Volume 74, Number 24 | Octuber 13 - 19 , 2004

Sports


Coach Amanda Vandervort, in white T-shirt, shares some of her soccer knowledge.

As coach, former goalie’s patient approach catches on

By Judith Stiles

When Amanda Vandervort was a teenager, she joined a soccer team on a whim simply because all her friends were playing on the team and they needed a goalie. She came to the game of soccer at 14 years old, which in the U.S. is considered “late” in life, and she came through the back door, without burning ambition or lifelong plans.

While most players cannot take the pressure of being “the keeper,” for Vandervort, the intensity of the position suited her temperament perfectly, and there she stayed, beginning a long stellar career, culminating at the University of Wyoming as their star goalkeeper, and now as head coach of women’s soccer at New York University.

“I think goalies have to be a bit crazy, but highly organized,” Vandervort says with a mischievous smile, when asked to describe the position’s personality.

Dino Zoff, a retired Italian goalie and a living legend whose face appears on postage stamps, describes the stress of the position when he points out that a goalie “has to spend a lot of time back there in goal alone and he has to be able to wait. He has to keep his concentration, and he has to do this all alone, so he has to be strong.”

The ability to concentrate has translated beautifully to Vandervort’s work as a coach. She is able to keep a mental log of everything she teaches individual players during practice, and if they apply what they learned successfully in a game, she is quick to praise the player in a very specific way. “I support and encourage the littlest things sometimes,” says Vandervort. “I try to be very positive and I avoid using the word ‘don’t,’ ” she adds.

At the Downtown United Soccer Club in 2003, the younger girls had the good fortune of being assigned to Amanda Vandervort, who was hired to coach the U-12 (under-12) girls’ team. In the beginning of the season it was a motley bunch of players with mixed ability, but by the end of the season the record spoke for itself. The team was undefeated, often winning their games by five or more goals. Meanwhile word got out in the five boroughs that Downtown United had hired a woman coach who also coached at the college level, and new players started flocking to the team for a chance to play under Vandervort.

Team manager Lynda Zimmerman observes that “coaching pre-teens can be daunting. The girls are fortunate to be working with a professional coach who supports their development both on and off the field.” Zimmerman adds, “Amanda gave us the opportunity to be the ball girls at an N.Y.U. game where the DUSC players wore the staff jackets and felt like part of the team!” In fact, within six short years some of them could be playing for Vandervort at N.Y.U.

In this decade, at every suburban and urban soccer match you will find a pack of enthusiastic parents on the sidelines. They are often opinionated soccer aficionados, who find it difficult to leave the coaching to the coach. Vandervort handles this nationwide phenomenon with aplomb, by enforcing a simple rule that parents have to agree to in writing, before the season begins. Her rule is that players and especially parents cannot say anything negative about opponents, teammates, the coach, the referee or the game for at least 60 minutes after a game is over. She describes it as the cooling-off period where even she herself abides by the rule. It gives a player a chance to digest the game on her own and it is a system that seems to work wonders. The player becomes more independent and often brings ideas and comments to the next team meeting that are helpful rather than destructive.

In 2004 Vandervort and the now 13-year-old girls chose to join a new league

in Westchester to face stronger teams and stiffer competition. They made this move with the support of Downtown United. Still under the club’s umbrella, they play in Division 1 of the Westchester League, the toughest division, calling themselves the DUSCBUSTERS.

It is still early in the season and although the team has won some games, “they are also learning how to lose,” says Vandervort, pointing out that losing games is a very important part of the learning curve. “These girls are not accustomed to losing,” adds Vandervort, again with her trademark smile. She hopes the experience of being beaten will give them the ability to bounce back, something she certainly acquired as a goalkeeper when impossible shots slipped into the net.

Vandervort knows that if her team can bounce back from a loss in a game, then they will be better equipped to recover from losses in life. Coach Vandervort is not worried about losing two games early on in a 10-game season. She has the mind of a resilient goalkeeper and knows that with a lot of hard work and a little luck, the DUSCBUSTERS will be back on top soon enough.

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