tracks. If running late, he would hop on the train and evade the ticket collector.

Nani was born Luis Carlos Almeida da Cunha in Cape Verde, an African island nation that was a Portuguese colony until 1975. His family moved to Portugal when he was a small boy, but his father went to Cape Verde on vacation when Nani was 7 and never came back. His mother left for the Netherlands when he was 12, by which time Nani, the youngest of 10 children, was already being raised by an aunt while his older brothers filled his father’s role.

“We would steal fruit and other stuff to eat,” Nani said. “I went on some bad paths, but I would always return to the right one.”

The youth association Espaco Jovem and Real Massama, which also provided him meals, helped keep Nani out of trouble.

"It was difficult to live [in Santa Filomena], always problems with the police and shootings,” Nani said. “There was violence. There was a big gang of us, close friends, who used to go around together when we were young. Now some of those guys are in prison. Soccer was the only way to get out."

He joined Portuguese power Sporting at age 16 and debuted for its first team at age 18 in 2005 and for Portugal a year later. In 2007 he moved to Manchester United on a $39 million transfer.

Pride of the Canary Islands
David Silva (Spain).
Asked how his soccer career started, Silva recalled following his father to games and practices and playing on the sidelines. “And playing in the streets with the other children of Arguineguin,” he said. “We never lacked for a ball.”

But his grandmother, Antonia, remembers further back, when 4-year-old David would kick oranges and potatoes around the yard -- until she got tired of the mess and made him a ball out of cloth.

Silva’s father, Fernando, served as a policeman and played ball for a semipro team that at one time included a young Carlos Valeron, who went on to play 46 times for Spain, including at two Euros and the 2002 World Cup.

That Silva followed in Valeron’s footsteps means that Arguineguin, a fishing village of 7,000 on the Canary Islands, has produced two of Spain’s most skillful playmakers of the last decade.

At age 14, Silva was invited to try out for Real Madrid and made the 1,100-mile journey to the Spanish capital only to be rejected because of his lack of size. He never grew past 5-foot-7, but months after the Real rejection, Silva moved into Valencia’s residency program.

Although his mother, Eva, was of Japanese descent, Silva was nicknamed “El Chino.” His parents followed him to Valencia, where his father was employed as a stadium security guard. Silva won the Bronze Ball at the 2003 U-17 World Cup at which Spain finished runner-up. After loan spells with second division Eibar and Celta Vigo, Silva earned a starting spot with Valencia at age 20. In 2010, he joined Manchester City, which he helped to last season’s EPL title with 17 assists.

Further reading -- Euro 2012 Stars: When they were children:
Cristiano Ronaldo & Welbeck
Schweinsteiger, Iniesta & Sheva

June 20, 2012
When they were children (Cristiano Ronaldo & Welbeck)

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)

'The Little Bee'
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal). The Real Madrid star was born on the island of Madeira, which lies 600 miles southwest of mainland Portugal. His real surname is Dos Santos Aveiro, but his father, Jose Dinis, called him Ronaldo after his favorite actor, Ronald Reagan, who was the U.S. president at the time.

Jose Dinis worked for the city as a gardener and his mother, Dolores, was a cook. Ronaldo was the youngest of four children who lived in a house so small they put the washing machine on the roof. The house was deemed an eyesore by Madeira politicians and demolished a half decade ago.

"One Christmas I gave him a remote-controlled car, thinking that would keep him busy," his godfather Fernao Sousa said in Luca Caioli's biography, “Ronaldo: The Obsession for Perfection.” “But he preferred to play with a soccer ball. He slept with his ball, it never left his side. It was always under his arm -- wherever he went, it went with him."

Jose Dinis also served as an equipment manager for the Andorinha soccer club in their hometown of Funchal, and Ronaldo played for Andorinha until he moved to Maderia’s biggest club, Nacional, at age 10.

The young Ronaldo earned the nickname abelhinha -- “little bee” -- because he never stopped zig-zagging across the field.

After one year at Nacional, he left home to join the Sporting Lisbon youth program, where schoolmates teased him about his island dialect, leading to scuffles and calls to his mother begging to return home.

But Ronaldo settled in and dazzled with his skills, which led to a pro debut at age 17 in 2002.

Smart kid chose soccer
Danny Welbeck (England). The 21-year-old forward, who scored and assisted in England’s 3-2 win over Sweden, was born in Manchester to parents, Victor and Elizabeth, who had emigrated from Ghana. Both are social workers who aid children with learning disabilities.

