What is your soccer background?
I grew up playing in Colorado Springs. I was at one of the very first competitive clubs, on the ground floor of Colorado Youth Soccer. At the time it was called the Colorado Springs Americans, then the Chargers and I don’t even know the different iterations to where they are now. We played against Cherry Creek Strikers, Littleton Blue Bombers, Northglenn Thunder and Denver Kickers. There was only one league with ten teams. You played against the same kids year after year. There were three tournaments in the state every year. I played high school soccer in Colorado Springs, and college soccer in the state of Washington.
I started coaching as a sophomore in college and really have been coaching ever since. I finished playing there and immediately started teaching in a high school in Spokane. I wasn’t ready for it, but I was asked to be the varsity coach for boys and girls in my first year as a teacher at the school. The school was the lowest socioeconomic school in the state at the time. There was no soccer in the community, and therefore I was coaching a high school program with kids who had never played soccer before. After four years my record was 2 wins, 128 losses, and 4 ties. I left the school knowing I needed to win 126 straight games just to break even! It was a great way to start a coaching career though because, literally, we would lose 14-0, and I was forced to learn how to coach and compensate not only on the tactical and technical side, but also on the emotional and psychological side – how do you help kids who just lost by ten goals even show up for practice the next day? It was a great time for me to learn the game and figure out how to coach. As a kid I had never received high level coaching so didn’t feel that I knew how to coach youth players. I started attending clinics and licenses, then went to graduate school. Wherever I have been as part of the academic career my coaching career has tagged along.
I ended up in Colorado in 1999 and immediately got involved with the club here in town. At that point my own children were old enough to play so the last eleven years in Boulder has been a great time for me as the coaching development overlapped with the time for my three kids to embrace the game and love playing it. I invested heavily in coaching young kids and youth development and now my oldest just graduated from Fairview. I coached his team every few years throughout the process and found it very rewarding. I started to view myself as the more professional coach by getting serious with licenses and following the paths through them.
Has there been a course that stood out for you?
I would say the NSCAA has been much more enjoyable for me. I don’t want to knock US Soccer, but I have just found the teaching to be at a different level, with a different approach, in the NSCAA courses. The USSF courses seemed to me to be more about getting the grade and the license, rather than about the teaching of the game. In contrast, the NSCAA courses seemed to me to be more interested in my own personal development as a coach, rather than the curriculum. When I did my B license, I felt like I was fishing for the right answers the coaches wanted to hear, rather than truly coaching in the moment. Having been a teacher for my whole career, it has been something that I have spent a lot of time thinking about – how to teach coaches to coach? The NSCAA evaluations gave me something more to think about and to learn from. I plan on obtaining my “A” license in the near future.
What does your current job involve?
In November I was approached by the board of directors to see whether I wanted to take over the directorship of the Force. I thought about it for a long time. Do I leave my academic career at the University of Colorado, where I was a Professor of Education? It just seemed like it was the right time for me to earn a living through the game that I have loved for years so in January I started as Executive Director. I had a good idea about what the job would entail, but truthfully… it is less about soccer, and more about managing people. It is about organizational management and keeping the club functioning in a healthy and productive way. I’d love to have more time to talk soccer with the staff. I miss those conversations. The job is about management, politics, and keeping a lot of people on the same path. Our club grew an awful lot in a short space of time the past several years, so my job is to make sure we catch up and have the infrastructure in place to meet the vision that we are working towards.
What do you do in your free time?
I don’t have any! My free time is family time. We try to take advantage of the beautiful place that we live, lots of outdoor things. We try to stay fit and like cycling and other outdoor activities with the family.
What teams do you most enjoy coaching?
I’ve had older kids most recently – U15 and U18 last spring. This year I am going back to pick up my 4th U11 group with the Force and I am really enjoying it. I make the adjustments to my language and style to teach U11 differently to how I approach U15 and older. I like the mix of coaching boys and girls. It is fun too to coach high school and younger. As for level I have enjoyed top teams and mid-level teams too. I think really it is the challenge of mixing all of the different groups. I would be frustrated if I only got to coach U18 boys or U11 boys so I have been fortunate. Jon Welsh has been great to me letting me coach my own kids and giving the variety to coach all different levels.
When you look back at the kids who have been through your coaching and are now young adults, what gives you the pleasure about how they have turned out?
I think there are a couple of things. This last year there was a team I started at U6 and now they just finished U18. They are all local kids and I have worked with them on and off throughout the time. Seeing them love and experience the joy of the game is great for me. They will be playing in adult leagues the rest of their lives and it is now a part of them. Dropping my kid off at college last week and seeing him step into that new environment was emotional for me. He doesn’t realize how special the time he will have there will be, playing with other guys from across the States, and from different countries as well. I have friends from every continent that I could call up at any time, and all of that has come through soccer friendships.
What is it like working for your club with the staff that you have?
We are at an interesting point where we have had personnel changes. We have a powerful blend of people, with Jon Welsh on one hand who has been the face of the club for years and then on the other hand you have newer guys who are young and looking to make a career for themselves out of the game. It gives us a nice dynamic to have people at different stages of their careers. I am new to the staff and so are some of the other guys, with some new Rec staff too. The question is what ties us all together and what do we all stand for? We get through tryouts, then the tournament, then finances and so on so we don’t get enough time to think about what we really stand for as a club, so that is a priority that I feel we are still struggling to sort out.
So how do you address that?
