This past summer I had the pleasure of being invited to Camp Shutout, the largest goalkeeper camp in the world. Camp Shutout resides in Stevens Point, Wisconsin and featured over 300 campers (all goalkeepers) and a 75+ person staff, which includes NCAA goalkeepers of all levels and goalkeeper coaches from across the US. I spoke with four different goalkeepers who were at last year's camp about why they attend and what separates Camp Shutout from other goalkeeper camps. A quick rundown on the four goalkeepers:
- Matt Bersano played three years at Oregon State before playing for Penn State, where he also did his graduate work.
- Nicole D'Agostino played at both Pittsburgh and Monmouth and is currently in France pursuing a professional career. Both Matt and Nicole worked as staff assistants last summer.
- Nathan Wisbey was awarded "The #1", the award for the top goalkeeper amongst the campers and began his freshmen year at University of Dayton this fall.
- Stan Anderson is the founder and director of Camp Shutout as well as the Chicago Fire Academy goalkeeper coach.
What makes Camp Shutout effective for goalkeepers? And what do campers and the staff get out of it?
Matt Bersano: Starting with the logistics, being the biggest goalkeeper camp possible allows for the goalkeepers to put themselves into scenarios of evaluation with and against friends, competitors, and maybe even future teammates. With the numbers being so high, the importance of having a staff that is fully capable of handling the workload while staying in good spirits throughout the week makes the experiences even more efficient for the camper. From a staff perspective, one can walk away from the camp learning more about the position than they may have as a player through the different number of styles and ideals that accompany all facets of the soccer generations leading every session.
Nicole D'Agostino: Camp Shutout is unlike any camp. From my eight years of participating in this camp, and my seventeen years of playing soccer, I have not come across anything that even comes close. Camp Shutout is the only weeklong goalkeeper-specific camp that covers more than just shot stopping (what a goalkeeper would get in a regular club training session). The game is evolving and there is so much more to the position than being able to pick a ball out of the upper 90. It is impossible to fit everything into a week but topics like cross management, breakaways, distribution and small-sided games focus on the small aspects that can make or break a game.
When I was a camper, it was a lot of information in a small amount of time, but the amount of repetitions that a camper gets throughout the week creates muscle memory. Campers are able to see several different coaches and staff assistants throughout the week from various levels. This is invaluable because each coach has something unique to offer whether that is related to soccer or not.
As a staff member for the past five years, it is one of the most rewarding weeks of my year. Just like I have grown up with the staff members, I see repeat campers grow from year to year. I am able to see how they have taken their game to the next level and how they take in the skills that we teach them. I know this first hand as a camper. I came into Camp Shutout not knowing how far I wanted soccer to take me. After my first year, I had the network, the confidence, and the training to bring me as far as I wanted. Now that I am on the other side of it, I love helping keepers find that confidence, enjoy learning and working hard to truly become better players.
Nathan Wisbey: Camp Shutout is such an effective camp for goalkeepers because it is specifically for goalkeepers. Usually with other camps there are only a handful of goalkeepers, and the rest of the campers are field players. But with Camp Shutout, the entire camp is centered around being a goalkeeper, covering all aspects from the physical side to the mental side as well. I was training with the top group for camp, and being in an intense training environment, I was able to train alongside top academy players from all over the country, getting the best training in the country not only from the help of the coaches but from other goalkeeper campers as well.
Stan Anderson: Our emphasis is on the goalkeeper. That sounds simple but the spotlight is on them. I think they feel that and it is important for them. The training is obvious. That is why they attend but our complete focus is on them, their development and their experience. Our goal, my goal, is that they simply become a better goalkeeper. The byproduct is that many move on to college and some are having a nice pro career. I also think they make some friends for life.
What does the staff get out of it? They get paid. *laughs* It is a reunion of sorts. Almost a migration for them. Many of them grew up together in this program and the respect level among them is fantastic. High major D1 goalkeepers training with and improving alongside a D3 goalkeeper. I know many of them would do it for free but when I get to see their down-time together between midnight and 2:30 am, it is pretty special.
What makes Camp Shutout different from another goalkeeper camp?
MB: The biggest thing that stands out about camp shutout in comparison to other goalkeeper camps throughout the country is the family environment that brings nearly every one of these kids back year after year. They're training six hours a day then competing against one another as the week goes on, but the second they leave they're already counting down the days until they come back the next year. You don't get that kind of experience at many of the other camps.
