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102. Army Cadets - Men's Soccer Student-Cadet-Athletes - Jubril Bamgbala and Jackson Meyer Summary In this conversation, two West Point soccer players, Jubril Bamgbala and Jackson Meyer, discuss their experiences at West Point and the transition from high school to college soccer. They talk about their expectations versus reality, the leadership lessons they learned during the recruiting process, the preparation required before entering West Point, and their post-graduation plans and requirements. They also discuss the unique challenges and rewards of playing soccer at West Point. In this conversation, Jackson Meyer and Jubril Bambgala, members of the Army West Point Men's Soccer team, discuss their experiences as student-athletes at a service academy. They talk about the unique challenges of balancing academics and athletics, the intensity of the Army-Navy rivalry, and the opportunities for off-season training. They also share insights into the academic year and breaks, the possibility of studying abroad, and the expectations and opportunities after graduation and commissioning. The conversation concludes with advice for high school students and a discussion about the potential for playing professional soccer. Takeaways The recruiting process for West Point involves meeting with senators, getting letters of recommendation, and understanding the type of school West Point is. Expectations versus reality: West Point is designed to humble and develop individuals, and failure is seen as a building moment. Leadership lessons from the recruiting process include the importance of respect, holding others to a standard, and caring for their well-being. Preparing for West Point involves physical training, packing, and spending time with loved ones before reporting. After graduation, West Point graduates are required to serve five years in the Army and have various opportunities for further education and career paths. Transitioning from Beast (basic training) to soccer involves getting back into the flow of the game and receiving support from the team and staff. Soccer at West Point is similar to other Division 1 schools, but the schedule and team dynamics create a unique and fulfilling experience. Balancing academics and athletics at a service academy requires discipline and time management skills. The Army-Navy game is a highly anticipated and intense rivalry that holds great significance for both teams. Off-season training is crucial for individual development and team improvement. The academic year at a service academy includes breaks and holidays, but the schedule is rigorous. Studying abroad is a possibility for service academy students, with popular destinations being Germany and Italy. Summer training and internships provide opportunities for further development and exploration. It is important to start developing good habits and leadership skills early on in high school. After graduation and commissioning, service academy graduates have the opportunity to become platoon leaders in the Army. Playing professional soccer after graduation is possible, but the financial implications and opportunities vary. Jackson Meyer and Jabril Robinson express their gratitude for the opportunity to represent the Army and the academy. Chapters 00:00 Introduction and Background 06:37 Expectations vs Reality 18:19 Leadership Lessons from the Recruiting Process 20:46 Preparing for West Point 26:10 Post-Graduation Plans and Requirements 34:05 Transitioning from Beast to Soccer 37:16 Soccer at West Point 39:41 Balancing Academics and Athletics 40:32 The Army-Navy Game 42:01 The Intensity of the Army-Navy Rivalry 44:06 Off-Season Training 46:36 The Academic Year and Breaks 50:09 Opportunities to Study Abroad 51:15 Summer Training and Internships 53:22 Advice for High School Students 56:49 Life After Graduation and Commissioning 58:46 Opportunities in the Big Army 59:12 Playing Professional Soccer 01:01:24 Closing Remarks Justin Chezem (00:01.013) Well, fellas, I really appreciate you both being on. Scott and I are very excited about this one. Now, I am going to ask if you guys don't mind, since I have a small military background, my dad served, if you could use some of the lingo, the jargon, and I'm going to pretend like I know what I'm talking about. So my first question to you, let me look at my watch here. It is, oh, 1600 now. And you guys are about to enter. Jackson Meyer (00:25.389) Yes, sir. Justin Chezem (00:27.809) The mess hall is that do you guys call it? All my way off base here. And if you are, what's the food like at West Point? What are we doing tonight? Jackson Meyer (00:37.619) stick this on. So first of all 1600 sir, not 0 1600. Justin Chezem (00:43.093) Oh, I was I was I was guessing. Oh, yeah. Jackson Meyer (00:45.866) Oh, okay, I see what you're doing. But we do call it a wrestle here. There's definitely some mixed reviews on how the food is. Depending on the meal, Taco Tuesday today would be a huge one. I love Taco Tuesday, it's my favorite. But there's some other ones that are definitely not as popular. But we have other options around here to get food if it may not be a good day, per se, as for somebody, when somebody wants to eat. Scot Cooper (00:47.241) No wonder you're always late. Justin Chezem (01:16.477) And my guess is they're getting you ready for when you're going to be eating at the mess halls at your barracks or whatever base you're at. I can't imagine that those are the best dining experience. My dad used to bring home MREs and as a kid, I was like, man, these things are pretty good, but I just couldn't imagine eating those things. Jackson Meyer (01:35.152) Yes, sir. There's some good candies in them, Arias, but overall, it's not your favorite meal. Justin Chezem (01:38.284) You got it. Justin Chezem (01:43.126) Yeah, there you go. Well, I appreciate you both being here. We kind of chatted a little bit. We cut you both off. Jabril, if you don't mind starting us off, why don't you kind of give us your, your background, how you ended up at West Point and, you know, give us your soccer background and then we'll kind of jump into the, the actual, yeah, go ahead. Jackson Meyer (01:58.902) Yeah, definitely. So yeah, first off I want to say on behalf of BN Jackson, thank you guys for having us. It's really an honor to speak on your podcast and kind of give more of a brief introduction of what West Point is, especially to you as a dad and then to like all the coaches and players who are interested in West Point. But my name is Jabro Bumballa, I'm a freshman here, I'm a forward and I am from Providence, Rhode Island. My soccer background, I played for two like main clubs at Canada were the reason for my recruiting. I played for Bayside, which is an MLS next team based off Rhode Island. And then I also played for New England Revolution. Played for the Academy for about two years. So those clubs are like the clubs that got me recruited the most, got me the most looks. What made me end up here was about like my junior year when like recruiting started to open up, coaches started going to showcases. There was an ECNL showcase for Bayside and Coach Chek, one of the assistant coaches here, he emailed me. And at first, I don't have any military background. I'm a first generation American on my dad's side. He was born and raised in Nigeria. My mom, she had maybe a grandfather who served in the Army or the Navy. I couldn't even tell you. So I don't really have any military background at all. So at first, I see this message from the Army and my dad's meeting like, nope, we're not doing this. But then you gotta give it a chance. You do your research, you do your due diligence and you realize that West Point is. not this place where they're gonna