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Q & A With U-23 MNT Goalkeeper Coach Eric Yamamoto

U-23 Men’s National Team goalkeeper coach Eric Yamamoto talks about working with Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson as they go about preparing for the biggest tournament of their young careers.

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IN THE IMAGE: U.S. U-23 MNT goalkeeper coach Eric Yamamoto has been working closely with Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson to prepare them for the CONCACAF Men’s Olympic Qualifying tournament.

One of the most challenging jobs on a National Team staff is that of the goalkeeper coach. Like the rest of the staff, they only have short windows of time to work with the players. Unlike the others, however, they only work with two or three at a time knowing that only one will play. The position requires skill, leadership, confidence and a strong mentality – all characteristics that must be honed and managed. ussoccer.com spoke with U-23 Men’s National Team goalkeeper coach Eric Yamamoto about working with Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson as they go about preparing for the biggest tournament of their young careers.

What is your assessment of Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson after working with them for the last few months?
Eric Yamamoto: “Overall, we’re very lucky to have two talented goalkeepers and obviously they’ve both been in with the full team. We’ve got a very strong pool of goalkeepers in this age group and these two have proven that they’re the top two. They’re extremely talented and great up-and-coming goalkeepers.”

How do Hamid and Johnson compare with other goalkeepers you’ve worked with at this stage of their careers?
EY: “I think different goalkeepers have different qualities and in their development, these two are very talented. The obvious characteristics are their physical characteristics – that’s the first thing that stands out – but they’re both exceptionally competitive, very focused on getting better and continuing to learn. The acceleration of them being able to play on a consistent basis in their first teams with their clubs has further helped them mature. Previously with other goalkeepers that I’ve worked with that have gone on to either play in the National Team program or play around the world or in MLS, they may not have been playing as early in their careers as these two are. I think that’s definitely helped their development.”


Do you have to have a different approach to training goalkeepers when they are with the National Team as opposed to being able to work with them on a day-to-day basis like at their clubs?

EY: “[The National Team camps are] definitely different than working with them day-to-day. In our role here and what we’re trying to do, it’s a small snapshot and really fine-tuning them and preparing them. Now there’s a bigger picture that we talk about in working with the other goalkeeper coaches that are involved with coaching all the goalkeepers that we work with, not only at this level but at the full team level. I’ve had conversations with [U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper coach] Chris Woods, I’ve spent time with Chris. We talk or email on a fairly regular basis about the development of all the goalkeepers that we have in here. The starting point is he’s working with Tim Howard and he’s also worked with a number of the goalkeepers. We’re in fairly regular conversations about what we’re doing here, how that fits in with the big picture, and where we’re looking to go with the goalkeepers in our country. This event is a little more specific to tune them up, make sure they’re confident, healthy, fit, sharp and prepared for the qualifying games. However, in the big picture, I think we’re all on the same page. We’re thinking about the development of these goalkeepers in the long run.”

What are the specific things you focus on in these types of training camps leading up to games?
EY: “I think some of the priorities are their mental state, making sure they’re confident, making sure they’re sharp physically, making sure they’re peaking at the right times. These are good goalkeepers and we’re not talking about – especially in the lead-up to these games – changing the way they play. That’s not what we’re looking to do. We’re looking to make sure they’re prepared to perform. The physical side, making sure they’re sharp mentally and making sure they feel good about where they are right now so they can perform at the best of their ability, that’s the priority so we can win games.”


How do you prepare the goalkeepers for specific opponents?
EY: “I don’t think it’s much different than any of our other scouting for the entire team. We give them as much as they want and as much as we can give them that they’re interested in taking in. Just the way the team plays, some of their talent, their individual talents, some of their characteristics, what they can expect at a general level. Different players are interested in more or less information so it just depends on the player.”

What does it mean for a goalkeeper to peak at the right moment?
EY: “I think with goalkeeping their concentration level has to be sharp. They have to be confident. You get on a streak with goalkeepers sometimes where they’re very hot. Although goalkeeping is a long-term process for a lot of players because goalkeepers are able to play much longer and develop much later in their careers, many times you also can try to get guys when they’re hot, when they feel confident, when their communication with their teammates is confident, and they have great presence with their team. We try to get our goalkeepers to exude confidence and also be able to calm the team and be able to run the tempo of the team. Just by the nature of the position, there are leadership roles within that position. We have two great leaders here, two goalkeepers that have great presence and exude confidence that permeates through the rest of the team.”

Is it more of a challenge getting multiple goalkeepers prepared and peaking for a game when the both are aware that one of them won’t be playing?
EY: “It’s always a unique situation with goalkeepers because there’s only one goalkeeper that plays. These two goalkeepers are exceptional. It’s not an easy situation ever because with this level of player, everyone’s competitive, everyone wants to play. It’s just not an easy situation but yes, at any point in time, there’s only two of them and if something happens, one of them gets hurt, the other one has to be ready to go. You have to sharpen them both. By this time in their career, they know. They’ve gone through times when they’ve played; they’ve gone through times when they haven’t played. They’ve gone through injuries, so they understand all these things and for their age, these two are very mature and exceptional goalkeepers for this stage of their careers. We have two outstanding goalkeepers that have a lot of potential and have a great future ahead of them. Either one of them can do the job and either one of them has great support from their team and has garnered the confidence of their team and has become a leader of this group. I think the team is behind both of them.”

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