Brett O’Conor played soccer at Northwest Nazarene University – a Division 2 school in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC), in Boise, Idaho. After graduating he got involved with Colorado Rush as a team coach and staff goalkeeper trainer, then moved to Real Colorado as a team coach, working in their academy system as a trainer. In 2008 Brett went back to Idaho to become Assistant Coach for Northwest Nazarene and Director of Goalkeeping for the Boise Nationals Soccer Club. After a short time there he moved back to Colorado to work in Littleton with Colorado United as Director of Goalkeeping and a Director of Coaching.
What does your current job involve?
BC: I am in charge of the curriculum for goalkeepers, and for training them. I organize camps in the summer and winter and manage the staff for the goalkeeping program. We like to keep a 7:1 ratio of players to coaches, which takes some scheduling for the goalkeeping staff. I work more on the competitive side than the academy side. I am also an age group director for two groups – U14 boys and U15 boys. We currently have five teams between those groups. I am in charge of hiring coaches for the teams, player movement and evaluation within the age groups, organizing tryouts, basically overseeing those age groups.
You’ve worked at several different Colorado clubs; what makes this one different?
BC: This one I got a real sense of it being family-orientated. It is still a good-sized club in Colorado, but you still have that family atmosphere here; good camaraderie. Not that I am saying that there wasn’t at the other clubs, because there was, but they take care of you. The club does a great job of managing people and the club is willing to work with you, to help your family out. Our motto here is Developing Players for Life and I like that because it is teaching life skills, building integrity and helping on and off the field.
Who on the staff have you learned the most from?
BC: I would have to say Tito Ward: for both the administrative part of it and the technical side of the job. He is a great coach – he has his USSF A license and NSCAA Premier Diploma. He is a great asset to the organization, a smart guy who knows how to run things in an organized manner and still make it fun. He’s been a great resource for me.
What do you think are the big challenges for the club at the moment?
BC: One of the challenges we are facing right now is that transition year from 14-15, especially on the boys side where you have the Academy. Our challenge is retaining those players. We are working on it in several different ways to try to keep the players in our club. It is a project that I have taken on and I am currently thinking of different activities that keep players involved with the club while they are in high school.
Do you have any big new projects in the future for the club?
BC: At the beginning of the year we came together asking the question how can we better our coaches and how can we better our kids on and off the field, and we came up with four areas. We wrote up curriculums and are now creating a library of lesson plans that will be available online for all of our coaches to access at any time. If there is a team that is struggling with defending, the director of the age group could recommend a link to them with sessions that might help. There are lesson plans, sessions on fundamentals, match-related and match-condition. We are giving our coaches resources at home that they can use to better our players.
What software are you using to store the plans?
BC: We use Easy Sports Graphics. We keep it consistent around the club by all using the same application. It is a simple program that has balls, cones, players, flags and so on. It has players in different technical positions that really allows you to manipulate images the way you want them.
How do you decide what to practice each season?
BC: I have a season plan. I tend to start with the defense and build up. I will do 1v1 defending situations and build up to larger groups. We tend to focus on four things each season, which are defending, striking the ball, speed of play, and dribbling. I will try to hit all of these repeatedly over the season. One problem was that we didn’t get enough repetition of skills, so I like to spend time at the beginning of practices working on technical skills with lots of repetition.
Do you keep your plans?
BC: Yes, we have a library in the office where we share all of our plans. I also print them out and keep hard copies in my drawer. I will rate each one and talk about them in the office with the other coaches. We will bounce ideas off each other and all learn from the ideas that come out.
How do you communicate with parents on your team?
BC: I communicate with them quite a bit. After the game, not every game, but it is fair to say every other game; I’ll talk the group after the game about things we did well, what we didn’t do so well, and what we will be doing in training. If there is a problem with coaching from the sideline I do address that right away; right after the game. I am not aggressive with them but I will make sure that they understand that we need to let the boys play. I appreciate your support as parents, but for coaching one voice is less confusing. Generally they take it very well.
How good do you think goalkeeping is you youth soccer in Colorado?
BC: I think it’s good. I think we have good goalkeeper coaches in the state. We have big names here. We have Q at Rush (Steve Quinones) who is on the national staff. We have Trevor Holbrook too, and Chris Sharpe at the Rapids. There are big names to use as resources and to learn from. I feel that we are just as good as some states and better than other states; overall, I feel that we do a great job in developing keepers in Colorado. One problem is that generally team coaches don’t spend enough time training their goalkeepers. They are sometimes left on their own at trainings and before games. Looking around at tournaments I still see goalkeepers getting shelled before a game. My approach is that they should be able to face a shot, but they also should be psychologically confident before a game and blasting balls at them is not going to help with that. Confidence is such a huge part of the position, probably 70% of it, so it is important for coaches to warm up their goalkeepers correctly.
What do you see as the biggest threat to youth soccer?
BC: I think politics is one of the biggest threats to youth soccer. I think we would do the kids a favor if coaches could work more with each other across club lines instead of disagreeing all of the time. We have a common goal to develop players for the next level. It would be good for the game if they could learn to cooperate instead of arguing with each other.
If you could change anything about youth soccer, what would it be?
BC: I wouldn’t play 11v11 at U11 like we do in Colorado. I would play 8v8 instead, then maybe 9v9, then 11v11 at U13. I think it would make the players better if we did that.