send you off to like more immediately, but this place where you're gonna develop as a better person and then in my case and me and Jackson's case a better soccer player too. So that's kind of what made me pick West Point out of any other schools, the opportunities afterwards and the opportunities while you're here. Justin Chezem (03:44.781) It's awesome. Jackson, what's your story, buddy? Jackson Meyer (03:49.346) So I'm from Dallas, Texas. I'm a Yuc here, a sophomore. And growing up in Dallas, there's three main clubs, FC Dallas, Solar, and the Texans. I started from, since I was a kid, with Solar, my whole life growing up until about sophomore year, where I made a change over to Dallas, Texas. And that was where the majority of all my recruiting was. And I played with them through the ECNL. And I had that weird junior year, where it was supposed to be your big year, but it was COVID for me. So... Recruiting was super low and then we went to ECL Nationals and that's where I got majority of my looks. A bunch of coaches started reaching out and eventually I got into contact with Coach Blockin and my dad immediately was like, you're going. Definitely different than the Grills dad but he was all in it and in my ear, you have to commit, you have to go here. I was definitely a little bit scared at first. I kind of heard about it. I never really thought I could get in. I had all right grades, but not the best. And then going through talks with Coach Bakken and seeing that I could get in, he finally just gave me a call. And I just remember looking at my dad and he was like, commit, commit. And so I kind of just, it felt right. And I made the commitment and I committed and I'm happy as ever. Justin Chezem (05:08.513) Now did he want you to commit so you could be on the other side of the country and free education so he can start rearranging your room and turning it into something better than you wanted? What was the thought process there? Jackson Meyer (05:20.008) He is, he doesn't, we don't come from a military family, but he acts like he's been a green beret and he wants me to go and be in the military and do all kinds of crazy things. I put some thought into those things, but it's a long ways away and I'm just enjoying the journey right now and seeing where it takes me. Justin Chezem (05:39.105) Sure. It's, uh, it's interesting that, uh, both you do not come from a military background. Like that's, uh, I wasn't expecting that. I thought at least one of you would have been, uh, actually was excited. Jibril wasn't. And I was like, Oh, cool. We can kind of go a different direction here, but you both aren't, which is it's still fine. Um, now I'm glad you guys kind of talked about that. Cause when I recruit and I actually recruited against West point Air Force Academy, Naval Academy quite a bit. It's kind of, I love it. It's awesome. But Jackson Meyer (05:53.344) Okay. Justin Chezem (06:09.265) Almost every kid that isn't no, if I get in, I'm going type kid. They all say the same thing. And it's kind of what you guys were talking about. You're really might have hit on it a little bit earlier. They all say the same thing. I'm not sure if I want to do the military thing. And so, all right. Cool. We all have an idea what that might look like. You know, your coach mentioned it in the previous podcast and kind of what that looks like. What were your expectations coming in? Like, what were your thoughts? And then what was reality? You know, kind of what kind of put those two together. And Jibreel, why don't you start for us and let us know what you thought it was going to be versus reality and how accurate were you. Jackson Meyer (06:48.246) All right, so my expectations, I thought it was going to be like a lot more, I kind of did like my prior research prior to coming into Beast, but I thought it was going to be like a lot more, not strict, but like a lot more like military drill sergeant yelling in your face. It is like that, like when you first arrive there on your first day of Beast, but then slowly like as you ease into it, as you like progress into it, you start to get not more comfortable, but you start to like understand what you're doing there. It's like a totally different experience. I think BEAST, which is like the basic training for us, was, is supposed to be humbling. It's supposed to be something where you fail because you're going to a school where everyone here is an overachiever. Everyone here has done amazing things with their life. Athlete, non-athlete, you know, like the kid next to you is a valedictorian and the kids, the kids of your last valedictorian, the kids to your right is like an all-American, whatever. So BEAST was definitely made to humble you. And I wasn't expecting that, so. First coming in, you know, you're like, oh, I'm gonna kill this, you know, I'm thin, I can do this, I can do that. And then boom, you know, you fail your first task. And then boom, you fail your next task. And then you just keep failing, but you don't really see until you take a step back, like all the progress you're really making within those failures. All those failures have a reason. So every single failure that you experience here, it's every building moment, it's a moment where you kind of like build yourself up in those failing moments. So to answer your question, my expectations, I kind of, I wish I expected West Point to build me into a better person and I can say that just doing that. Justin Chezem (08:23.629) elaborate some of these failures. What what drills just got you just couldn't pass whatever it was tell me you got Jackson Meyer (08:30.362) So basically you first get there, right? And you're an 18 year old kid, you're like, all right, this is gonna be, I'm just gonna get through this, da da. So the first thing you have to do, the first thing you have to do is you have to unpack your bags. How hard is that, right? That's not hard. You have your bags, you're unpacking your bags, right? There's six people, we're all just gonna unpack our bags real quick, right? So they're like, okay, you guys are gonna unpack your bags, you just have 30 seconds, right? You're like, okay, this is good, right? So you dump all your stuff. put it in the military bag, they're counting to like 30. It's like one, two, three, then they stop at three and you have nothing in your bag. So now you're like, we're gonna do this again. And then you just keep doing it and doing it. And then by the time you leave, you're missing like all your showers, all your shower stuff, all the stuff you brought. So now you're just kind of like, all right, what am I gonna do now? So that's the first thing. And then the second thing they make you do is like drilling. So like military movements, so like right face, left face, just like these drilling, these marching movements. And the way I was going, you would have thought I had no coordination. People were looking at me like, what are you doing? So just like those initial failures are the things that kind of, that I got here and I was like, wow, maybe this is as I thought it was going to be. Justin Chezem (09:43.497) that sounds like it was something that you can do. It's definitely a simple task. But you're just day one or it's week one, whatever. And you probably are in your mind and wondering, alright, is this right? What's going on here? I mean, how much that was a factor here? Jackson Meyer (09:49.023) My turn. Jackson Meyer (09:56.342) Yeah. So yeah, right away I was like, man, like, what did I do? Like, what is this? Like, I was having trouble unpacking my bags. I was like, how am I going to get through this? But then like, as you progress, as you progress, like you're supposed to fail, it definitely gets a lot easier. Justin Chezem (10:13.089) Sure. Jackson, what do you have