Name: Erika Van Zandt
Current Position: RPI Acting Head Women’s Soccer Coach
Years Coaching Goalkeepers: 12 years

What is your background?
My coaching background is up and down the Hudson River in New York 🙂 My coaching career began while I was in college with club soccer. After graduating college I volunteered with the RPI women’s team in Troy, NY while still coaching club. The following year I took a job as the assistant/goalkeeper coach with Marist College in Poughkeepsie and became involved in the the Eastern NY ODP program.

After my tenure at Marist, I was the goalkeeper coach for the men’s and women’s teams at Bard College. I made my way back to RPI and have been the assistant/goalkeeper coach with them for the past six seasons. This past May I was named Acting Head Coach and hope to continue my head coach tenure there.

What got you into coaching?
Passion for the game, as well as the encouragement and support of family and friends. The saying is those who can’t do, teach. I knew my playing career would eventually end, so coaching was a way for me to still be involved and give back to the sport that has always been an integral part of my life.

What is your coaching philosophy?
No matter what level, or what topic you are coaching, have fun with it and stay grounded. It’s easy to get caught up in wins and losses, the highs and lows (especially the lows) and forget why we all started the sport in the first place. Hard work pays off, but remember to enjoy it. My high school coach used to say, “a billion people in China don’t care whether you win or lose today.” Don’t get me wrong, I love to win, but that quote has resonated with me since I was a teenager. It’s a silly reminder for me to relax and have fun with what I’m doing.

Who has been a mentor to your through your coaching career? Is there a coach who impacted you to get into coaching?
When I was a player at UAlbany, I began coaching club soccer with our assistant coaches Rob Parker and Brad Utter. Through them I started to learn the ropes as a coach and began to get my foot in the door so to speak. I also have to mention Cord Farmer who was the head coach at RPI for the past six seasons and recently took a position with University of Nevada. Although he will never admit it, being the humble guy he is, he’s one of the most knowledgeable and philosophically out of the box coaches I’ve ever worked with. I’m glad that I’ve had the opportunity to work and learn from all three of them.

Do you feel that the role and importance of a goalkeeper coach has been fully realized in the coaching community?
It’s much more recognized than what it used to be. When I was a young net minder, it was rare that I would receive any specific training unless I was at a camp. Otherwise, it was a coach here or there shooting at me, or making me do diving progressions over benches. It wasn’t until I was in college that I had a “real” goalkeeper coach on a regular basis. Nowadays, you see goalkeeper coaches at every single level of the game.

The NSCAA has incorporated further professional development specifically for goalkeepers and the evolution of our training has shifted. Emphasis used to be on goalkeeper/coach off in “goalkeeper land” away from the team. Now there is emphasis on goalkeeper/team training and realized importance that the goalkeeper should have specific training with the team as well.

Looking back, how have you seen your coaching develop from when you first started to now?
Like I mentioned above. I used to take the goalkeepers off to “goalkeeper land”, and isolate from the rest of the team. While that training still happens, I place more emphasis in goalkeeper/player and goalkeeper/team training.

How do you design your training sessions?
The basis of a lot of my training is around footwork and handling. I’d rather see my goalkeeper make a save with good footwork and hold the ball cleanly, rather than unecessarily dive and parry, or deflect a ball. Also, a lot of my goalkeeper training depends on what the team is doing for training that day. If we’re prepping to play a team who likes to play on the flank and send services in, obviously I am going to work on crosses and organizing the box with my keepers.

How do you motivate your keepers behind your first string to ensure competition for the position?
It is never a finite position on our team. Our keepers are constantly reminded of that. I try to do a lot of drills where they have to keep score, or count to make it more competitive.

What is your ultimate coaching goal?
Sometimes I think about getting back into Div 1 soccer. We’ll see if that happens, but, for now I am happy where I am.

Any advice for young goalkeeper coaches just entering their careers?
Start early. Be a sponge. Take coaching courses while you have the time and are still young and limber. I want to take more courses, but often wonder if my beat up joints can handle 10 plus days on a soccer field!

If you weren’t a goalkeeper coach, what do you think you would be?
Anything that involves working with my hands and teaching. I love cooking, I wonder what running a kitchen would be like. Sign language has always fascinated me. I wish I never gave up playing the piano because I was “too busy”. I am also a Licensed Massage Therapist and work with athletes with their performance maintenance and recovery. I would be in a hands-on profession. Literally.