Denny Sago – @uragk2
Name: Denny Sago
Upper Reach Academy of Goalkeeping (@uragk2) Owner/Operator
HO Soccer Affiliate
Irmo High School Boys Goalkeeper Coach/Varsity Assistant
South Carolina United FC Battery US Developmental Academy Goalkeeper Coach
South Carolina United FC Director of Goalkeeping
Years Coaching Goalkeepers:
What is your background?
I am currently a high school Social Studies teacher. I have been teaching high school for 10 years, coaching high school soccer for 15 years, and club soccer for 10 years. I have been a part of three nationally ranked teams. I captained a top 25 high school team (Greenwood High School, 1994) and was a member of two top 25 NCAA Division II teams (Lander University, 1994 and 1995).
What got you into coaching?
A former teammate at Lander, Brad Nichols, started teaching and coaching at a local high school after he graduated. He asked me to train the boys goalkeepers. What started out as just a favor for a former teammate led to me becoming the boys and girls goalkeeper trainer and varsity assistant coach within a couple years. Over this period of time, coaching also evolved into a full time passion for me.
What is your coaching philosophy?
Coaches need to remember that players don’t play for them. Find out why the players are there and realize that on and off field skill development is paramount.
Who has been a mentor to your through your coaching career? Is there a coach who impacted you to get into coaching?
I think all coaches look back on and retain some of the tendencies of the coaches they had. Several coaches had a positive impact on my career and for me, they were Gonzo Chavarria for the Toros Soccer Club and George Sugden at Greenwood High School (George was also an assistant at Lander).However, the biggest influence on my coaching career has been Phil Savitz. Besides the professional and personal relationship we developed working together at Irmo High School and South Carolina United FC for over 10 years, Phil has been a tremendous mentor to me and many others as we entered the coaching ranks. For me, he was an integral part of my joining the NSCAA, pursuing coaching education, and becoming a coach and the goalkeeper trainer for our local club (called Columbia Soccer Club at the time).
Do you feel that the role and importance of a goalkeeper coach has been fully realized in the coaching community?
Early on in my playing and coaching career, goalkeepers were rarely incorporated into training. Many times they trained by themselves (literally just the goalkeeper or goalkeepers, no goalkeeping coach); sometimes they trained as a field player, and sometimes they even sat out until it was time to go to goal. Another glaring difference is that there were very few girls involved in the game.
Although the importance of goalkeeper coaches has developed tremendously, we still aren’t where we need to be or would envision ourselves. Many of the bigger clubs are offering training regularly at a high level, and the number of independent goalkeeper trainers is increasing in larger areas as well. Directors of Coaching and head coaches have been an integral part of the improvements that have occurred as they have sought a higher standard of training from specialized goalkeeper coaches as well as invested the time to improve their own understanding of the position. That being said, goalkeeper coaching education still needs to be improved, there needs to be more former goalkeepers that get involved in coaching, and directors and coaches need to continue to improve their understanding of the technical, tactical, physical and psychological demands of the position.
Looking back, how have you seen your coaching develop from when you first started to now?
Initially, I was a coach that was just there to help a friend and his team because of a specialized skill. As I got into coaching, like many young coaches, I transitioned into a drill collector. Now I am watching, and trying to improve, all aspects of coaching as I continue my education.
How do you design your training sessions?
Whenever possible, designing a training session starts with watching training and/or games. In the next step of the process, I start off with a blank sheet of paper and put down multiple ideas for the session. In this stage of development, I am usually referring to my training collection. This is made up of notes from my experiences as a player, other coaches’ sessions, coaching courses, along with goalkeeper videos and clips from the internet. As I am doing this, I am asking myself, “Can I use these, do I need to tweak any of these, or do I need to create a new drill to achieve my aim?” Once I have the sheet(s) completed, I think back on what I have seen in training and/or games, what my aim is for the session, and who I am working with in order to write out a session plan that I can take to the field with me. This is the basic process I use, but it might be carried out slightly different based on the various positions I currently hold.
Whenever I am working with new goalkeepers for the Upper Reach Academy of Goalkeeping, I need to develop effective communication with them and/or their parents in order to plan an effective session. If I am familiar with the goalkeeper, practice planning does not vary much from what is described above.
During the high school season, I am able to discuss anything with the other staff members, but being at all of the training and games allows me to develop specific practice plans in the manner described above.
At South Carolina United FC, I develop a more overarching plan because often times I am training 10-15 goalkeepers of varying ages and abilities. I normally train the goalkeepers for an hour and then incorporate them into the last 30 minutes with the teams that are training at the same location that night. As the season progresses and I am able to see the goalkeepers in this training environment and some of their games, I am able to incorporate sessions that are more tailored to the goalkeepers’ needs based on what I am seeing. As with the Upper Reach Academy sessions, communication is again a key ingredient in the development of training in the club environment. Communication with the club’s leadership and coaches is a vital component of designing training sessions for the club. It is important to keep in constant contact to maintain this invaluable means of gathering information.
How do you motivate your keepers behind your first string to ensure competition for the position?
I have been fortunate to have worked with many quality keepers, but this has rarely been an issue. What I have found is that constant communication and feedback is required. Sometimes that means the goalkeepers feel they are being criticized and sometimes that means they leave training feeling invigorated, but if the keepers are informed of their status and what the coach is seeing, they are given the tools they need to prepare properly. While using this method of constant communication, coaches need to pay attention to the goalkeepers’ personalities and reactions to the information both as the information is being given and during the next training session or game. This will help them better understand the goalkeepers and how to give them feedback.
What is your ultimate coaching goal?
As a teacher at heart, my goal as a coach is to help youth develop the skills that they already have, the ones that they are currently developing, as well as the ones that they lack. Seeing things “click” in any of these areas is a huge motivation for the goalkeepers and me. Having the ability to be a part of that moment is why I teach and coach.
Any advice for young goalkeeper coaches just entering their careers?
1. Strive for constant improvement from yourself and your goalkeepers.
2. If you believe that the goalkeeper is capable, so will he or she.
3. Enjoy what you are doing and find a coaching environment that suits you.
4. Find a method of organization that suits you and organize what you have NOW!
5. Finally, be aware of the impact coaching will have on your life and the lives of others. In terms of your personal life, be conscious that it takes a special person to understand and accept the demands that are placed on a coach. Even so, there will be times when coaching becomes stressful for your significant other. Be mindful of that and remember what your priorities are when these occasions arise.
If you weren’t a goalkeeper coach, what do you think you would be?
Since I am already a teacher, I guess I can’t go that route… so I’d probably say that I’d be an astronaut.