Dan Gaspar on Developing World Class Goalies
While I was researching special coverage on Goalkeepers, I spoke briefly with Dan Gaspar before he left the USA to coach in Tehran, Iran. Iran for the first time in their football history has qualified directly to the World Cup in first place in their group. This will be Dan Gaspar’s second time coaching at the World Cup; his first was with Portugal in South Africa 2010. “The recent presidential election victory of Hassan Rowhanin, combined with the Iran National Team qualifying for the 2014 Brazil World Cup, has created an exciting atmosphere. There are millions dancing and celebrating in the streets with a renewed optimism,” says Gaspar. As an American coach who is highly respected and has coached internationally at the highest levels, I knew his insights on player development and the game of soccer would be important to our readers.
Known for his slogan, “The Ball Stops Here,” here are Dan Gaspar’s answers to my questions on what is important for developing world-class goalies. Humble, intelligent and outspoken, Gaspar speaks out on his life and passion for soccer.Diane Scavuzzo Editor in Chief
Diane Scavuzzo: When did you first start playing soccer?
Dan Gaspar: My parents were Portuguese immigrants, and as a result of their culture they had a passion for soccer.
I was born in the U.S. and like most Americans played American football and basketball. My father was a former professional goalkeeper in Portugal. He tried to convince me to be a goalkeeper. I resisted, until one day he took me to the beach and trained me as a goalkeeper. A crowd started to gather. They were amazed that someone was flying through the air trying to catch a soccer ball. In fact they called security because sand was sticking to my lips and may dad would not allow me to get a drink of water. He loved me, but it was old-school training. No nonsense. High intensity combined with work ethic. I was in eight grade at the time.
Diane Scavuzzo: Where were you playing? What club?
Dan Gaspar: My playing career started at Buckley High School in Hartford Connecticut. Then I went to the University of Hartford and I also played Semi Professional in the Connecticut Soccer League for Vasco da Gama.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why and when did you decide to become a goalkeeper coach?
Dan Gaspar: When I realized and accepted the fact that I did not have all the tools necessary to become a big-time professional goalkeeper.
I needed to reflect on how I could stay involved in the game and earn of living from the position I love. I was first exposed to goalkeeper training when I worked for Dr. Joe Machnik. I decided then to make a decision to dedicate my life to become the very best goalkeeper I could be. Since that day, I have been able to be blessed to survive in a discipline that I am so passionate about.
Diane Scavuzzo: What did you like best about playing goalkeeper?
Dan Gaspar: The responsibility that is associated with the position and the ability to make decisions under pressure. I believe the nature of this position prepares you for life. The goalkeeper is one of the eleven positions of a soccer team. Although goalkeepers require specialized training and are allowed to use their hands, they are not any better or more important than anyone else on the soccer field. But they are very special and unique athletes. The goalkeeper can use their hands, minds and hearts. They use their hands to control the ball, in communication their minds to make challenging decisions, and their hearts to express their passion for the art of goalkeeping.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the hardest part about being a goalkeeper? What is the greatest challenge?
Dan Gaspar: The greatest challenge is to be steady and consistent in your play and to be safe, secure and simple.
To often, young goalkeepers focus on the spectacular saves. A hard-core goalkeeper starts inside you and then expands beyond your body.
Diane Scavuzzo: Who are some of the best goalkeepers today and in history? What makes them so good in your opinion?
Dan Gaspar: My attitude has always been that the goalkeepers I currently train are the best in the world. We train with that mentality.
Diane Scavuzzo: What does it take to be a great goalkeeper?
Dan Gaspar: You need to posses the athletic ability and size to meet the demands of the art of goalkeeping. Then you must combine these natural gifts with incredible will to succeed and compete. They must live the position. At the end of the day, success is doing the very best you can with the tools you have and accepting the results.
Diane Scavuzzo: How important is hand-to-eye coordination?
Dan Gaspar: Essential. But don’t forget to include the ball as well!
Visual training is as important as developing any other key skills in goalkeeping.
Being able to focus on what’s important and see through all the distractions is critical. There are various types of vision that needs to be trained, such as peripheral vision, depth vision and ocular vision. Training the vision system improves the eye, hand and ball coordination.
One of the many reasons why America produces quality goalkeepers is because of the various sports that are played in the U.S. which enhance eye, hand and ball coordination. These sports are not often emphasized on a global scale. For instances, you toss a ball to any soccer player overseas and they will catch the ball with every body part with the exception of their hands. Whereas in the U.S. if you toss a ball their first instinct is to catch with their hands.
Diane Scavuzzo: The goalie sees the plays develop on the field. What do you believe is the role of the goalie? How important is it to communicate to your defensive players?
Dan Gaspar: The goalkeeper is the last line of defense but also the first line of attack. Communication skills are very important in organizing your teammates. Communication needs to be executed effectively by offering simple, precise directions with authority.
The ultimate job of a goalkeeper is to keep the ball out of the net. Goalkeepers need to have good footwork, balance, vision and technique.
The job does not end here, however. To be a truly outstanding goalkeeper, one must be able to play off the goal line. A goalkeeper needs to read through balls, organize his or her unit, make quick decisions and launch the attack in a positive way.
Goalkeepers need to give direction. In order to do that they must be knowledgeable about the game. Communication is verbal as well as physical.
Diane Scavuzzo: How can the defense reduce the size of the goal for the goalie?
Dan Gaspar: With proper positioning by a defender he or she can take away the near post from the attacking player when the play is developing in the flanks.
Also, on free kicks players can protect danger zones for the goalkeeper.
When defenders close down the ball they are reducing the size of the goal.
If you were to line up soccer balls on the goal line and then put another row of soccer balls on top of those, and another, essentially you would be creating a wall of soccer balls with the frame of the goal. You can fit 364 soccer balls. Reducing the size of the goal means reducing the number of balls you can take away to make the goal appear smaller. Positioning is magical. You can go anywhere in the world and the regulation goal is the same size everywhere. However, how the goalkeeper positions him- or herself determines how big or small the goal appears to the shooter.
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you identify a young player who has the capability of playing in goal?
Dan Gaspar: A young players needs to display courage and good motor skills.
Diane Scavuzzo: What does being a good student of the game mean to you?
Dan Gaspar: Living the game off and on the pitch. They must be students of the game if they are to be truly successful.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is success?
Dan Gaspar: Doing the very best you can with the tools that you have and accepting the results.
Diane Scavuzzo: What should a young player do to become a great goalkeeper?
Dan Gaspar: Work hard, stay prepared and his pr her time will come.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is the best training for youth goalkeepers?
Dan Gaspar: Its important that young goalkeepers establish a strong foundation of technical training. Good technical training will provide consistency in their play and reduce injuries.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are the differences in training different age youth goalkeepers? Is working with younger goalkeepers in training different from working with olders?
Dan Gaspar: One of the difference is the intensity of the training as well as the number of repetitions of the activity.
Training youth goalkeepers, we focus on the technical aspects. With older goalkeepers we focus more on the tactical and psychological aspects of goalkeeping.
Diane Scavuzzo: Is there a difference working with boys as compared to girls as goalkeepers?
Dan Gaspar: Yes. In general terms, no. However, in most instances there are differences in athletic ability. When this occurs, the female goalkeeper needs to be more aware of their positioning and the space behind them.