WIth 54 caps with the US Women's National Team to her credit as well as years in the professional club ranks, it's clear Nicole Barnhart has a passion for the game. But her passion extends beyond playing and into coaching. Nicole has coached goalkeepers from the high school level to the US Girl's National Team, and owns her own goalkeeping school, Nicole Barnhart Goalkeeping (nicolebarnhartgk.com).
KeeperSpace: As a female, what was it like for you playing on the boys soccer team in high school?
Nicole: For as long as I can remember, I have always been a very competitive person. I grew up playing in the backyard with my older brother and all his buddies, which not only made me tough, but probably made me even more competitive. I first started playing soccer around age 6, and it was on a boys’ team, so by the time I got to high school I didn’t really know any differently. I pretty much just saw myself as one of the guys out on the field. I truly believe that learning to play and continuing to play in the fast paced, physical environment of the boys’ game, where they eventually got faster, stronger and more powerful than me, was crucial in my development as a player.
However, at the same time, playing on the boys’ high school team was very challenging for me. I won’t go into details, but there have been many setbacks and challenges on my journey to where I am today. I truly believe that each has shaped me into the person I am, and all played a great part in my development. I would say that my high school soccer experience falls into this category. I didn’t really see much playing time. It was a true test of character. My dad always told me that if I committed to something, then I had to see it out and couldn’t quit because I would be letting everyone else on my team down. So, I still showed up to training each day and gave my best, and supported the guys. I made the most of it, and tried to make myself a little better each day, even if I didn’t get the chance to show it on the soccer field in games. I’m sure this experience made me a better person and player in so many ways, and despite being tough and challenging, it is part of what makes me, me.
KeeperSpace: What has been the highlight of your playing career, either nationally or internationally?
Nicole: The fact that I’m still playing, lol. Honestly, there are probably way too many things that I can list here. But I think simply the fact that I have the best job in the world. I set the bar high when I was young, with a dream that would force me to really shoot for the stars. To sit back and see that not only has the dream of being a professional soccer player and representing our country while doing so been achieved, but to personally know how many great experiences I had and friendships I made along the way cannot even be put into words. I do know, that I have the best and most supportive family and friends, and to be able to have them along for this entire ride is amazing. They have been there to share most of my highlights with me, and that truly makes each of those so much more memorable and special.
KeeperSpace: Who is the best player that you have played against throughout your career, and why?
Nicole: Wow, I’m not sure I can choose just one! I’ve been around this game for so long, and have played with and against so many great players that I think it is nearly impossible to pick. Every great player possesses some special quality that sets them apart from the rest. Over the years, there have been so many great people to leave their stamp on the game and impact it in ways unimaginable. I can say that training on my different pro teams and with the WNT for so many years, and constantly facing some of these players is the best thing ever. To know that every day you are stepping on the field, competing with and against such quality players, you can’t ask for a better training/playing environment than that.
KeeperSpace: What’s the most rewarding thing for you about coaching young players?
Nicole: I truly love the opportunity to teach the game. I feel like my passion and love for the sport and goalkeeping position oozes out of me. The game has blessed me with so much, so to know that I have a platform to share my experience and knowledge while influencing a young person in soccer and life is so exciting. To see a young goalkeeper truly grasp a skill or show improvement after working together for some time is awesome. To walk off the field after a tough session and see the joy in their face is the best. Or to go out and watch them play a game and see how excited they get when they know I’m there. To know that I can have such a huge impact on so many levels in their lives is the best feeling ever. I love helping people, and I truly feel like this is such a great way to give back some of myself to the next generations, and what is more rewarding than that?
KeeperSpace: If you could give advice to a young player who is looking to continue their career beyond high school or youth programs, what would it be?
Nicole: Always go back to the basics. Technique and fundamentals are the building blocks for everything else. If you are poor at these, even if you are the most athletic person in the world, it will eventually come back to get you. Play on the field using your feet as much as possible. In this modern era of the game, a goalkeeper is essentially an extra field player. If a goalkeeper is not comfortable with the ball at his/her feet, then it will be tough to play at a high level. If there is a true desire to succeed, it does require a great deal of time and commitment. Aside from this, you must be a student of the game. The more high-level soccer games you can watch, the greater understanding you will gain of the demands of the position, but also the game in general. You can never watch enough soccer!
KeeperSpace: What is the philosophy of Nicole Barnhart Goalkeeping?
Nicole: My aim is to provide young aspiring goalkeeper of any level the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skill they need to reach their dreams. I believe that everyone should be given the chance to discover their potential and then be encouraged to grow through education and repetition. I know what it is like to grow up without a lot of great, consistent goalkeeper specific training options. Goalkeeping is a very technical position, and with the way the game has evolved over the years, it is a position that necessitates very specific attention and consistent specialized training. I have learned that with a strong foundation of fundamentals and a focus on properly developing the technical aspects of the position, any goalkeeper can grow his or her game and confidence. I am very fortunate with where my career has taken me and the many opportunities and blessing I have gained from the sport. I want to impart my many years of experience, knowledge, love and passion for the game upon the next generations of players through a fun and demanding learning environment. My goal is that they walk away with a better education in the demands for this unique position and a better preparedness for the game, but more importantly a new-found confidence in themselves. My aim is to encourage these players to reach their fullest potential not only in sport but also in life.
KeeperSpace: What sets Nicole Barnhart Goalkeeping apart from other schools?
Nicole: I have played the game at the highest levels possible. I have also been fortunate to have been coached by some of the top-level coaches. From all of this, and the fact that I am still currently playing, I feel like I have a great wealth of knowledge, and that is based on the modern game. The game has changed tremendously from the time I started playing, so to still be playing gives me a true understanding of what the game is like today, and how to specifically train the goalkeeper to be prepared for the demands of the position. I believe in being a true teacher of the game. I never lose sight of the fundamentals of the position, as these are the basic building blocks to everything else. Technique and tactical understanding, as well as being comfortable with the ball at your feet are vital. You will find a lot of coaches who create robots out of their players, and the players cannot think for themselves in game-like situations. I challenge my goalkeepers to truly understand the game, their role, and that there is no black and white answer. If this can be achieved, then they can quickly make decisions on their own based on the knowledge I have shared with them and the training environment I’ve created.