Tracy Noonan has had quite a career in the beautiful game. After playing 4 years at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, she went on to play in the W-League, Women's United Soccer Association, and was a member of the legendary 1999 United States Women's National Team that won the Women's World Cup. She later founded Dynasty Goalkeeping, a goalkeeper only school that holds small scale camps throughout the United States.
KeeperSpace: You played at the University of North Carolina and the Women’s National Team, what would you say the highlight of your playing career has been?
Tracy Noonan: Well, it’s different for each environment, so with the collegiate team, UNC, it definitely would have been my redshirt junior year. That was the year I played in the national championship and it was the year that I beat out the starting goalkeeper who was very talented (youth national team), which I actually didn’t expect because she was a senior and had won three previous National Championships. It was a big turning point for me in my career in terms of overcoming some of the mental struggles that had limited me up until that point. It was just really fun to get to compete and win a national championship. We won in the final 5-0 game against Notre Dame, so on the score line it doesn’t reflect that I would have had much action as a goalkeeper, but I believe it was maybe either 0-0 or 1-0 at the half and in the early part of the second half; they definitely were in our end dominating. I had several dangerous corner kicks and crosses to pick off to keep us in the match and then after the TV time out halfway through the half (yes we had to deal with TV timeouts back then!), the team regained the momentum, took control of the game and scored several goals back to back in the latter part of the game. My mother and brother flew in for the game and it was simply fun to be able to play in a championship and have the opportunity to make an impact because often times, especially in the era that I played, we didn’t get to because we dominated offensively so much. On the national team, certainly winning the World Cup trumps all. Being a member on that team is something I am really thankful and proud of. Being involved in the whole process leading up to the event and seeing all of our hard work coming to fruition was extremely rewarding. After a six month residency to see everything fall into place and the event to explode from one game to the next with the whole nation jumping on board to support us was simply amazing! One of the best accomplishments of the World Cup organizing committee that helped launch women’s soccer to what we know today was the vision they had for the event. The U.S. Soccer Federation was initially pitching that the event should be in small stadiums an East Coast only event, but Marla Messing, the chief organizer of the Women’s World Cup Committee and our coaching staff knew better and fought to get us into big venues. It was amazing to see that vision become a reality and live it first-hand. In addition to the penalty shootout victory in the Rose Bowl, the opening match in Giants Stadium was really also a big game for us that set the stage for the whole event. I have vivid recollection of the drive on the team bus to the stadium. We had a police escort (we had never had that before) and hit a TON of traffic on the highway leading into the stadium. We were all baffled and wondering what the problem was…then we realized this was all for US! We had hoped and heard that the ticket sales were going really well, but back then we hadn’t played in stadiums that big, so we didn’t really know if the event would sell out. It was unreal to witness everybody tailgating like it was an NFL game and an unbelievable rush to run out of the stadium tunnel out onto the field in front of so many cheering fans. So, to be a member of the ’99 World Cup Team and a part of that event was definitely a career highlight.
KeeperSpace: Who’s the toughest opponent that you’ve played against in your career?
Tracy Noonan: I’m thinking you’re speaking internationally?
KeeperSpace: Either one.
Tracy Noonan: Collegiately, our biggest rival back then was Notre Dame. The landscape of college soccer has definitely changed since then and the pool of competitive teams is much bigger, but they were definitely our biggest rival back then. Internationally, I would say Germany and Norway were probably our two biggest rivals in the era that I was playing, and China as well. The Norwegians were just super tough in the air and they played a really aerial type of a game, a very direct game that was very problematic for us. They were super combative. And obviously Germany is still a dominant world power. They are incredibly technical, disciplined, and well organized. China is no longer where they used to be, but in our era, Sun Wen was their Mia Hamm. Their skill on the ball and quickness made them a difficult opponent. It is great to see the support women’s soccer is getting globally these days and more programs evolving, becoming competitive, and pushing the game to a new level.
KeeperSpace: You founded Dynasty Goalkeeping. What sets Dynasty apart from other goalkeeping schools?
Tracy Noonan: The biggest thing that sets us apart, from just about every school that’s out there, is our size. We limit our enrollment to 12 goalkeepers and that definitely makes us very unique. It’s just a different business model. It’s about quality, not quantity. So, with 12 goalkeepers and 4 staff coaches our ratio is an unparalleled 3 to 1. At those numbers student get a lot more reps and a lot more individual attention so the feedback they’re getting isn’t for the whole group, it is specific to them. And we have the ability to pull students aside and look at their videos on the iPad and do on the field analysis. Off the field we are able to do more video analysis in the evenings as well. With our staff to student ratio, we do have the ability to sit down with each student individually. I meet individually with every student at the end of the week and have roughly a 30 to 40 minute meeting with each one. We go over the video that we captured for them during the week, we talk about the college recruiting process that they’re going through, or if they’re already into college, maybe it’s some of the different challenges they’re facing in their collegiate career. Whatever the challenges that they’re dealing with that they want to discuss this meeting is their moment to get some one on one time. And certainly, throughout the week, they’ve got other opportunities to grab any of the staff coaches and discuss with them some of the things that maybe they relate more to one of the other staff coaches. Certainly, they have a lot more opportunities to interact with our staff because of the size. Its intimate, it’s fun, it’s a family, it’s a totally different atmosphere. In addition because of our size, we’re also able to have weight room sessions, pool recovery sessions, a field trip to Whole Foods as part of our nutrition component, and many other unique opportunities depending on the week. Our lectures are also different. Certainly other camps have lectures, but our lectures are very interactive because it’s a small group. It’s no different than the college environment. Consider the lecture size of a small college versus a mid-size or large college. Our lectures are very small and intimate. We’re not in a lecture hall, we’re in a small room with nowhere to hide and I think that’s a good thing. Students are engaged, held accountable, challenged, stretched, and encouraged to step out of their comfort zone, try new things, make mistakes, and LEARN! It’s a very supportive environment not only during the week of camp, but beyond. We track our students throughout the year and we are always available throughout the year as issues arise. The last feature that I think sets us apart is our written evaluations. They are THOROUGH and specific. They are not generic circle the number evaluations. The break down all aspects of the game that we observed at camp and offer detailed explanations for the students (and their coaches) to review and build on throughout the year. They are honest and offer concrete information on areas for students to gain confidence from and grow as goalkeepers and as a person. These are the features of our camp I hear from students and parents that set us apart.