for that? Do you have the same kind of experience, same kind of, well, you know, I'm not sure I want to do this. You know, what are your thoughts there? Jackson Meyer (10:23.638) I definitely had some reservations in the beginning about coming and just coming in you're so scared. You've been waiting for our day, your report day, for Beast and you finally get in and it's all just hitting you. People are yelling in your face, things are happening, things are moving. You don't want to be like, my biggest fear was just failing. I didn't want to fail. I felt that I had to do everything perfectly right and day one, same thing, the bags. I have nothing in. I'm about to have a breakdown. I'm like... I'm gonna have no clothes, I'm gonna wear the same pair of socks and shirt every day. And I think that was the first thing where like, okay, you can fail. Like, people are here to help you out. Like, they're gonna be on you and they're gonna be instructive and make you into the person and to the cadet that you need to be. But they're also gonna be here to help you along the way. And I was just scared that everyone was gonna be on their own. And it was like, if you can't figure it out for your own, you're screwed. Like you're off to the side and you're never gonna be able to catch up. But through my time here, everybody is so helpful because there's everybody fails in something I might be really good at doing some of the physical things because I've been an athlete all my life. But when it comes to chemistry, I might have no idea what I'm doing. And if you can, people will be able to help you with something that you're struggling at and you can help them with something they're struggling at because everybody fails at something. And that was like. the most reassuring and something that I did not expect to be honest. I was very scared it was going to be very individual, but it's very, we're like a cohesive team here. We say that the whole core here is a team. You don't just have your soccer team, you have the core as a team. Justin Chezem (12:02.029) Yeah, it's interesting. Uh, you both talked about being nervous. Uh, you kind of harped on a, an individual fear, but I mean, in reality, the army, the Navy, all, all of them, even collective, that's the ultimate team in America. I mean, it's, uh, they want you to succeed that they already vetted the process. They know you could do it. Now they're going to have you do it their way. It seems like, and, uh, my guess is most of that is by design. Scot Cooper (12:05.23) nerf. Justin Chezem (12:29.385) Most of that is 10, 20, 50, 100 years old. These practices that you're doing in the beginning to make you fail so you can just adjust and realize that there's a few small steps to take before you can take the big steps and just to calm down, take a few breaths and we're all gonna get through this. I would imagine is what the main task is. I mean, but at the same time, they're gonna come after you and get you and they're gonna whip you into shape quickly as my guess. But yeah, those are great answers. So. Kind of jumping back a little bit into the recruiting process. You both played ECNL teams. Uh, Jackson, you'd mentioned going over to Dallas. So, um, there's MLS next door now, right? I mean, what's, what's the tier like over there? Jackson Meyer (13:10.99) So as far as I know from the latest when I was there, there was no MLS next. So whenever it switched over from DA to MLS next, they didn't have the MLS next team and they had two ECNL teams, which was like the old DA is their top team. And then the old ECNL, which was more their bottom team in the ECNL. And so, yeah, no MLS. I switched over from Solar where I was playing on the DA. And I actually felt like it was a great decision for me. I was able to play high school soccer, which taught me a lot and I didn't think it would. And it was one of the most helpful things for me. And then this culture we had at the Texans was very helpful. They had contacts with coaches and it helped me reach out to coaches and show me the process because my dad didn't play soccer, but I listened to him with everything and he didn't know everything that he was talking about. So just talking to coaches and getting that relationship with coaches to be able to talk with them and have those serious talks about committing. Justin Chezem (14:09.901) Gotcha. And then, and then Jibril, you said you were with Bayside with ECNL when you were seen by Army. How did you remind me again? How did you finish? Were you with Bayside at the end or were with the Revolution at the end? I don't know. What was the timeline there? Jackson Meyer (14:22.911) So I was with Bayside from like sophomore all the way to senior year Justin Chezem (14:27.765) Gotcha. Okay. That makes sense. And so where, what, since you guys weren't military backgrounds, it's kind of jumped out at you. What, what, what were you thinking in the recruiting process? Like where were you kind of narrowing your thoughts? This is where I want to go. This is what I want to study. These are the types of schools I was looking at. And then army comes in and just messes all that up. Of course. So tell me what were you looking and then how did, how did it divert to the army? Jackson Meyer (14:52.89) Yeah, I'll go first answering this question. So initially, like I already told you guys, you know, my thought process, my parents thought process, they were like, oh man, army this, army that. But then as soon as we got on the phone call with Coach Check, he kind of explained, gave me like some like more information as to what army was. And as we got more into the recruiting process, it kind of seemed like some, especially like these division one programs, some of these coaches were like in it just for their own. success. They didn't really care about your genuine well-being. I remember I went on my visit here and the first thing was like, oh, how's mom? How's dad? How's everyone? So that kind of stood out to me, the coaches. And another thing for me was financially, it would be the best decision. So initially that made it stand out because going to school for free, playing soccer, playing the sport you love. But then there was still that army side where it was kind of questionable. But then as you go into the soccer process, you go into the recruiting process and you start getting it more into the coaches. Coaches are like, okay, you have to do this and in reward I'm gonna get this. When coach Plotkin was just caring about your wellbeing, caring about how you're progressing as a player, caring about how you're also gonna progress as a person if you come here. So that stood out most to me and that was ultimately the reason why I decided to come to West Point. Justin Chezem (16:15.181) Gotcha. Jackson, same question. Jackson Meyer (16:18.302) Yeah, I mean, I was scared. I was talking to a couple other schools. And I would say I had the same thing with coaches just being very about themselves. I've always liked a coach that is on me and gets into me. And I respond well to that. But there's a difference between a coach that is there to push you and make you be the best and a coach that just doesn't care about you. And I think that the coaches here Exemplified that well exemplified that to me just in a great way. They were they were Showing me that like hey when you come in you're we're gonna be on you We're gonna make sure that you're the best player that you can be but we're also gonna be here to care for you And it was kind of talking to some of the players. I was always reaching out asking them What's it like up there is the soccer side is a is a West Point side being a cadet and they were like the coaches Are here for you. Like if you're doing hard coaches are gonna have you over at their house. They're