"The challenges lie in getting to know each individual players learning style, strengths and weaknesses and use that knowledge to maximize their performance on the field."
We had the pleasure of talking with the Head of Goalkeeping for the Houston Dynamo academy, Jason Grubb. He's had some amazing experiences as a coach at every level of the game and we are excited to share his insight!
I had the pleasure of working with you and the Dynamo staff recently so I had the opportunity to get to know you a bit but tell us a bit about yourself and your background in the goalkeeping position?
My Grandad and Great Grandad were both Goalkeepers. My Great Grandad was a training Goalkeeper for Manchester City after the second World War and worked with the legendary Burt Trautmann. My Grandad played on his school football team. I was drawn to the position very naturally. I recall my first training session as an eight year old boy wanting to dive around in the mud and try to block shots. I just loved it. I was never the biggest physically and my kicking game was poor, so making it into the pro game in England was always going to be difficult . I was lucky enough to have a 2-year playing experience at the Forest Green Rovers Academy (U18) and represent my County at the U18 & U21 levels along with one appearance for South-West England. I had spells at a number of non-league clubs, however coaching goalkeepers quickly become a passion and I moved onto the coaching ladder at an early age.
You coached at the professional level in England with Newport County FC, what brought you over to the United States? How has the experience here differed from your time abroad?
I have been surrounded by great people and fantastic opportunities from the start of my career. I was 18 years old when U.K Elite took a major risk in bringing me to the United States in 2004. They provided me with a perfect introduction to soccer within the US while my family provided me with the support to make the jump. The professional development I received during my 5 years at the company paved the way for where I am today. Without UK Elite taking the gamble, I would not be where I am in my career today. During my time with UK Elite, I was still returning to England during the Christmas holidays. My former GK coach and mentor, Ian Harris, had a number of coaching roles in the Conference (Division 5). Ian was always willing to provide me with opportunities to train under him at Salisbury City, Newport County and Hereford United. I was able to gain experience from goalkeepers such as James Bittner, Glyn Thompson, Glyn Garner and Rhys Evans. This was game-changing for me as they were all experienced within the professional game. My time with Ian Harris highlighted many aspects of coaching, but most importantly the ability to manage the individual player and build a trusting relationship. The biggest difference in my time in coaching at the professional level in England vs. the youth level in the US is the level of pressure the players are under in training. There are no excuses to slack in training or commitment. This is something that I continue to stress to my Academy goalkeepers on a daily basis.
You've coached at the youth, collegiate, and professional level. What are some of the challenges of transitioning between the different levels? Where do you feel most comfortable working?
I have had some fantastic coaching experiences across all levels of the game. I don’t prefer one level of player over another as I feel there is always improvements that can be made regardless of the level of player, and I truly enjoy being in and around the game at all levels. I take the preparation, training and games seriously for each level and try to convey this to the players as well. Each level has a unique energy and atmosphere, but at the end of the day the goalkeeping methodologies and basic principles are the same. The challenges lie in getting to know each individual players learning style, strengths and weaknesses and use that knowledge to maximize their performance on the field.
You are currently the Head of Goalkeeping for the Houston Dynamo Academy, how long have you been in this role and what lead you there?
I have been at the Dynamo for 18 months and have enjoyed every minute of the opportunity. As a young Goalkeeper coach coming through SoccerPlus, Paul Rogers was always someone I wanted to work with and learn from. His experiences within the game here in the US are second to none. I had been to see several of Paul's sessions and was able to attend a few of his lectures. Everything he did had a game realistic purpose. I knew he would be a great mentor and resource for my professional development within the game. Finally, Paul was good enough to involve me with his Goalkeeping School, Performance Goalkeeping. Paul would run weekend Goalkeeper schools around the country throughout the year and I would jump at every opportunity to work these camps. It was a pure goalkeeping environment and invaluable experience! When the role at the Dynamo became open, Paul worked very closely with James Clarkson and Matt Jordan to transition me in. It’s been a really positive experience. I am in an environment where I am encouraged and supported when things are right, and more importantly, challenged when things need to be adjusted. Houston Dynamo Academy has been a truly fantastic place to develop within the game.
I know that you often help out with the first team goalkeepers as well, what is that experience like? In terms of training methods, is there a message that the Dynamo try to funnel down from the first team throughout their system to create synergy?
