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Catching the Soccer Coaching Bug

My First Coaching Gig

After the 1990 World Cup, my life changed forever as I caught the soccer coaching bug. I happened to notice an ad in the local paper for soccer coaches, and in the exact rec league I began my soccer journey fifteen years earlier. I had never really thought about coaching, but I was obviously not going to play, so I thought why not? How difficult could it be? Boy, was I wrong.

I joined up, took the required “soccer class”, and turned up one night to draft a bunch of 9 year olds. Most, if not all, of the other “coaches” were dads and in their 30s. I was the young guy who actually played some soccer, so it looked like coaching would be a piece of cake. Because I had no kids, I got to choose first. I hadn’t really thought that kids had ratings, but there was a 10-rated player, who was big and fast with a big kick. I would be foolish not to take him. So, I did. More so because he had the same last name, Mora, as one of my good friends, but not related. I ended chose a United Nations team kids with names like named Mora, Mazzone, Simidjian, Santosh, Padula, Kato, Danny Dutton, Winfield, Armstrong, Juaregui and the 2 Argentine twins. At 9 years old, they played 11v11 on a pretty big field.

I found out quickly that teaching soccer to 9 year olds had little to do with knowing the sport of soccer, but all about managing players…and parents…and the egos of other soccer coaches. The players and parents liked me as a coach, but I really had no idea how to run a practice, how to get the most out of players, or how to deal with parents who had one sole interest… their kid.

Birth of the Cougars

At our first team meeting, we had to choose the team’s name,. I said I really want to be the Panthers because when I was kid, that was the best year I had, it would be a great start. Some snotty-nosed kid said, “We were the Panthers last year and we sucked.” So here, in my first meeting with parents watching, I squinted a bit and said, “Well, how about the Cougars, as this is the American Lion, strong, brave, fast, sneaky.” Somehow, they all bought it, and the dynasty of the Cougars was born.

Coaching-wise I was awful. My big fast kid and my second best player tried to do everything. Like all the other teams, I put my fast guys up front and the others behind to boot it up to them. It didn’t seem fair, however, that they got to do everything. I tried to force the better players to pass more to the less-experienced players and made them play in positions they did not like. This led to a lot of mistakes by the players and a lot of grumbling by parents when we weren’t winning.

Like most rec coaches, most of my practices was scrimmages, with little focus. Basically, a free for all. They had fun doing that, and no complaints, and it looked like they were learning…sort of. Like every other coach, I believed, “they’ll learn from the game, just let them play.” In reality, they were learning no more than if they were all kicking around in a big mud bowl. And what fun that would be! My whole philosophy was as long as they have fun, they will like soccer, and I will help the sport grow in this country. My philosophy could not have been further from the truth when it came to coaching

In the middle of the season, I was very frustrated at a practice. The players were not really listening to me, and so I stopped practice, sat them all down, and told the kids if they were so smart, to run it themselves. One kid, Chris Mazzone, one of my all-time favorites, jumped up, and said, “No coach, we’ll do what you want.” He yelled at all the players and they all shut-up and we finished a great practice.

Becoming a “Real” Coach

Right then and there, I decided I was going to really learn how to coach. I knew the rec league coaching clinics were pretty useless so I looked to a USSF to attend a coaching clinic. I found one out at Northridge and got a D license in a few weekends. It was interesting, but nothing special. I learned how to mainly focus on one topic for the practice, and progress the practice from a basic technique, to a simple tactical situation, to applying the technique to a small-sided game.

“Paint a Picture”

During the course, our south African trainer suggested we smoke a little weed and open up our mind to new ideas. I didn’t do that, but I did like another phrase they used to describe what you were trying to do. Don’t just tell them or run though a drill, but “paint a picture.” That was the connection to players. Make them excited about what they are learning. Make them imagine when to use the technique or tactic in a game. To this day, I still try to do that, although not always easy.

The next season began, and I went back to coach again. I got to choose first again. I still didn’t know many of the players, so I wanted to pick a kid named Mark McCauley. His name reminded me of Macaulay Culkin from Home Alone, which had just come out the year before. For some reason, I was not allowed to so instead I chose the top rated player named Kean Mallory. He was a small player but super-fast and a great dribbler. We ended up scoring a league-high 58 goals and we gave up very few and won the championship. We won, not because of Kean alone, but we had a very balanced team. I was a much better coach, they worked hard for each other, and tried hard to do what I wanted. We created a “rec dynasty”. I kept the Cougars name for the next five years, and players each year hoped to be chosen on my team.

A Speedster named Kean

Fourteen year later, when my wife and I were thinking of names for my boy, I thought of Kean. The name was Irish, meant strong and brave, and happened to be the name of the highest goal scorer I had ever coached. My wife was first apprehensive, but the name started growing on us. I even called the parents of Kean Mallory and asked if ever disliked his name, and the said he loved it. Just in case, we mad his middle name Michael to give him or more traditional name just in case he wanted a change down the road.