What do you feel makes a great soccer coach?
The best coaches possess a clear vision and understand their values, and they work tirelessly, through consistent and clear communication, to make sure their players understand them as well. Top coaches should also be students of the game. If coaches are not demanding of themselves to always get better, how can they ask the same from their players?
How would you describe your soccer and/or player development philosophy?
I put a premium on developing soccer awareness through training activities that favor learning through what is often described as “open” or “random” activities. This means learning by playing the game itself with all its ever-changing variables. And then I supplement that play with specific, carefully considered conditions that bring out the needed technique and tactics to support discovery among the players. In this regard, I’m a bit of a soccer session junkie; I’m always studying, dreaming up, or constructing activities to deliver the kind of soccer game moments I want my players to experience over and over and learn from in their own unique way.
Yet there’s more to development and a piece that is often overlooked: Coaches need to demand that their players be accountable for part of the development equation, too. The idea that a player can turn up two or three times a week for training and become a top player is ridiculous. Players must be passionate students of the game, spending off days getting touches however possible or training for strength and conditioning or watching a match or video to understand (and visualize) how the best players and teams operate on the field.
Why are you excited to work with players at the SF Elite Academy?
In my professional life, I’ve always emphasized surrounding myself with people that I felt were better than me in terms of experience and know how. I want to be pushed, and I love learning and getting better. Working at the SF Elite Academy has allowed me to do just that as I’m on staff with some of the finest soccer coaches around. It’s literally a dream come true.
Who was/is your favorite soccer player and why?
Zinedine Zidane. He had it all--mastery of technique, power, and gall--and he won it all and did so when the lights were brightest, whether it was for club or country. I was fortunate enough to have been in Paris when France won the World Cup in 1998, and after the final I will never forget the projected, laser image of Zidane on the Arc di Triomphe or the surreal street celebrations that ensued. In 2006, I happened to see Zidane’s quarterfinal performance against Brazil on an airplane headrest TV while on a flight to the east coast. I don’t think I moved an inch for two hours; I knew I was watching perfection and one of the greatest soccer performances of all time. If Zidane took a bad touch in the whole game I don’t remember it, and he carried his whole French team to a win against some of the most talented soccer players and one of the best teams in the world.
Who is your favorite soccer coach and why?
Over the years, this has changed with styles and systems that go in and out of vogue but it would probably be Carlo Ancelotti, regardless of his recent abrupt dismissal from Bayern Munich. This is a coach who has won the Champions League with three different teams, and the pedigrees of the clubs he’s led--AC Milan, Juventus, PSG, Real Madrid, Chelsea, and Bayern Munich--are incredible and the titans of the game. He’s won Ligue 1, the EPL, the Bundesliga and Serie A. Beyond the many deserved accolades, Ancelotti is also recognized for his tactical versatility and working his ideas about systems of play around the strengths of his players while giving them room to operate creatively, too. And, importantly, Carlo Ancelotti is one of the true gentlemen of the game in an era where these type of managers are harder to come by.
What's been your favorite moment as a soccer coach?
I’ve been fortunate enough to have been around special moments and memorable wins. While I was coaching with Evolution FC in the 2014-15 State Cup, State Division semifinal, my U12 team played in a horrible rainstorm up in Napa but beat our rival from the Barcelona Academy (now DeAnza South) 2-0 with timely goals and a reserve keeper to earn a trip to the final. That same tournament we also beat a Mill Valley team in the quarterfinal that had outplayed us even though we held an early 1-0 lead. When they finally equalized with minutes left and were still relishing their chances in extra time, we immediately answered when a guest player from a younger team somehow beat two defenders and the keeper to get a winner in the final seconds. He told me later his younger team had lost their State Cup run on penalties, and there was “no way he was going to let that happen again.” That player is now a freshman at UHS where I'm the assistant varsity coach and I really look forward to working with him again. You can do anything with determination like that.
But, honestly, it’s not the big matches I recall the most; it’s those where my team simply takes it to another level and earn a glimpse of their collective potential. There's plenty of examples but I’d probably just pick a tournament game from what I think was the year before the State Cup mentioned above. It wasn’t for a trophy but just one of those games when everything came together. The boys were playing a very good San Juan Lightning team that hadn’t lost more than one game in over a year and we'd just completed a sort of lousy, low-energy warm-up. And then the boys went out and won 7-0. Nothing could go wrong. Players were combining and ripping through their opponent like they were not even there. Every shot seemed to bend ridiculously and rifle into the net. I recall turning to the guys on the bench and apologizing about not knowing when I could get them into the match because, as I put it, we were watching “pure magic” on the field. As a coach, those are exactly the moments you’re always chasing after.
The SF Elite Academy
Our mission is to provide an elite level program for soccer players in San Francisco.