gonna third If you need a meal, they're gonna be there for you. They're gonna have a meal. The team is just so close. And that was one thing that I noticed coming on my visits and going through different schools is how much closer the team was here. And it was a real family and a team rather than just a couple of guys who played the same sport. So that was definitely something that pushed me through and was like, I want to play soccer here. Justin Chezem (17:35.137) When did you guys both commit? Jackson Meyer (17:37.662) I committed December 2nd, my senior year. Justin Chezem (17:41.421) Okay, so is that late in the process? Jackson Meyer (17:44.446) It is very late. I would say for my year, it wasn't as late just because of COVID. COVID pushed everything back with my junior year, but overall very late. Justin Chezem (17:55.769) When did you commit? Jackson Meyer (17:57.671) So I knew I wanted to come here my like I would say June of my junior year but then there's the SAT. So I didn't actually commit until late October. Justin Chezem (18:11.049) Oh, so you needed to retake. Is that what you're saying? Okay, so you needed a few more points. Okay, understood. Understood. Scot Cooper (18:16.116) Hmm Jackson Meyer (18:16.331) Yes, sir. Scot Cooper (18:19.84) So you guys both mentioned like how you were treated as recruits when you came on campus. I was kind of wondering how you guys are gonna parlay that into your leadership style as you go out into the military and what are the lessons you learned and how to treat people and what facets of leadership did you learn from your recruiting process, from Coach Plotkin and the rest of the staff there? Jackson Meyer (18:49.195) Oh, you want me to take this? Yeah. Thanks a lot, David. I appreciate that. Scot Cooper (18:51.884) I'm going to go to bed. Jackson Meyer (18:54.678) So basically like the foundation of leadership, I would say I can't talk too much about like, you know, the leadership degree that Westwood has to offer because I've only been here for about like nine, eight months. But from our recruiting process, like the main pillar of leadership is like respect. Like respect is something that goes both ways. If you respect your peers, your supporters, whoever, respect's going to go both ways. And during the recruiting process, the coaches like clearly demonstrated that they spoke that they talked about how that's like a part of the culture. of the soccer team here and that's why we have no problems with respect. When we have meetings, someone says something, the other one listens, we understand that. Conversation goes both ways. We all have something to say and everyone's here to listen. Scot Cooper (19:37.964) Cool. Jackson, you have anything to add? Jackson Meyer (19:40.895) I would just say that along that respect line, there's a difference between someone who's just nice to you and lets you get off the hook with things and someone that's respectful but holds you to a standard. And that was a big thing like trying to be in between that line of where you're just being a bad person and you're always on them. You don't really care about their well-being and caring about their well-being but holding to a standard for them to still succeed and push themselves. And the coaches here showed a group. perfect line to me to be honest of respecting us and pushing us to that standard to be our best. Scot Cooper (20:16.596) Yeah, sounds like they just kind of understood who you guys were and wanted to see your potential and wanted to get you to that potential. So that's really good stuff. I wanna back up just a little bit so that we can kind of paint a picture for anybody who might be thinking about West Point or any military academy really, but like, you know, you commit and then what goes into Jackson Meyer (20:27.448) Yes, sir. Scot Cooper (20:46.068) the lead up to reporting that first day. I'm sure that there's a lot to that. And what were you guys doing to prepare? What kind of guidance were you given? Jax, do you wanna start this time and then go over to Jibra? Okay. Jackson Meyer (21:01.186) Yes sir. So for me, me and my family, we were watching videos, just online videos, whatever we could find about what beast was like. What is the six weeks that you're there? What are you going through? We had that walkthrough with Coach and you talked to all these people, but really you just never know. So you're just a little confused, but like, you know what it's kind of going to look like. And then just the packing, which I hate packing, whether it's for a vacation that you want to go on or you're going. six weeks into boot camp. But you're making sure you have the right socks. They're compact so that once you get into where you have to flip them over into that next bag, that you can flip them over and not have that bag to fill. So it was really just a lot of packing and then just getting sleep to be honest. I was making sure that when I got there, that I was ready for whatever was gonna come at me. I feel like you almost have that fear of like, one, you're just going to college. I'm from Dallas. going all the way across the country to New York and I'm scared for what's going to come. I'm not going to see my family, be able to talk to them. So you almost hype up the fear into being worse than what it really is going to be. And I would say that I overprepared, but just a lot of packing and just nerves to get there. Like I wouldn't say you were scared, but you anticipated, like you wanted to be there and you were happy, but just nervous. Scot Cooper (22:29.04) What do you remember from that time? Jackson Meyer (22:30.494) Yeah, so mine's obviously a little bit more fresher than Jackson's, so I'm going to go a little bit earlier. So right away you commit and then you're actually now you're actually trying to get into the school. So you have the process of meeting the senators, getting your letters of recommendation from like your teachers. But throughout this whole process, you really understand like the type of school West Point is because you commit to the school. And right away, the amount the amount of connections you get opens up. You're meeting with senators and you're talking about like what you did in your life to like. make you have this privilege to go to the school. So right away I met with two senators. I got both their nomination. One of them was actually alumni from my high school. So that one was like a little bit, a little cheat code. So yeah, you have that process and then you're talking to like the high reps of your school. You're talking to your vice principal, your principal. Hey, I'm thinking about going to this great school. Can you please write me like a letter of recommendation? You're talking to all your teachers. Justin Chezem (23:13.345) Hehehehe Jackson Meyer (23:27.558) And from going to West Point, from committing at West Point, you see everyone's kind of perception on you and kind of change. You're like, oh man, you're going to the Army? You're going to West Point? So that kind of just talks about what kind of school West Point is and the type of people that graduate from this place. But then after that, like Jackson said, you're just preparing. Your mom's always on the internet watching videos. Hey, you need this, you need this, you need that. And then you're just trying to see all your family. You're trying to see all your friends. Because your summer ends a lot earlier than everyone else's. You're just trying to spend time with the people you love. And then lastly, just like you're physically preparing. You're running a lot, you're playing a lot of soccer. You're just doing everything that you can to help not prepare you for Beast because nothing can prepare you for Beast, but help you get best situated for Beast. Scot