Neil Thompson – @BigCatGK
Neil Thompson with Mark Prudhoue
Name: Neil Thompson
Current Position: President / Director of Coaching : BIG CAT GOALKEEPING
Years Coaching Goalkeepers:12 years
What is your background?
Born and raised in England Started out at Carlisle United Center of Excellence, Signed as a YTS at 16. At 19 I was loaned out to Hull City before returning back to Carlisle United later that season. I later went on to have spells at Lanellie AFC (League of Wales) and Barnet in 2007.
I spent the majority of my time at Carlisle United out on Loan to Unibond and Conference north teams to get first team action. In 2009 I made the move to the states and in early 2011 launched Big Cat Goalkeeping.
Now Big Cat goalkeeping deals with over 200 goalkeepers and hosts weekly training sessions, residential camps and international tours. Our skill and ability ranges from u8’s through to college goalkeepers and we are proud to announce that we had a goalkeeper recently represent the US national team this last past month.
What got you into coaching?
Whilst playing for Carlisle I was granted the opportunity to work alongside my goalkeeper coach at the time and current England Futsal coach Tony Elliot. I did not really appreciate at the time how valuable that experience was for me. We would work with local kids playing for teams in and around the city and I also helped with the young Center of Excellence Keepers.
What is your coaching philosophy?
Outcome is everything! And that the game is the best teacher.
Who has been a mentor to your through your coaching career? Is there a coach who impacted you to get into coaching?
As mentioned earlier Tony Elliot gave me a great foundation. I would say that my Mentor as I got older was Mark Prudhoe who is the Sunderland Academy Goalkeeper Coach. He was the one that took me to Hull City from Carlisle and his attention to detail and how well he had me performing really opened my eyes. I watched him work with a great set of goalkeepers which include the likes of Kieran Westwood, Boaz Myhill, Matt Duke… and I felt that he gave us all separate and very personal tuition in order for us to perform.
Do you feel that the role and importance of a goalkeeper coach has been fully realized in the coaching community?.
Yes it’s getting better ! I took my Keepers to the England and I could not believe that after being away from the game for a while (Professional football) I could not believe how much time, money and effort was placed on making the goalkeeper an effective part of the team.
Also here in the states, I think people have sat up and took notice especially after seeing how well the likes of Tim Howard have done. I think soccer in general is moving in the right direction now in the USA. However, there are a lot of coaches that still don’t educate themselves on the game and are still naive to the importance of goalkeeping.
Looking back, how have you seen your coaching develop from when you first started to now?
I allow my goalkeepers more freedom to develop their own style with outcome determining if the skill was performed correctly. I give my keepers a foundation to build on “The Big Cat Way”. But every goalkeeper is unique. It has become an art to me and I would hate to make cookie cutter goalkeepers. I create game goalkeepers not training drill goalkeepers and I think to get these results you cannot be to robotic in training as there is no clear black or white when making saves, dealing with crosses, striking a ball.
How do you design your training sessions?
I am obsessed with trying to make the sessions as free flowing as possible. I try to keep away from very mechanical movements and as a result a lot of planning must take place. I sit down with my Pad and pen and a cup of Coffee ( I have become Americanized) and bash out session plans but with my goalkeepers development needs in mind.
How do you motivate your keepers behind your first string to ensure competition for the position?
For me I try and get the younger keepers games on B teams etc… as ultimately that is what they need. For the college keepers I just have to keep them upbeat and positive. Also all my keepers know I am just a phone call away. They all have my cell number and know they can reach out to me with any real concerns or simply need to vent.
What is your ultimate coaching goal?
My Ultimate goal would be to become the go to coach for goalkeepers to come and train with a view to go and play at the professional level / current pros looking to stay at the optimal level. I would love for players to come from all over the world and for me to become somewhat like Freddy Roach is to Boxing.
Any advice for young goalkeeper coaches just entering their careers?
Play the game and be around the game before trying to teach the game. Also if you are entering an industry where you are looked up to as a mentor then don’t come into goalkeeper coaching looking for a quick buck.
My advice is to make sure you connect well with your players and make them love the position. Go the extra mile for them and they will for you – An example of this would be surprise them by going to watch a game or two.
Also a big one for me is don’t have an ego and ask questions!! I speak to my friend Tony Caig ( Carlisle United Coach ) quite often bouncing ideas of him as he has been around the game a lot longer and played higher than I did so he is a resource I use and learn from.
If you weren’t a goalkeeper coach, what do you think you would be?
I actually joined the Air force in 2008 but signed out to get back into football. So I would be a Physical Training instructor in the Royal Air Force.