The first few times I was involved in first team training, it was surreal, but you have to learn and adapt very quickly and act as if you have been there before (even if you haven't). High levels of concentration are required when working off of Paul's shoulders as he demands nothing but perfection with seamless transitions. It’s all about the quality! I am very grateful Wilmer and the first team staff have allowed me the opportunity to experience the environment. I have been involved in one MLS game day and one USL game day. In the moment this was a dream coming true, but it now keeps me hungry for more progression. It’s important that I see the standard and fully understand the expectations that are placed on the goalkeepers at the MLS level. We have made every effort to streamline the goalkeeping department from top to bottom. We work off of the "Digression and Progression" methodology. Digression of information from the top down hopefully results in a progression of goalkeepers from the bottom up. Without giving too much away, we have strategically aligned Profiling, Game-day routines, video feedback, and pre-session activation to ensure the environment has the same look and feel at every level. The first team keepers have also been fantastic in mentoring our Academy keepers; it feels like one big family! Plans are in place to create a "High Performance" program providing our top Academy prospects more opportunity to work within the first team environment. We understand success is not created overnight, so we know that we will see the constant development and rewards 2-3 years down the line. It’s going to take some patience, but we are happy with where we are today and continue to concentrate on the controllable variables.
You touched on this a little bit but as the Dynamo Academy Head of Goalkeeping, is your focus on developing goalkeepers for the first team or preparing the players for the collegiate level? In your opinion, is there a difference?
That is a great question! The bottom line is that I will be judged on creating future professional goalkeepers, however, each goalkeeper is different and will develop at a different rate. Take Michael Nelson for example: A local Houston kid who played high school and local soccer during his youth career. Michael moved into the collegiate level game with SMU and applied himself every day to develop and become number 1 at his school. His application and desire to work hard on and off the field has lead him into the professional game, thankfully with the Houston Dynamo. My focus within the Academy is to create good people who want to maximize their time in the goalkeeping environment. If I can have a hand in making them a well-rounded individual and player, then they will have every opportunity of being successful within the next level of development in either the collegiate or professional game. It is important to me that when a goalkeeper leaves the club they have a true passion for the position and a love for the club.
I've had plenty of debates with players and coaches at every level about the pros/cons of the Development Academy and its pathway to professional soccer. Obviously, every club does things differently but what are your thoughts on the "best" path to professional soccer? Are things trending away from college soccer?
The MLS and US Soccer have made some major strides to ensure Academy players are playing in the right environments. Players have some great opportunities in major tournaments such as the Generation Adidas tournament that allows competition with a number of international opponents. The MLS teams are placing a lot of time, money and resources into their academy players to ensure there is a healthy pipeline of players progressing closer to the standards of the MLS. The introduction of more teams into the USL is now providing young players with increased opportunities to play competitive professional soccer within the US. As mentioned before, every player will develop at different rate. Some players are ready to progress into the professional system after the Academy, however, for many, their pathway is still through the college game for continued development. One of the major steps taken by the MLS is to help and support young professional players with their education. Education is vitally important to the players futures beyond the game, but with the MLS now providing increased options for education, I believe it could be a win/win situation.
There's been a lot of talk recently regarding goalkeeper fitness and what needs to be done in training to replicate game-like scenarios. How much, if any, does this affect your planning for goalkeeper sessions?
It’s an interesting question! Fitness is a vital part of the game. The goalkeeper must take full responsibility to ensure they keep their fitness at a high, game realistic performance level. Paul Caffrey, Head of Performance, will work with the first team goalkeepers and tailor exercises specifically to positions needs. In the Academy we have mirrored areas of this with Movement Prep and Neural Activation leading into each session. The fitness included will also be based on the clubs team philosophy and preferred style of play. Our focus tends to be on the goalkeepers positioning, ability to organize, and technical execution while in full control. There will be days where the work-load varies and increases as we place the goalkeepers in more stressful situations. The game-like situations are needed to keep the physical and mental fitness at peak levels.
You are also a goalkeeping educator for the NSCAA, talk a little bit about what you do there as well as the importance of education courses for goalkeeper coaches?
Around 8 years ago Tony DiCicco provided me with the opportunity to work with the NSCAA teaching the GK level 1 and 2 Diplomas. Since then, I have continued on to run sessions at the National Coaches Convention on 3 separate occasions. Recently, I had the opportunity to collaborate with New England Revolution Academy GK coach, Karl Spratt. We were able to share ideas on the common traits that we were seeing in the Academy system. I really enjoy sharing my experiences and learning from the people around me. I cannot stress enough that continued education is important at every level. The game is changing and challenging us in different ways each day. I am always hunting for new ideas, different opinions, and performance feedback. One great thing about the Goalkeeping world is that everyone seems to stick together through the sharing of ideas and continue to progress the position.
Final question, who is better on Twitter...You or Paul Rogers?
Haha...... Me of course! However, I still struggle for the blue tick!