Cooper (24:13.192) Um, geez, let me follow up real quick and then you can jump back in here. Um, so beast is six weeks, right? And so it's, it's basic training for, um, you know, being able to walk onto campus for being a student West point, right? A cadet. Um, so like, uh, you guys were talking about switching over bags. So basically you report. Justin Chezem (24:16.103) Thank you. Jackson Meyer (24:20.792) Yes, sir. Scot Cooper (24:41.124) your dorm and then they like ship you off somewhere else to go do beast so that's why you have to flip bags or how does it what's the story there? Jackson Meyer (24:48.546) So I'll take this one. You come in and you have your own bag that you brought with all your clothes in it that you're gonna have for the next six weeks. And you basically are not throwing away, but you're putting away your bag and you're putting all of your clothes into the bag that they give you. Because they're like, just, yeah. It's one of the things that happens. I feel like it gets a lot of people and they get very scared about it because you're like, oh my gosh, are they not gonna let me bring my soap or my socks? Because I was sitting there freaking out. But... Scot Cooper (25:04.593) Oh, I see. Jackson Meyer (25:18.518) Really, it was like a five minute thing. You switch over the bags and then you're through, you're good. But that's right outside your barracks. And then you go and you put your bag in your barracks and you set up your room. But it's right where you are. You're not leaving to go out to the field yet. Scot Cooper (25:34.688) I see, okay. Yeah, go ahead, Cheese, if you wanna jump it back in. Justin Chezem (25:39.201) Yeah, I wanted to kind of ask you about the academic side and the post-graduation side. And I actually, I want to definitely jump into post first. What exactly are your requirements and what's set up for you when you graduate? This is what's expected out of you. And what does that look like for you? Kind of, do you both have different plans with that and how many years you're going to put in? Kind of, kind of elaborate on that and what that looks like when you're all finished. Jackson Meyer (26:10.839) So right away we're required to serve five years in the Army. Now it's kind of different picking your branch, but a lot of the first season they picked field artillery, but it's kind of like, I wouldn't say a draft, but kind of this process where you put out everything you're good at, and then the branch is put out everything that they need from someone. and if they match up, then you'll get picked for that branch. Personally, I don't really know what I want to branch out, what I want to do in the Army. Something with like engineering, yeah, you're required to serve five years and as soon as you graduate, you go to like another officer school where you see like all the ROTC graduates and all that. But the thing with West Point is you've been doing this military thing for the last four years. So you kind of have, you know. Justin Chezem (27:02.722) Mm-hmm. Jackson Meyer (27:02.894) You're kind of ahead of your peers in that case. Yeah, you're required to serve five years and I haven't really thought about, I don't think any, a lot of the people who come and talk to us that are like generals or have stayed in for a long time, they're like, oh man, I thought I was only gonna stay in for five years, but then boom, 30 years later, here they are talking to us. So I can't really talk too much in the future. Like Jackson said, I'm just kind of enjoying the process, taking it one step at a time. Justin Chezem (27:29.857) So basically when you get in there, you can pick a bunch of different majors. I'm sure they have a, it's a school. So you're picking different things to study. How much of that is influenced into the next step? Are they looking at you and you just mentioned engineering? I'm assuming they're gonna say, hey, Jabril has this great engineering degree. They're gonna jump you into a field that's requirement for engineering. I mean, I would assume that. I mean, is that what all of your teammates are doing? They're kind of trying to. position themselves to be in a few of these fields when they graduate. So it's something that they can relate to and something that they like. Is that a common theme? Jackson Meyer (28:05.77) Yeah, I would definitely say that. A lot of the engineering majors on my team got field artillery, like I was talking about. So that has engineering in it. You know, you have like the trajectory and all the engineering components. So yeah, I would say a lot of the times, a lot of these majors translate exactly into what they're doing in the army. Sometimes they don't. Sometimes you also have to like count in like the physical scores, right? So let's say you have like amazing physical scores and you do have like your engineering degree, but it's not. as good as like your physical scores, then you might be in like a combat arm because you're better at the physical things. So there's a lot of different things to consider when getting your branch and all those branches they'd consider them. Justin Chezem (28:45.257) What does, uh, so you put in those four years of the school, then you serve for five years, what does, uh, what does it look like if you were like, you know what I did my five, I'm stepping away. I had this great engineering degree. I'm going to go into the private sector and do a different job. Now, what does that look like in terms of retirement? Does that even kick in for you guys? Do you need to put in 20, you know, kind of what, what does that look like? And does it include the four years of school? Uh, kind of elaborated that for me if you can. Jackson Meyer (29:11.21) Yeah, of course. So going to West Point, it's a prestigious school. So if you were to get out the Army, you still have opportunities to do more schooling. You get your master's somewhere, somewhere that is a great school. A lot of people here, they graduate here, they do their five years and they get their masters at an Ivy League or at a school like UChicago. These top tier schools are like prestigious. And if that doesn't interest you, then West Point has a bunch of people who are just overachieving. Everyone here is an overachiever. They all graduated. So those who don't stay in the Army, we see them almost everywhere. So if you were to get into the private sector, and these like higher areas, there's most likely a West Point graduate over there. So we have this thing called the Alumni of Graduates, AOG. And it's basically when you're in the private sector, you can just, you know, LinkedIn, take one of them up and they probably have some opportunity for you. Justin Chezem (30:02.133) Yeah, I mean, I just the other day I was driving my wife and I saw, um, we have a lot of military bases here in the area. And I saw, I mean, I'm gonna call him a kid. He must've been 20, 21, old military garb on a motorcycle and I'm driving and he kind of passes me. And I'm like, man, I'm 41 years old. I could have put in 20 years, retired, had a nice pension coming through, then picked up college coaching or something like that. And Jackson Meyer (30:08.974) BLEH Jackson Meyer (30:30.498) No. Justin Chezem (30:30.925) You know, I'm double salarying now and having some, uh, you know, it just seems like everybody that goes that route, you would be in this page. I mean, you're going to graduate at 22, put in 20 years and then go through something else and you're going to have a West Point degree, 20 years in the, in the military. Uh, and I mean, you're going to be making great money on top of your retirement, your pension. I mean, I'm, I'm assuming you're trying to look ahead without looking ahead. I mean, is that to me, that's so enticing and I'm surprised more kids aren't