ND: To have something grow so widely and rapidly but still retain the feeling of a family is unbelievable. I started the camp when I was fifteen and the number of campers was around 100. To see it now at almost 350 and 75 staff is surreal. The family has grown bigger and stronger. I can’t say that I am still friends with the teammates that I played in high school with, or even some of girls I played college with, but I have all of these close friends from this camp. We pick up where we left off every year without missing a beat. Even though it is a single position, you meet the group of eight-to-twelve keepers that you will be training with for the week and you are immediately a team. Trying to make each other better and it’s a group effort to get through the week. It all pays off when you connect with a new team to try and win Team Keeper Wars. TKW is always the highlight of the week and the atmosphere that is created on Friday night and Saturday morning can't be recreated.
Camp Shutout is also unique for the staff. It’s 75 people that enjoy the game, enjoy teaching, and enjoy making individual connections to help the campers. And, as you know, off the field we only leave the week with the best stories that happen from midnight to 4am that we talk about for the next 360 days.
NW: What separates Camp Shutout from other goalkeeper camps is the quality of the staff. The staff and staff assistants are the best in the country coming from all different levels including coaching/playing professionally, coaching college players, playing in top level colleges, etc. With all the different coaches comes different coaching styles as well. Learning different styles of goalkeeping can really help the goalkeeper narrow down what’s best for him or her.
SA: A few things. I love our staff, truly love them. I am happy for their successes on and off the field. With that being said, I will not allow any sort of an ego on the staff. If you don't concentrate on the goalkeeper and their improvement, your time will be short lived with us. We emphasize a good time along with a tremendous work rate. I'm not concerned with bringing in a band or having Joe Zimka run Club Shutout or rolling out the extended slip and slide as long as we are also working our backsides off. The emergence of the John Trask Total Striking Academy has brought our staffs together and we have a pretty good night each year.
[The John Trask Total Striking Academy is a camp for strikers that works alongside Camp Shutout throughout the week.]
Many camps that goalkeepers go to, the goalkeeper is an afterthought and they simply face some shots and are evaluated on simply their shot stopping. Little coaching is conducted for them. Our feedback for them is virtually self-conducted. They get a notebook and write down their likes, dislikes, achievements, challenges, exercises and then meet with their coach that night and a different coach each night.
How does Camp Shutout prepare players for the next level?
MB: From being a camper to becoming a member of the staff, Camp Shutout has as many physical advances to one’s game as it has mental tests to prepare for their next level. I say “their next level” because the camp is not run to create 300 professional goalkeepers. It is built as a way to make sure that every single person at the camp walks away a better goalkeeper and making friends and family along the way. Working with the college coaches and college players three times a day gives the kids chances to see exactly how they play and compare their daily habits to the habits of these already proven collegiate or professional athletes. The competitive side to the end of the week does lighten the load on the body but also tests the goalkeepers in ways that the technical side of the early part of the week couldn't quite reach.
ND: Camp shutout is not an easy week. Three 90 minute sessions a day of continuous reps and hitting the ground is not easy. It tests you physically, mentally, and emotionally. When the low diving and extension diving session is finally catching up with your body, it’s Gieche training day. [An intense aerobic-inspired and fast paced goalkeeper session.] I’ll never forget my first Gieche training session, which at that time was still called “pressure training”. And wow, did I feel the pressure. I left that first year of camp knowing that I was going to give my time, effort, and body to this position because I couldn’t get enough of it. Camp Shutout was like college preseason except with fifty more coaches yelling at you. If you can take that, you can take three coaches yelling in your ear.
I was also part of the Wiberg WGS system. That was actually how Pittsburgh initially contacted me. The amount of success stories from Eric Wiberg is incredible. He is helping goalkeepers with their dreams of playing collegiately. His contacts also helped me again when I was looking to take my fifth year elsewhere and get my masters. Eric, Stan, and Douggie (aka GK guys) are the real deal. They know all the right people and the right steps to take when trying to get goalkeepers to the next level. Also the college talk night is so important because camp physically gets the goalkeeper ready, but until your first day of preseason you really have no idea what to expect. The college talk session unveils the amount of time and commitment it really takes to play D1, D2, D3, or NAIA. Others can talk about the time management aspect of college sports, but playing this position where you are fighting for one spot while trying to be the leader that the position demands, that is the type of the advice that is unique to our staff.