KeeperSpace: You talk about developing the “whole” athlete. What exactly does that mean?
Tracy Noonan: To me it’s beyond just the on the field, the technical, the tactical the physical, the mental. Those 4 components are very much what we all know as coaches are the 4 pillars of our development as players. But to me it goes beyond that, for example nutrition is a huge one that’s missed. It was definitely was not touched upon properly for me when I was in college and what we were told isn’t what I would consider to be good nutrition. It was carbo loading with simple carbs and drink Gatorade products. Of course the Gatorades and Powerades are major sponsors and all the free product and marketing serves Gatorade, Powerade, etc. The athlete’s best interest is not considered. I don’t consider that good health or ethical. It’s very old school nutrition. To me, proper nutrition is a BIG piece of the equation that is missing in a LOT of players. For me it was a process and evolution I had to discover on my own and it is has become a passion of mine for not only my performance and recovery, but for lifelong health. Even when I was with the National Team, we had nutritionists that would come in and look at our diets. But, again, the guidance was very superficial, mainly looking at overall caloric intake and protein amount. We look at the benefits of eating organic, the importance of drastically reducing sugar intake and processed foods, discuss what GMO’s are, and what eating nutrient dense food REALLY means. And we walk the walk too. All food we provide at camp is sourced either from a local co-op, Weaver Street Market, a local farmer’s market, or Whole Foods. We don’t eat at the school cafeteria. Our meals are not pizza and cereal. We have fresh salads and we snack on fresh fruits. We have gluten free options and vegan options. We make fresh protein recovery shakes with non GMO/organic protein, spinach, and fresh fruit. We have almond milk. And our students learn that REAL food tastes good! They eat better at our camp than they often do at home!
In addition to nutrition the other piece we address to develop the WHOLE athlete is the psychological piece beyond the skills they need to succeed on the field (emotion control, ability to dismiss mistakes, confidence, presence) we also discuss in lectures and individual meeting what’s going to make you a better human being and a better person. Success on the field is fleeting, I want to help these students grow and individuals to be successful beyond their soccer career. I want them to learn skills and foster a belief that they can lead impactful, fulfilling lives no matter what path they take. So, that’s what I’m talking about developing the whole athlete, and the whole person.
KeeperSpace: What do you think the most overlooked component of training is for a goalkeeper? What’s something that people kind of gloss over and don’t pay as much attention to as they should.
Tracy Noonan: Two areas that we cover a lot more, that are not covered enough in the team environment, would be crosses and breakaways. In the team environment, you’re working on your team shape, you might be working on your attack, your defense, building through the midfield; you have a different focus as a head coach when you’re in the team environment, and you can’t always dedicate enough time to specifically train crosses for your goalkeeper, so I understand that. Although I do think there are some higher-level coaches that are able to achieve both. So, I do think it is possible to achieve both, but it’s harder in the team environment. So, again, crosses and breakaways are areas that I think are getting missed for our goalkeepers. These are areas that require a HUGE database of experience in order to make consistently good decisions so goalkeepers need to be exposed to a much higher volume of game like scenarios on a consistent basis. These are very difficult scenarios that require decisiveness and that comes through reps, mistakes, and time. I also think the complexity of these skills is underestimated. The view from the sideline is very different from the perspective a goalkeeper has.
KeeperSpace: If you could give one piece of advice to a young player, what would that be?
Tracy Noonan: Good question. I would say get out and train on your own because that’s where you’re able to understand what works and what doesn’t work. You have to be a little bit of a detective, a little bit of a scientist. Spend time with the ball. This could mean working on your distribution, your first touch, you non-dominant foot, your catching, your physical dimensions. Work on your weaknesses and push yourself beyond your boundaries. The kids that get out there on their own because they want to get out there, play for fun, and develop a passion and love for the game. That is what will help that player through the inevitable challenges they will face. They will develop the ability to problem solve and self-reliance. They will have a deeper resolve when things get tough and know they can handle it. If you’re playing for the college scholarship, if you’re doing it for mom and dad, if you’re seeking the accolades, you’re not going to be enjoying the process and you will limit your development and ability to reach your full potential. Remember it’s a game and the process should be fun. I lost sight of that in college when I was competing for the starting spot. The moment I got back to playing for myself, for fun, for my own personal pride, and enjoying time together with my teammates, that is when all the pieces fell into alignment. Quite simply I have learned that you ALWAYS play better when you are having fun. And if you’re having fun and you’re getting out there on your own because you just enjoy knocking the ball around, then you’re going to get better, and the success will follow.