trying to go that route. Is that something you guys are looking into? Jackson Meyer (31:02.358) I would definitely say for me, I mean, everybody looks into it a little bit. You try to take one step at a time, but you're always looking at your future. I mean, you were looking at your future when you made the decision to come here. Or if you made the decision not to come here, if you're someone that had the opportunity to come and you didn't come. But there are all these opportunities that Jabril is kind of hitting on. If you want to go get an MBA, the army can pay for it. And you just prolong your service a little bit. but then the Army's paying for that. Or if you want your kids scholarship to be paid for, you can do even more years of service and you can get the GI bill. You have your healthcare paid for, your housing paid for. So there's all these kinds of things, the Army benefits you from staying in and adding years to your service. But then also getting out and being like, hey, maybe I just do five years, I get out. And all the connections you make up here, a lot of people talk about how college is really just the connections you make. And I think that you make the best connections that you possibly could if you went here. So those are all things to take into account and look for. And some people try to set that up at their branch. If you maybe go infantry, you're not getting as much of the civilian sector workload as if you went finance branch and you're working with numbers all the time and you're budgeting for a military budget that could be worth millions and billions of dollars. But... Those are all things to look for when you're branching, if you're deciding to come here, when you're picking your major as well. So I would say for me, like I'm an econ major. I picked that because that was what I was interested in. And I just wanted to do, I wanted to do something that I was interested in. And if it hurts me in the long run because I didn't do engineers and I don't get to go to branch engineers, then maybe it hurts me. But if it's something that I enjoy doing, then it's what I wanna do. Justin Chezem (32:55.049) My dad was an econ major, served in the Marine Corps in supply. So he was working in these huge buildings with, I mean, he was just in charge of entire, you talk about budgets. I mean, his was in the billions, I'm assuming. And he finished off his 20 years. And then, I mean, people were just begging for him to come work for them. I mean, you're going to get a job right away after that. And he's, he's great. He's, he's retired twice. Now he retired from the Marines and then retired from the private world. And he's, he's He's never going to work again. I'm so proud of him and I kind of went that route sometimes. Yeah, that's great. Scot Cooper (33:30.464) Geez, man, we're gonna turn this into a recruiting video. Ha, ha, ha. Jackson Meyer (33:34.14) Hahaha Justin Chezem (33:35.606) I just I'm trying to do something where they take talk and my son's name is tuck. I'm just like please take him. You're going to need a big helmet. He's got a big head, but you know, he'll be fine. It'll be fine. Scot Cooper (33:47.46) Guys, talk about like, you get through Beast six weeks, right? And then, you know, I'm assuming at some point you start to play soccer. So talk about like, you know, coming out of Beast, you got to go through Beast before you start soccer, right? Is that the way it works? So you're already like six weeks behind, right? Everyone else has been playing soccer and you guys are six weeks behind when you're first coming in. So talk about what that kind of shock is when you're... Jackson Meyer (34:05.09) Yes, sir. Scot Cooper (34:15.884) first step out on the training pitch and what you guys remember from that and then how it goes balancing through a season as a cadet. Jackson Meyer (34:27.798) I'll start off. So for me, I'm finally getting to go to a college team, something I've wanted to do since I was a kid. So the nerves were already high and you get out of Beast, your touch is a little bit off, everything feels just a little bit weird. And I can remember from my first day, we were meeting all the guys and we were just doing some juggling drill, something I've done my whole life and I was messing up like every time. And I'd say for the guys on the team, everyone kind of understands, they've all came out of Beast. had their touch a little bit messed up, and they're very like, give you a second to get into it. But it really comes back really quick. You've had the muscle memory of playing soccer since you were five, three, whatever, and it comes back quick, and then we really ramp up into season and get going. I'd also say that after your freshman year, you almost get more time than other colleges to play. Because you're coming back in the summer and you're right back into it. And we're starting earlier and in the fall we get less of a winter break. So we're already back in and playing in January. I would say over the four years you make it up from what you missed in those six weeks. Jackson Meyer (35:39.642) Yeah, you know, you get, you know, Jamie already said it, you get back from Beast and your touch is like, wow, like, how am I here? But then, you know, you get comfortable with the team, you start to get like your flow back, you start to realize like, man, soccer is fun, like, this is why I'm here. And everything like starts to flow from there. So you get back into it really quick. And from like the academic year, first semester of soccer season, you have so much support. So you're not really worried about anything. You're not worried about failing classes. You're not worried about... being like mentally going through it. Cause we have Dr. Kat, she's like a, what is she, a psychologist? Sports psychiatrist. Excuse me, sports psychiatrist. So she's there for us if we're going through a rough time mentally. We have mandatory study halls. So if we're going through academically, we have tutors at those study halls. So like in season, you're not really, there's not really a lot of outside factors that you're worried about. because you have all the support. So if you are going through something, you have all the support to get you through it. And then soccer wise, that's kind of like our escape. So at the end of the day, all our classes are over. We have practice, we get to see each other, and it's overall just a great time. Justin Chezem (36:51.477) What, uh, what is the soccer like? You know, I, uh, I, I'm, I'm buddies with, uh, the previous Naval Academy coach and, uh, I had heard that they subbed just, I mean, everybody played just got after this was the year they went to instable list that a really good team on top of that. And so kind of what is, what is the soccer like being, being there? It's, it's gotta be a little different. I'm assuming it's a different, different atmosphere. So what's it like? Jackson Meyer (37:16.45) I would say, environment-wise, the only games that are a lot different from regular Division 1 soccer games are the Academy games. I would say they're up there with professional games. I remember the Air Force game, that was the first game of the season, and here I am, a freshman, with this big crowd of cadets. And it's the first time you're kind of a big fish in the little pond. You know, usually as a pliebe, you're this little fish just trying to get through. This is the first time you actually have the chance to express yourself. But I would say soccer wise, it's the same as any other division one school. You can put the ball down and play. But the environment, the service academy games especially, it's a lot different. There's a lot more energy and it's something that, it's a feeling that you don't forget. I'm still kind of buzzing thinking