Coaching High School Soccer

Interview with Stan Jozwiak

September 8, 2017
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Stan Jozwiak has been coaching Fairview high school boys’ soccer for 33 years. He taught Social Studies for 30 years prior to retiring from the classroom in 2010. He grew up in New York where he played scholastic soccer at Syosset High School and college soccer at SUNY Fredonia. A founder, coach and director of a club program in the early ‘80s, he remained a coach with them until 2009. He served 12 years as a coach for the Colorado Olympic Development Program and as a USYSA Region 4 coach for various teams in the program. Stan earned the USSF National C and B coaching licenses in the ‘80’s. He was state Coach of the year in 1987.

Fairview are currently in mid-table (4-3) in the Front Range League. How challenging is it to play in one of the strongest conferences in the state?

Very challenging, but we’ve been doing that for all of our existence. We’ve been in the Front Range League for the last 6-7 years and the Centennial League before that, playing against Cherry Creek, Mullen and Regis, and every year those are schools with a very high level of soccer.

When you first took over the program 33 years ago, did you have a vision for what you wanted to create, and how would you rate your success at achieving it?

I took the coaching job to get a teaching job, and it worked. For me coaching has been an extension of my other functions at the school – teaching and other responsibilities. It has been the one that has taken the greatest amount of time, had greatest personal interest, and probably been the most fun. My involvement comes from an educational background – my aspiration to teach – and the coaching was a great perk on top of that.

Has the vision changed over time, and if so, why?

Yes – experience brings changes. I started coaching high school at the same time that I got involved with USSF classes and there was a huge learning curve early on for me as it was my first coaching position. On the field we have had tremendous successes by any measure, the way we have competed; the way the kids have learned the game through their high school seasons; the opportunity that it presents to a 16-17 year old students to have a scholastic competition in soccer which wasn’t always around; the network of people I have met over the years; and the role that the soccer program plays into the success of the broader educational program every year. I have a long term investment in it that grew out of my teaching career.

In 1987 you were coach of the year. Was that a high point for you or has there been another moment that you are more proud of as a coach?

I was very flattered to receive that award. I think it was recognition of the early successes that the Fairview program had had. For me the successes go further than league standings. All educators hope to guide young guys along the way and being able to do it in a very competitive athletic environment is what I am most proud of. I get a lot of my rewards from the little ones now – kids who come in as freshmen who I’m thinking I don’t know where he’s going and he turns out to be a central Varsity player. We appreciate being recognized as a top soccer competitor in the state of Colorado on a consistent basis, and the kids know that when they come in. There are extra depths that go into it though – depth of relationship, dealing with young people as they grow that is the real reward.

How did you refocus and set new goals after that moment? 

You communicate. You show an interest in the kids, watching their club games in the spring. When I was teaching it was much more easily facilitated because I could call a meeting of soccer players with just a couple of hours’ notice. We would have a few meetings in the spring in which we talk about what happened, who is coming back, what is realistic, what we are aspiring towards. That all gets formulated into the fall planning.

There appears to be a growing trend of bringing in specialist soccer coaches from outside schools to coach varsity teams. As a former teacher/coach, what is your view of this?

I think that is just facing a reality of supply and demand. The high school coaching job is a lot of hours and for somebody who needs to make a living off it in part that becomes a quandary. There are more people from outside at the moment. Teachers have so much to do today that you will find in most of the minor sports they no longer involve themselves in those ways. Athletics is becoming dependent on bringing people in and soccer is a part of that.

How do you pick your assistant and JV coaches? How much influence does the Athletic Director have?

With my years the Athletic Director just meets the person I select and puts them through the background check. Assistant coaches are hard to get because they get less money for the same amount of time. Fortunately there are a lot of guys and women out there, trying to scrape a living together out there. They do a lot of soccer coaching in their 25-30 year ages and they weren’t around ten to fifteen years ago, but the surge of soccer in the United States has helped with that. Schools are lucky to have that now as they are not able to fill those spots from within.

Do you train on your game field? Is there an issue when you are competing for space with football and other sports?

There are conflicts but we have a grass field that we train on for the most part. Football has nothing but the turf field. If I want practice time on the turf I have to give them time on the grass. Back in about 1990 the boys and girls programs built the grass field for us to train on. We excavated the whole thing through some gifts and fundraising and that is how it became primarily used for soccer. It’s a great space for us, even if it isn’t mowed frequently enough.

