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European Trip Days 11-13: Wrapping Up Two Weeks of Learning

AMSTERDAM, Netherlands — After nearly two straight weeks of days filled with coaching education, it was finally time for NorCal Premier Soccer’s Directors of Coaching to apply what they had learned in the Netherlands and Germany and analyze some top matchups in the world.

But first, there was a goodbye from course instructor Frans Hoek, the decorated soccer coach who helped shape much of the course.

On Friday Hoek, the Dutch National Goalkeeper Coach, delivered his final insightful lecture of the trip to an eager audience.

Hoek explained that he thinks that one of the biggest issues of American soccer was that the players lacked a national identity.

Historically, successful countries have all been able to use that identity to succeed, whether it was the organization of the Italians or the attacking flare of the Brazilians.

“It’s about a cake, the US is very strong in getting pieces of the cake from different parts of the world, but it doesn’t have it’s own cake,” Hoek said. “It’s better to have your own cake than a cake full of pieces from different parts of the world.”

From there, Hoek delved deep into the simplicity of goalkeeper restarts.

When one watches a soccer game, one doesn’t often look at what the goalkeeper is doing on goal kicks and free kicks, not to mention pass backs.

Hoek’s philosophy is to teach “a lot of a little, not a little of a lot,” and thus he went into a deep dive on restarts on details small, but important, that many wouldn’t immediately grasp.

For example, Hoek broke down video of back passes and explained why a back pass went to the wrong foot, why a defender wasn’t standing in the correct space, or anything else that caught his mind down to the most minute detail.

For Hoek, the goalkeeper position is constantly evolving and is one that likely will continue to do so.

“The way the game is now, it demands a lot of different things for the goalkeeper than 20 years ago,” Hoek said. “Goalkeeper coaches are normally the coaches who were shot stoppers, but the game has changed.”

According to Hoek, much of traditional goalkeeper training is incorrect — simply practicing technique without doing so in a game-relevant fashion is pointless.

A goalkeeper needs practice for game situations because his actions are so few that most of the time the goalkeeper needs to be in the correct place even if the play doesn’t end up impacting them.

“He still needs to do everything as if the ball wouldn’t be blocked,” Hoek said. “He needs to do a lot of actions for just a few actions during the game.”

Hoek, as he has been previously, turned out as a huge hit among those on the trip.

“There are a lot of details within the game of soccer and what I think he’s helped me with was to show us how to break a game down,” said Sentinels Soccer Club Director of Coaching Rick Guzman. “Everything counts. Before, I looked at the game as a fan, it’s great, a lot of action, but really [Frans taught me] what was behind all that. That was huge for me, learning all that, that structure.”

Added Fremont Youth Soccer Club Director of Coaching Dai Redwood: “It’s a lot of a little, so rather than trying to do everything and just doing a little bit of it, Frans does a lot of a little and he does it very, very well, something that we need to be working with with NorCal to improve the quality of what we’re doing and to raise the bar higher for [what we want].”

The Monchengladbach Way

After departing from Hoek, the NorCal crew headed near the Dutch border to visit with historic German club Borussia Monchengladbach.

The five-time champions of Germany welcomed NorCal into its campus and delivered a lecture and a first team talk to the eager participants.

They were also greeted by an American, former LA Galaxy player Kyle Burger, who explained the philosophy of the club’s successful youth development program, which is aimed to be sustainable regardless of who is at the helm of the first team.

“How long is a first team coach going to be in charge of our team?” Burger asked. “Two or three years? That’s why we have a set of guidelines and principles within our curriculum because when he arrives at the first team [there’s continuity].”

Those principles were put into action with a 3-1 victory over Hamburg in which more than 51,000 came to support their home team — an impressive show of support.

The Culmination

But nothing proved as impressive as the penultimate game of the trip, a 2-1 victory for Borussia Dortmund over Hoffenheim in front of 81,000.

With the learning on the technical side mostly finished, it was time for NorCal to soak in the atmosphere and gain lessons from that side of the game.

It was a special day for the Americans in the stands as United States international scored the winning goal in the 89th minute, sending the yellow-and-black clad supporters into complete bliss.

“I’ve been to a lot of stadiums in europe and by far this was the best one ever,” said Santa Rosa United Skill Director Justin Selander. “The fans, they’re friendly but passionate. I’ve never seen a crowd deliver that sort of atmosphere and energy for their team. You can see that the team just feeds off of their energy. If I were a player right now, that would be the only place that I would want to play.”

Bringing Lessons Home

After the Dortmund game, there was a bus ride back to the Netherlands and one final game: AZ Alkmaar vs. Ajax.

For the first time all trip, the visiting side won as Ajax topped their upstart neighbors to gain some ground against first-place PSV.

Though the game dropped home sides to just 7-1 during NorCal’s trip, it was just another in the long line of excellent lessons provided during the trip.

“It was an amazing learning experience, it was brilliant,” said Dadrian Hamblin of Sacramento United. “I’ve learned so much, grown so much. I went into it trying to experience more and learned and grown so much as a person.”