NW: Camp Shutout prepares you for the next level in many ways. By receiving different types of coaching everyday, one learns to become more coachable and will be better prepared for different coaching styles as well. As the staff comes from all different types of levels, they have great experience in their fields, so they can give advice and share their own experiences on how to become a better keeper for the future. The staff is always available to answer any questions about anything as well. With intense training every day, it sets the tone for what college level trainings are like and better prepares the keeper for what to expect.
SA: I think they prepare each other. I get hundreds of calls a year from people that want to attend Camp Shutout and many of them state that their child is the business, the best in the state or the country or the world or the universe. At the end of the day, this is a proving ground. Show up, head to the field, and see if you are as good or better than the other goalkeepers from California, Florida, Texas, Dubai, Canada, Sweden, Spain, almost every other state. The staff have seen the next level. Our goalkeepers have played in many top leagues around the world along with the women's pro game in the states. When so many staff and staff assistants go through the program, the coaching philosophy tends to be the glue. The coaches are encouraged to teach the game and the way they see the game. At the end of the day, the young fourteen year old aspiring goalkeeper can see and smell the top flight, with a possible MLS draft choice that happens to be his coach for the day. Now they can see the next level.
One of the main events at Camp Shutout is Team Keeper Wars, which features the campers being split into teams that compete in a massive bracket. The winning team gets to challenge the staff for the ultimate championship. Until 2013, the staff had won every year until the campers won back-to-back years. Entering 2015, the staff was determined to earn back the title.
Talk about the Camper v. Staff Team Keeper Wars game. What happened in the years past and how did your team prepare for the final?
MB: The biggest difference between this year and the last two years were that we actually thought about the game prior to the morning of the last day of camp. Last year, I was off tying my shoe in another area of the park and not even chosen to be a part of the team that played against the campers. By planning out a team ahead of time and talking a bit of strategy we were able to step into the game on Saturday morning knowing that we were going to not let the fiasco that occurred the years before happen again this time. We stayed up late a couple of those nights talking team keeper wars strategy, definitely the first time I've ever done that in my life but it worked. Can't argue with that team performance.
ND: Well… to be completely honest I’m not exactly sure what happened in the past years. *laughs* But, there is a way to play the game. In past years, I do not think that we stuck to the game plan. Also everyone wants to be the hero and score that upper 90 goal against three keepers, but we must all know our limitations (which we did not) and we ended up doing a lot more chasing than anything in past years. It was a whole different vibe this year. Obviously the team was strategically picked this year, positions were given, and a new game plan adopted. The night before (soccer tennis night) we assured that we were all on the same page with a new set up and how we were going to play. Essentially, take out the point person and then score right down the middle.
When the game goes fast, it usually gets out of control so our plan was to slow it down. I noticed when we were losing, that is when we were rushing to score rather than getting the job done. Leadership in the preparation definitely went to Joe Z [Zimka] and Peter [McKeown]. They made sure that we weren’t joking around with our warm-up. And you know when those two aren’t joking around then it’s serious business. To be honest, the game goes so fast I feel like I black out and only remember the final ten second countdown. But, leading up to the walk out, we had requested music which ended up not playing and we had to find another way to get really pumped up so we all started hitting each other to get riled up. Peter doesn’t know this but he knocked the wind out of me for a couple of seconds. Totally fine. It worked out and we won the game.
NW: I was fortunate enough to be on the camper team two years ago when we beat the staff for the second year in a row. It's all about making your shots count and making the simple saves. You also have to give it your all when sprinting for a ball even through the crowded areas. I was on the camper team again this year, and unfortunately we couldn't get the W. We managed to keep a lead on the staff for majority of the game, but I think the games are a bit longer than regular games, to give the staff a better chance *laughs* so we weren't able to hold on. If we would have made just a few more saves, I think we would have taken it. I will be coming back as a staff assistant, so we will definitely be going for the repeat against the campers next year. Just have to stay focused and keep our cool, not getting over confident.
