I wanted to have a club that can survive without having tryouts, a club that won't cut players for the next best kid who came into town; I wanted to show that I could take willing players and make them into solid, smart soccer players. Problem was I could only do 3 teams at best. Then I met Jennifer...
As most of you know, Jennifer and I have been attending the NSCAA Soccer Convention for many years. I am sure we crossed paths years before we knew one another. Shuffling from field demo to the classroom session, trying to find time to get something to eat between sessions - all the while running into friends from within the soccer world: whether they are coaches from the community, past coaches, or dare I say past players who have become coaches themselves. The NSCAA convention is the largest of its kind. Thousands of coaches of all levels gather together for 4 days every Martin Luther King weekend to retell stories from the good ole days, make new friends, and rekindle old friendships. The convention is more than the sessions, it is what we live, the relationships we form, and the experiences we share. People in and out of the industry have asked me the ultimate question: "What is the vision or mission of your club?" In other words, what is it that you are trying to accomplish? The answer has changed over the years. When I was just starting my coaching career, I wanted to take players that were athletic and train them hard on the fundamentals, make them play clean and crisp. Receive and pass, defend and deliver, make runs and finish. They had to be at training, they had to stay an additional 45 minutes if the weather was good and we could stay on the field. Last minute changes were the norm. I wanted my teams to play everywhere and be the best. We had to play hard and keep defensive shape. Sometimes players didn't get much time- the wins were too important; We had to move up the rankings. I'd just started going to the convention at this time. I was a volunteer assistant coach at West Point with the men's team. So I went to my first convention in Philadelphia, with my high school coach Martelli and the men's staff from army. I was overwhelmed to say the least. I love education so this played right into my comfort zone. I could go to classes all day long. I went to every demo session- these are field sessions where the coach demonstrates a drill and talks with the coaches while the session is being delivered to the players. It was not unusual to be sitting with a high school coach on one side and a top division 1 coach on the other- each one jotting notes and listening intently. I had pages upon pages of new material.
My teams were top in the country, the players were going to UCONN, UNC, Penn State, Georgetown, you name it.
Five years into the coaching game, I started to navigate towards the classroom sessions- more towards team building and the mental makeup of players. Times were changing. By that I don't mean the sessions- they get tweaked here and there- I mean the mindset of the soccer parent, the attitude of teenagers, the huge influx of money coming onto the youth side of player development.
I love education. So my answer to the question of my vision began to change from my personal experiences, and with my willingness to further educate myself. I started to worry a little less about being top of the table in every event. I started to look at the environment that I myself was putting the players in. And more importantly, I was very aware of the great monetary shift that brought along academies and created new leagues; I saw ODP go from a place you had to have your kid in to maybe that not being the case anymore, there were other options.
Local clubs were now being asked to do more for their kids, they were in a difficult situation as the better players were being poached by coaches and clubs. Their answer was to just deny poaching, instead of improving upon what we had and sticking to our mission of being a local not-for-profit. For some reason they felt it was important to keep the kids away from these poachers, but it didn't work, the players left. And in the process I started to create my own club.
So now the pressure was on me- no board, no restrictions, just relying on experience and the education from the convention, taking the best practices from everyone I could learn from. And so I began to build my own philosophy. I wanted to have a club that can survive without having tryouts, a club that won't cut players for the next best kid who came into town; I wanted to show that I could take willing players and make them into solid, smart soccer players. Problem was I could only do 3 teams at best. Then I met Jennifer...