Which coaching course did you most enjoy taking?
I probably enjoyed them more the higher I got through them. I liked the USSF A license course and the NSCAA Advanced National Diploma. I think the NSCAA and USSF are two organizations on different paths. The USSF are about identifying whether you have the ability to coach or not, whereas the NSCAA are about helping you become a better coach. I think US Soccer has recognized that and changed its approach slightly. In the past you were graded on your playing ability and if you couldn’t play the game you couldn’t pass the course. They have supposedly gone away from that now. I think it is pretty old school in approach still though. I enjoy them because of the people you get to be around and learn from on the courses.
What teams do you most enjoy coaching or are you best at?
I probably enjoy the 16-18 age groups most. The players are generally more mature and take it more seriously. I like the tactical aspects of the game more than the technical development piece. I don’t think I have a preference between genders.
What is it like working for your club?
I have been doing it for 16+ years and enjoy it very much. One of the major changes in youth soccer occurred when Lakewood and Columbine decided they were going to merge to form Rush. I think they really raised the bar with professionalism and holding clubs accountable for player development. That affected us as well as every other youth club. The old Mom and Pop approach was no longer acceptable. Previously we would bring people in, interview them, give them their equipment and see how they did by the end of the season. After the Rush change, we set our own policies in place to become more professional with our coach and player development. I am fortunate enough to have a job which is full time; it allows me to make a living doing something I am passionate about.
Who have you learned the most from along the way?
That’s a good question. I really never had a true mentor. I spent one season as a JV coach when I first started. The varsity coach took his team and went away so I wasn’t able to learn from him. The next year I became the varsity coach. At the club I was hired as the coach right away too. I learned a lot from Al Minatta there, and from counterparts around the state: – Lorne Donaldson, Tom Stone, Tim Schultz, Kelvin Norman, Mike Haas, and Nate Shotts. By developing relationships and playing against quality people I think I learned the most about what I was doing.
What are the big issues for your club at the moment?
Right or wrongly, one of the priorities right now is how to retain players in the face of competition. We are too small of a community to support two clubs. As it is the case, we make sure we do a quality job from top to bottom and have the membership recognize that players on the 4th level team are just as important as players on the 1st level team. They don’t always feel that way, but we work hard to give them similar-quality coaching. A lot of it is perception and education. We are not in the rat race down in Denver. Talking to those guys they spend 50% of their time recruiting and 50% retaining players. Up until this past year we hadn’t had to deal with that. We had to develop our players because we couldn’t get them from the club next door. Player development has always been a big focus for us, and I think we do a pretty good job with it.
We’ve been fortunate with our Assistant DOC’s. At other clubs there appears to be a revolving door at times, while we have been able to keep our staff together for the last 6-7 years. They come in, they understand, they learn, they develop, and we don’t have to replace them and start from scratch. That has been a huge benefit for the club. The contract coaching staff does change though, so a lot of our focus has been on retaining coaches and helping them to develop. Our coaches are the face of the club, whether it is recreational or competitive. We need them to spread the word of the club in a positive manner. If they are not doing that our membership will look for other clubs or other sports, so they are a strong priority for us.
Is your club doing anything new in the future?
We’ve partnered with an organization in town that is aimed at all athletics, called CHAMP (Character in Athletics Make it a Priority). So far we have worked on a couple of projects and we have some more this summer which will try to make the participants in soccer into people who play and live with a strong character. We have partnered with AC Milan to offer a new camp program in Fort Collins this summer. We entered a team into the women’s USL Super 20 League, also this summer. We have started a 3v3 summer league which has its inaugural games this summer. We just became a member of the WCDA (Western College Development Association). That will start with the younger teams this summer too.
We are in Phase 2 of the development of our soccer complex. CDOT required certain steps to be taken before we could work on some of the next steps of the plan, including acceleration and deceleration lanes being added to the frontage road. The work is not flashy or particularly exciting so it has been hard to raise money for it, but we got it done and are now at a level where we can continue development on Phase 2. That had been a significant hurdle for 4-5 years. I am obviously biased, but the complex is one of the best natural grass facilities in the state. As a result it is a huge asset to the club and we have to take care of it. Phase 2 gives us about 50 acres of grass, which we use for training, freeing up Phase 1 for games.
Do you have a favorite teambuilding activity?
It is probably considered a little old school, but every year I get the kids together for a fitness week that they refer to as “Hell Week”. Mostly it is fitness with the ball. I start off by saying that “my job is not to be your friend, it is improve your level of play. Your job is to support one another.” I try to make it a focus on getting through the week together, working as a team. Other teams have dinners and other things. Years ago I would take teams up to the Pingree Park ropes course, but since I’ve been involved in the club I have not had as much time to do that.
How do you decide what you are going to practice?
It depends on the team. I have a two year coaching rotation in place at the club. In the first year I work on the basics – the technical aspects of being comfortable with the ball at your feet and so on. Based on the age of the team we progress then at different rates. We work on 1st Defender, 2nd Defender, 3rd, and so on. If it is a team that has been through that I will not have to start from there but can look for deficiencies and go from there. To a certain degree I believe in the coaching cycle: identifying areas of weakness during games and working on those the following week. But I also focus on player development throughout the season, keeping to the plan we create. Sometimes it can take a year or two to fix a problem, not just one session. I think some young coaches assume that running a practice on the topic will solve it for their team, but usually that is not the case.
What I would love to do is say “this is who we are” and not worry about the other team. In State Cup I will prepare for opponents. We will try to manage the game with our style and take their approach into account. In those cases we will work on certain things in the practices before the game. In league is about development: providing the kids the opportunity to try out what they have been practicing.
Do you rate your practices?
I keep mental notes on what happened. I will review practices and put notes down at the end of the session. Over the last couple of years I have started to put plans on the computer too. When I watch other coaches I will take notes and learn from what they are doing. As we all say, it is about begging, stealing, and borrowing when it comes to coaching. I’ll pick up sessions from our staff, coaches, or opponents. I was down at DSG Park a year or two ago and saw some great things that Real were doing that we have now implemented into our coaching plans. We are constantly looking to improve. I try to share as much as I can with my assistants so the cycle continues. One of us takes notes and then we go back to the office to talk about it.
Do you use specific software for your plans?
We have a couple of programs that we have invested in over the past 5-7 years. The older one was simple X’s and O’s when it came to diagrams. We recently purchased an application which is much more advanced for drawing the diagrams and presenting plans. Most of my plans are in Word or Excel.