SA: This is simple. CD, Chris Dadaian, picked the team last year. We lost and I fired him from that role and took over. Seriously, I truly do not like to lose to a group of emerging goalkeepers and we did. We have top shelf people on staff to play this match and should win comfortably, show them how to work as a unit, and perform the role of goalkeeper at a high level. CD, Dougie and I got together this year and chose some vets, some girls, some guys, limited our overall amount of goalkeepers playing and we went out and won the game handily.
What about Camp Shutout makes you return every year? Will you be back next year?
MB: Like I said before, it's a family. I would like to do everything in my power to return but I will be figuring out this dilemma while linked up with an MLS/USL team somewhere in the states. Missing Camp Shutout because I am off playing professionally sounds like the only just reason to miss, behind being unable to attend. It’s a battle that I would love to face in the next few years.
ND: Absolutely, if my schedule allows. It may be a close call depending on how postseason goes in France. I have only missed one year of Camp Shutout (2008) because of a coach not allowing me to go because of fear I might get hurt before the season. I always make it a point to be at Camp Shutout because it is honestly my favorite week of the year. I get to spend a week with the people who share my same passion for playing, learning and teaching. I have grown up with most of the staff and they have believed in me since my first year at camp when I was fifteen. They are the ones who made me better, helped me play collegiately, helped me through four surgeries, a college transfer, and now playing abroad. I look forward to camp every year to see the people that I have sore abs from all week because I can’t stop laughing and because we train at 6am every morning. But the reason I keep coming back is because even though I am exhausted, sleep deprived, unable to walk and voiceless, I have never felt more refreshed leaving camp. This position is tough and it tests you physically, mentally, and emotionally. Spending one week a year to see the kids that truly love the position, and as a coach to be able to develop these players, is so rewarding. It made me realize why I love the game and that it is not my time to step away yet. I leave confident in my abilities as a player and coach and that’s because of the atmosphere that camp shutout creates.
NW: I plan on returning next year as a staff assistant because I have enjoyed camp so much for the past six years as camper and have learned more than I ever could anywhere else. I am excited to do the teaching and expand my knowledge for goalkeeping as a staff assistant as well.
SA: We do this because we are good at it. We feel we are as good or better than the other options. We do this because the goalkeepers demand it. We do this because we love it. We do this because the energy is ridiculous. We do this because it helps open doors for people. We do this so that when top schools in the country call looking for a goalkeeper we can help, and I mean the best of the best. We love it and I hope and pray the staff and goalkeepers continue to feel the same way.
Lastly, what are some outstanding memories from Camp Shutout?
MB: Every year brings on new memories. Last year was kicking down a tile in the ceiling playing soccer tennis at 2am then building an impressive ladder made of dinner tables to be able to climb up and retrieve the ball that was lost in the ceiling with the broken tile. This year, many of my best memories come through the moving and assembling of the goals. Nothing like walking over to move a goal to its proper spot for team keeper wars, shirtless in the gleaming sun leading into an improv photo shoot for the upcoming staff 2016 calendar. It's a good group of people with a bunch of interesting dynamics, there are constantly new memories being made.
NW: Winning individual goalkeepers wars back when I was in the youth when Camp Shutout was at Marquette. Another great memory was getting into the top group for the first time going into my junior year. One memory that stands out was when Zimka wore his tight yellow pants and yellow shirt for individual keeper wars a couple years back. One of the best memories though, was winning the #1 position at the end of camp this past year. A great thing about Camp Shutout, it's not a memory, but I just want to put this in, is the friends that you make. You make great friends at camp that hopefully you can stay in touch with for a long, long time.
SA: I tend to remember the coaching moments, the teaching moments, like with Matt Pyzdrowski, the better goalkeepers, and the ones who struggle the most. I can tell you I tend to let go of the 'my son/daughter should be in the top group' phone calls much quicker now. I trust our staff. I remember Concordia, where we started, and then broke away from a small camp we used to affiliate with. I remember Jon Mroz and starting the Advanced Sessions. I remember Erin Kane and Kaitlin Kelly battling to blood. I remember Kirk Thode's save at Camp Whitcomb Mason, which sealed my recruiting of him. I remember the hottest week in two decades at Marquette and having to train at 7:00-10:00 in the morning and and then again at 7:30-10:00 pm and no air conditioning in the dorms! I remember when someone is kind enough to say we helped them achieve a dream.
For more information on Camp Shutout, visit their website at www.campshutout.com.