about the service academy games. Jackson Meyer (38:12.422) Yeah, I would say that from talking to some of my buddies who play, I got friends that play at different colleges, it is pretty similar, but just the schedule of your day is so much different. You know, we're doing class all day, waking up in the morning, and then everything we're doing together is a team. So breakfast together is a team. Lunch together is a team. Then everyone, you know, you're going through different classes, but a lot of us are taking some similar classes. And then we're all together out there on the field. And it's like... The day is over and we're excited to be in practice. We're happy. It's not like sometimes you go through the motions when you get to practice, but I feel like here it's really like, it's fulfilling. You're like, I'm at practice, we're ready to go. And I think that we play very similar soccer to a lot of other schools. With the subbing thing that you mentioned, I say that, I don't want to speak on coach's tactics, but he plays through the evenings best. And if you're performing, then you're gonna play. And if you've shown that you've worked hard in practice, then you're gonna play. Yeah, kind of built on this point too, about our different schedules. I feel like at the end of the day, it kind of feels rewarding to practice because it felt like we like earned the day. We wake up super early, you have to go to all our classes, and then boom, you know what I'm saying, you have this moment where it's chill, where you're with all your best friends, all your brothers, and you finally get to do the thing that you love at the end of the day. So it makes every practice challenging, competitive, because everyone there kind of has like... the shared understanding that you earned that right to practice. So I think that's something that differs from a lot of schools because, you know, you're talking to your buddies at these other traditional schools, they're like, yeah, man, like I just skipped my first class. I woke up at 12, dah, dah. And I practiced at three and it's like, I've been in school all day. I've had five classes while you just woke up and then we're still practicing at the same time. So. Justin Chezem (40:02.609) Yeah, I would imagine the idea of skipping school where you guys are is not one of the options. Coming to get you quickly for that. That's that's good to hear. I mean, I assumed that since the level of talent I've seen the academies bring in is very high. And I like man, they can do whatever they want. Of course, coach block comes come from a great background. And so I was I was assuming that you guys were going to say what she says. That's good to hear. I want you to touch a little bit more on that those service Academy games. Now you guys. Jackson Meyer (40:08.391) Yeah, not a great idea. Justin Chezem (40:32.329) You play at the Philly Union Stadium, is that right? For the Army-Navy game? Okay, so I attended an Army-Navy football game back in the 90s. It was the greatest sporting event I've ever been to. It was an unbelievable experience. And I mean, I just wish I wasn't a coach in the same season as you guys. I'd go pick up Scott on my way up there and we'll go and watch the game. He's going to probably be able to go without me. But what is that like? What's that experience like? And I mean, how'd you guys do this year? You know, like what's... Jackson Meyer (40:34.786) Thank you. Justin Chezem (41:01.493) What's the rival really? Jackson Meyer (41:04.05) I'd say the rivalry is like no other. There's no feeling you get than going into that Philly Union Stadium and you're playing Navy and it doesn't matter what has happened the rest of the season, but that game is just, it's 90 minutes of straight grit and who wants it more? I'd say the worst thing about the thing, about the rivalry is that we can tie. It's frustrating. We tied this year versus Navy and it just feels like somebody has to win. But going on there, me and Jabril both played versus Navy as freshmen, and it's like, you're scared. Like, everyone is so amped up for this game, and it means so much to every single person on the field. On both teams, whether there's somebody who hasn't played all year, or there's somebody that is a captain and plays 90 minutes a game, it means, I think, the same to every single person on that field. And there's 10,000 fans in the crowd. You're playing on a pro stadium, something you probably wanted to do as a kid. And the feeling is just insane. So all your friends are coming out to watch you using their weekends to come watch you. And it just feels like you've done something and it just means something. Justin Chezem (42:18.227) That sounds really exciting. Scott, you're gonna need to go to that game this year, man. Scot Cooper (42:23.652) I'm there. Jackson Meyer (42:26.506) I mean, I think, yeah, I think Jackson covered it. It's honestly like a surreal feeling. You know, as soon as you arrive there, you're practicing on a field union and they're practice fields and you kind of, you feel like a professional. You feel like a little kid, like you said, you feel like all jittery, excuse me. Jittery like, oh man, like, you know, my, look at me talking, speaking about it, you know? You're like all, yeah, you're all jittery inside. You're all tingly. It's like, oh man, like this is really it. Then you walk out there, you know, you're trying to spot your family. But again, there's like 10,000 people in the stands. You can't. You can't, you know, you can't spy on anyone. And then, and then I think the best feeling after the game for me was after the game. Like a little kid asked to take a picture of me and I was like, oh man, like it kind of was that moment, like, wow, like these, you know, I'm like in that position that I once, that I once wanted to be. So it honestly was a surreal feeling, like a little kid asking to like take a picture of me and being like, oh man, like, cause a lot of the time here, like we're hard on ourselves. So we don't really understand how far we came, how far we come. But then you know, you kind of take a step back and it's like, man, like, you know, I'm really somewhere. Justin Chezem (43:30.677) Yeah, that's amazing. Scot Cooper (43:35.88) Yeah, so talk a little bit more about what you guys do in the off season. Just kind of a, just to kind of paint a picture for people who are considering an academy level college soccer experience and you know what they can expect and you know what your guys days look like and that sort of thing. Jackson Meyer (44:06.076) All right, I'll take this one. So right now we're just kind of in a time of development. A thing that's different from service academies and a lot of the schools is right now, you know, people be ending up their buddies like, hey, come play at my school. But here you can't do that. So right now it's just a time for all of us to individually develop. Right now we had at the very beginning of all seasons we had like meeting with our coaches about what we want to do, where do we see ourselves the next year. And now we're just trying to like execute that. We're trying to be better. individually, which can overall enhance us as a team. So right now our schedule is we have day ones and day twos, a reason why we couldn't get the same scheduling. So on our day ones, our class starts about 10. So we have a 7 a.m. practice, and we go for about an hour and a half to two hours, and we're on the ball, we're being competitive, we're playing each other. And then on day twos, usually we have a lift. So after school, about 445, 430, we have, or 1630, 1645. We have a lift that we do with our strength and conditioning coach Silas. He's great. We're doing that. We're doing fitness. We're running. We're putting in the work. So right