Is there an issue with practicing on grass and playing on artificial turf?

Kids get used to it. They do it in the spring and summer. I think every kid in Colorado plays both but we get enough time on turf for it not to be an obstacle to us. We are familiar enough with both surfaces.

Several of the schools you play against have very narrow fields because of football. How do you adapt to play on these fields?

You cross your fingers! Kids have to adapt to it once the whistle blows. They get a lot of experience though because we do it so often, but it is certainly a home field advantage. We look at in terms of what do we have to do to face this team on this particular field? As long as it is in the school system we will face those challenges but we don’t change our formation specifically for those games. We play steadily and consistently with a 4-3-3. We might push somebody up or somebody out but we wouldn’t alter the formation for two or three of those games.

How do you structure your pre-season? Do you have a vision for the season as a whole?

Pre-season is difficult because it involves the eight weeks that kids are out of school. Four of those weeks they are still with their club and I prefer that they are not doing anything for a month after that so we usually start up at the end of July with some informal come and play sessions. We do a pre-season camp for a week where we begin to divide players by age and ability. We get a lot of fitness in; some team building. Then the third week we are in to tryouts. It doesn’t really come together though until the first mandatory practices. We have a week of two-a-day sessions… I took them out to a camp at the University of Denver where they run a good program. A lot of the varsity players were committed at that time so they weren’t there, but it is a good four days of high school kids playing soccer and getting some training against other high school players, without uniforms in an intramural way. It is good preparation for the fall season.

A standard opinion out there is that high school soccer is not about developing players because of the short time window and direct physical style of play. Is there still any truth to this view?

I think the physical style of play has diminished in the last five years. Clubs have grown and training in clubs has grown. High school is a three and a half month blast though and that doesn’t lend itself to long term skill acquisition. The way younger kids have grown in clubs is changing things though. I see it in 9th and 10th graders now and there is no doubt that there is more to come. In high school we get more skilled players because of their club experience. The environment lends itself to physicality with the rivalries, league standings and state championships but I don’t think the games are any more physical than a high level club game. The field might have different dimensions that lead to more physicality but I don’t think the nature of the game is different.

During the regular season what do you cover in practices?

We don’t cover a lot that is new. The major factor covering that practice is that 12-13 kids have put in 60 or more minutes the day before and 5-6 kids who haven’t. Recovery takes precedence over everything we can do in training. We will organize run throughs, prepare situations, free kicks, restarts, defending walls, corner kicks etc. that don’t take a whole lot of physical output. We will prepare the ongoing mental piece and prepare for the team we are playing. We try to get to a schedule where we play games Tuesday and Thursday, get Friday off and train Saturday. They are off Sunday again and train on Monday.

How do you decide who to play against for your non-conference games, and how much is it your decision?

It’s entirely my decision. I get four non-league games. I try to get two very challenging tough opponents and two that we can maybe have a little more breathing room in the 80 minutes we are going to play, so we can work on different things. There is a two year cycle. The last couple of years has been more difficult with some confusion between coaches and athletic directors – communication issues. We have had issues appear at 10am the morning of the game. It helps having relationships with the other coaches. In the Centennial league we would play the Front Range teams all the time. Now that we are in Front Range we play the Centennial league teams – Cherry Creek, Grandview and so on.

One of the biggest complaints we hear about the club world is the involvement of parents. How different is it in high school soccer?

Very different. Athletics are part of the educational process and the coach has to meet all of the demands that the educational program places on communication with students and parents. Complaints about athletic programs are one of many areas of a school so they have institutional ways to deal with them. This provides structure for complaints – first point of contact, second, director, principal and so on. Most of the non-positive parental involvement comes from selection issues. There is a legal responsibility in the schools to communicate with parents that is probably a bit different than in clubs.

Do you miss coaching club soccer? What made you stop doing it and would you go back?

That’s a tough question. Club soccer has evolved rapidly since I was last involved six years ago. It is a different animal now. All of my club coaching was in the ‘80’s and ‘90’s was part of the effort to build the club. In the ‘00’s I coached my kids’ teams in the upper age groups. Everything was volunteer and now clubs have changed so it would be a new experience for me.

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