I talk about it at staff meetings. I try to be transparent about what we are doing and how we are making decisions. If it is our goal to make sure that every kid is challenged but successful then we have to look at each situation through that lens to decide what is the best course of action to take. We are trying to create a set of core values to help us with our decisions. The staff might feel differently about it so maybe these are my goals but I am working towards trying to make sure we a unified approach and vision. It is hard because I have been a coaching buddy to a lot of the guys for ten years and now I am working with them as staff director. On the one hand it is good that we have existing relationships but it can also make it challenging. My goal is to make changes while respecting the history that I have been part of.
Is Jon Welsh the coach you have learned the most from?
Over the years he has been great. He is a fantastic on the field coach; he is very knowledgeable, wise, thoughtful. It is amazing how after ten minutes of watching a game he can see things that have taken me the season to see. If Jon has a different opinion I always think about my position and whether I need to reconsider based on his understanding. The great thing about him is that it is not all about Jon. He is unassuming – it is not about him having to win matches. He has won and lost more games than the rest of us and has a perspective and maturity about the game that I really respect.
What are the issues you have to face in your club at the moment?
On the long term stability of the club we would like to improve our facilities. We would like financial stability too: how do we improve our program without raising fees? How do we deal with competition from other clubs? The biggest one is coaches and coaching education. We have fifty teams and we need fifty qualified coaches so how do we grow our own through the education process? We also have the political side to deal with.
What are your goals for facilities?
We are in a tough spot in Boulder because there is no affordable land. Also Pleasant View is a beautiful facility but we can’t practice on it. We have a great Saturday field but our teams are practicing on every imaginable grade school and middle school field in town, with no lines. We finally got two artificial turf fields in town which we share with Boulder Athletic. When we have 100 kids out on one turf field it can be tough. At the same time we are asking parents to pay a lot of money and a big chunk of those fees to for field rental and what you get is just not adequate. We are trying to do some smaller things for facilities – taking advantage of Futsal and what we can get from that.
What other clubs do you compete with?
Every year we have kids going back and forth with Boulder Athletic. We also lose kids on the fringes of the city of Boulder to St Vrain, Trebol, Broomfield and Arvada. We draw kids from all over Boulder County so when kids from the surrounding areas of Boulder go to other clubs, we feel like we are losing one of our own. At the top level the biggest threat we feel is from the Rapids. We have had a good number of players go to Denver to tryout with them. If we are creating players for the Development Academy then we are all in favor of it, but when they leave to go to a lower level Rapids team comparable to what they might have had here, we need to be asking what we can do to keep them in the club. Maybe some families do just want the uniform and the prestige that comes with the Rapids, but others… we need to work on keeping them. Compared to other clubs we are relatively isolated, which is good for us. We have no other club to the west of us. We are not part of the cannibalism in Denver, but we do have threats.
Do you have major projects that you are taking hold of?
We are talking to Boulder Athletic at the moment and I am hopeful that we can work with them more in the future. Our academy program is growing well and that is the key to our future sustained success. I still think that our U11 teams are not the same level as a lot of the other clubs in the state, and so my goal is to get us to that level.
So who do you model yourself on?
I don’t think we really model ourselves on anyone. Arsenal in Ft Collins is probably close to us in that we are roughly the same size, with similar isolation, similar demographic in the two cities. We also look at what Pride are doing, who are bigger than us but seem to have a similar spirit in their mission and have been turning out some good teams.
Both of those clubs have their own facilities too though…
That’s true, which plays back to what we talked about earlier about our club goals.
What are the biggest threats to youth soccer?
The cannibalism and fighting between clubs, stealing players and so on. It is a reflection on society that we feel like we need to do everything bigger, earlier and better. I am all for player and program development, but I get concerned by how crazy it can become. I hope the kids still enjoy playing the game. I worry that they are being forced into the game, aiming towards college scholarships perhaps rather than aiming toward a life-long love of the game. At the top level the actions of the professional clubs impact what happens to us, too. Many young players are feeling that impact — even though there are plenty of players out there who will not play professionally or even get college scholarships, they receive the message that this is what they should be pursuing. It may not be realistic or even right for these kids. But, that is what they are pressured into sometimes. First and foremost… kids should play because they love the game.
If you were magic, what would you change about youth soccer?
Good question. I think the most important thing to change would have to do with equity and access. So many kids still, to this day, are not integrated into our youth programs not only here, but across the country. We need to find ways to make organized youth soccer affordable and accessible for the large number of kids in our communities who love the game, but never get to pull on a team jersey. Obviously, there is little argument about the ways in which the quality and skill level of the kids we often miss would elevate the level of US soccer as well.
How important is winning?
Well it certainly matters at some point. Whether I think it is a good thing or not, it is an expectation for the majority of any community, I would imagine. You have to embrace that winning is part of the equation. It becomes about understanding winning and placing it in the proper context. If winning is a key objective I think that is fine, but the rest of the game needs to be elevated similarly to what we have done about winning (joy of the game, fitness, eating and living healthily). You may not win a game, but you have still achieved 9/10 things that are still positive to you and your team. We need other metrics that measure success aside from wins and losses, because there is a tremendous amount of good that can come from the game.
What makes a good coach?
I wish I knew! I think that somehow they have to be able to foster a love of the game in the kids. Anybody who tries to teach something well had better be able to convey a love for what they are teaching. If the kids leave the program loving the game they are going to go home and do the technical and functional things we teach. Then you need a blend of things – knowledge of the game, making it accessible and good communication skills. The good coaches can paint a picture. There is also something else about command of the moment. They have a presence that demands in a positive way the attention of the kids. Also I think every good coach out there is still motivated to become a better coach. You start in the drowning phase then you get to put the tools together, then the sweet spot where your knowledge is good and things are coming together. Then after that you can fade into the sunset and become jaded but the great ones live in the sweet spot for an extended period of time. They are unflappable. A 2-8 season doesn’t worry them, they’ve been there before.