Danny played pickup games on Markfield Avenue in Longsight, an inner-city part of Manchester: “Playing on the streets back then, you would be doing things in the little games and you’d think ‘I’ll do this at Old Trafford.' Now it’s finally happening -- it’s the stuff that dreams are made of.”

But before he was spotted by Man United, an 8-year-old Welback was rejected by Manchester City.

“My dad didn’t tell me at first,” he said. “I was only a little kid at the time and he didn’t want to tell me anything bad just before Christmas.”

Victor told Danny about the Man City rejection after he’d been welcomed by Manchester United. He suffered from Osgood–Schlatter disease in his teens but still excelled and played at every level of the English youth national team program.

Both of Welbeck’s older brothers went to universities but Danny, despite outstanding grades -- he was awarded a remarkable nine GCSEs (General Certificates of Secondary Education) -- couldn’t be convinced.

"What would I have studied at university?" Welbeck said. "Football!

"The teacher would say: 'Not everybody makes it as a footballer, so what do you want to be?' I'd say: 'A footballer.' The teacher would say: 'But not everybody makes it. So what do you want to be?' I'd say: 'A footballer.' Every year that happened! Nothing was going to get in the way of me being a footballer."

Read the first of the “Euro 2012 Stars: When they were children (Bastian, Iniesta & Sheva)” series HERE.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper, and More Than Goals with Claudio Reyna. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)

June 12, 2012
When they were children (Bastian, Iniesta & Sheva)

By Mike Woitalla (from Soccer America's Youth Soccer Insider)


BASTIAN SCHWEINSTEIGER (Germany).
The midfielder, who set up both goals in Germany’s 2-1 win over the Netherlands, hails from the Bavarian town of Kolbermoor -- also the birthplace of former Bayern Munich star and 1974 world champion Paul Breitner. Schweinsteiger joined Bayern Munich’s youth program at age 14.

“As I child, I thought I would be either a skier or a soccer player,” said Schweinsteiger, whose older brother, Tobias, was a three-time youth national runner-up in skiing and later played third division soccer. “When I got the offer from Bayern I had to make quick decision.”

He told GQ.com, “I thought, first of all, you don’t freeze as much. And second of all, you don’t need to carry around so much equipment or get up so early in the morning.”

Schweinsteiger debuted for Bayern Munich’s first team at age 18 in a Champions League game in 2002 and earned his first cap for Germany at age 19.

ANDRES INIESTA (Spain). The midfielder who scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup final grew up in the small town of Fuentealbilla near Albacete and at age 12 moved 260 miles northeast to join Barcelona.

“Iniesta was a sensitive, considerate boy -- shy but always willing to help others,” said Albert Benaiges, the coordinator of Barcelona's youth teams.

Iniesta suffered from severe homesickness and his parents visited as often as possible.

“He was very close to his family and every goodbye each weekend would become a mini-drama,” Benaiges said. “Andres would be crying and he spent a lot of time at my house, and whenever my mother sees him smiling now she always makes a joke, because she remembers how much he suffered in those days.”

Iniesta said his dreams of reaching the big stage kept him motivated while he lived at La Masia.

“You would look out and there was the Nou Camp stadium opposite,” he said. “It was always on your mind, that the goal was to play there.”

ANDRIY SHEVCHENKO (Ukraine). Already a Ukraine legend, the 35-year-old scored both goals in the host nation's 2-1 comeback win over Sweden.

Shevchenko was born 60 miles north of Kiev in the village of Dvirkivshchyna when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. His mother was a kindergarten teacher and his father served as a captain in a Red Army tank regiment.

At age 9, in 1986, because of the nuclear disaster in nearby Chernobyl, he was evacuated with his schoolmates to the Sea of Azov.

“We kind of knew what happened,” said Shevchenko. “But we were not told right away. It was kept secret.”

Four weeks before the Chernobyl meltdown he had signed with youth program of Dynamo Kiev, which he joined after spending the summer at the sea, even though a soccer career wasn’t the first choice his father, Nikolaj, imagined for his son.

"My parents left the choice to me, they never said, 'Do this, do that.' They said it's best you choose," said Andriy.

(Mike Woitalla, the executive editor of Soccer America, coaches youth soccer for Bay Oaks/East Bay United SC in Oakland, Calif. He is the co-author, with Tim Mulqueen, of The Complete Soccer Goalkeeper
, and More Than Goals with Claudio Reyna. Woitalla's youth soccer articles are archived at YouthSoccerFun.com.)



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