now, a lot of the work for next season is happening right now. Justin Chezem (45:06.505) Manila. Jackson Meyer (45:22.614) Just to go more in depth, I'd say that with what you're saying about individual meetings and individual production, a lot of that is what we're focusing on the spring. So especially for the Plebes, like they just get in and they're just being thrown right into the team. Hey, you're playing here. Like we need you to do this. We need you to do that. And the spring is when the coaches can really work with us individually and perfect whatever we were lacking in. So it could be anything from on the soccer field to positioning, athleticism. technical ability, like tight spaces, whatever it is, and they're working with you individually. And then we're bringing that all in at the end of practices in a team organized that are scrimmage, small-sided, whatever it is, and kind of just seeing that payoff each day. And it's like just plugging away, like each day, hitting true with the axe and one more step at a time. And then, but it's just, it's rewarding. It's a hard period, but it's a rewarding period where we all just come together and we're pushing. all for the same goal that we know like, hey, we need to be a little bit better than next year. Like we need to win however many more games than last year. And it's just a real individual time period that we encompass in the team together. Justin Chezem (46:36.489) What is like a, what is your monthly calendar look like? When do you check in winter finals? What's your winter break? Like, do you get one? How long, like, what's that look like? Do they really get after you? You better come back fit and ready to go. You know, what, what does your year look like? Kind of monthly. Jackson Meyer (46:51.278) So, coming in, I'll just start from the fall. So we come in, a lot of the upperclassmen that are the plebs going into BEAST, they get in around early June, and then they're starting right away. Some people will be doing summer classes to get ahead and make their semesters a little bit lighter, but everyone around early June to mid June, having our practices, school starts around August 7th, so that's when you'll start taking your classes and you have that normal. period like we're doing school five days a week. The nice part is, is getting federal holidays. Not every school gets those. Like we just had President's Day that some of my buddies didn't have. But we get, so I think there's Columbus Day, and then we have Thanksgiving break, which I'm hoping that we don't have this year, because I'm hoping we're still playing and we're in the tournament and we're going far. And then we get Veterans Day, and then we, what's that? Justin Chezem (47:47.861) How long is that? How long is Thanksgiving? Do you get a whole week for Thanksgiving or just three days? Jackson Meyer (47:52.118) We get, I want to say we got off Tuesday this week and then came back Monday. So nearly a full week, but it was good. Everyone got to see their families and all. And then Christmas, I want to say we get, we got a week and a half this year, right? Around that two weeks. So about a week and a half to two weeks. Usually it's from December 18th to January 4th. So two weeks. And then you come back and you're right back into it. We're going and you get two. Two breaks, two three day breaks, one in January, one in February, and then you get a spring break for about 12 days. So actually a really good spring break. And then that's about the last time until we get finals at the end, which we have about, we call them T-week, that T's are our finals. And so those are the last week of school around May 20th. And then that kind of concludes your semester, or your school year. And then you have summer training. over summer. So that looks different depending on what class you're in and what training you're doing. Justin Chezem (48:55.297) But your summer breaks are just, I mean, that sounds like less than a month. Jackson Meyer (49:00.266) I got around four and a half weeks last year, but some of the other guys got around eight weeks. So it kind of depends on, it depends on what you're doing because you could get off it May 20th and be done till around June maybe with maybe like a week back in here at school, or you could really have your whole entire summer taken up just really depending on how much stuff you wanna do because there's a lot of opportunities they give us here for some of the more military based schools. So like. Scot Cooper (49:16.684) where you can. Jackson Meyer (49:27.482) airborne or aerosol or doing IEDs too. So kind of internships, which there are some really great internships here. So if you can kind of manage your own summer in a way. Justin Chezem (49:38.369) So for those longer breaks like spring break, does everybody leave? Does everybody go home? Or do you have a lot of guys that stick around? Jackson Meyer (49:45.166) For spring break, I think just about everybody leaves. A lot of the guys go together, so different trips to different places. A lot of the guys, like we said, were just so close here. So everyone's taking trips together and just having a good time away. And then once we get back, it's right back in, right? Because we're starting right around the spring season right then, so it's going right back into the game plan and starting right where we left off. Justin Chezem (50:09.101) I mean, a lot of this sounds like a normal college experience, you know, in addition to, I mean, it's the same thing. My guys are vacationing together on spring break as well. And I believe Coach Plotkin mentioned you guys are going abroad soon. Is it this year or next year? Jackson Meyer (50:25.102) There's been talks about it, I'm not sure exactly yet. I'm waiting to find out because I'm excited to go, but I think it'll be coming around next year. Justin Chezem (50:33.941) Okay. Are you guys excited at the prospect of being stationed abroad? Jackson Meyer (50:40.242) I want to probably have that opportunity with my grades, but I know some of the older guys are super excited. Those are some of the more enticing posts that they have available here, and they usually go off in the higher numbers. But a lot of the people love it. I would love to go to Germany or to Italy. Very exciting places to grow up, especially when you're in your 20s. But those are very exciting. Justin Chezem (51:04.277) Is that where the majority of the boys that are going abroad, is that where they're being stationed? Gotcha, gotcha. Jackson Meyer (51:09.944) Yes, sir. Scot Cooper (51:15.454) So you guys don't really get an opportunity to play, like you're not going to go play on a USL2 team over the summer or anything like that. You guys do your... Jackson Meyer (51:23.35) I'll pass this one to you, bro. Yeah, depending on how long our summer is. So this summer I was planning on playing for a USL team, and then I got my summer training, which I can't control. And it kind of put it right in the middle of my summer. So I have like a week and then I have training and then I have another two weeks. So really depending on your schedule, you can or cannot. In the past, I have been a lot of players. who have had a longer spring break and who have played for UPSL teams, USL2 teams, just like playing summer ball, getting touches in, getting, you know, playing with those collegiate players and environment other than the NCAA. So yeah, a couple of players on our team this year have plans on doing that. Hopefully they don't get the same summer schedule as me and have to cancel their plans, but the opportunity to play USL2 or just play summer ball in general is definitely available. Scot Cooper (52:21.164) So what's the summer training you have? Jackson Meyer (52:23.49) So for me, going into my Yuck year, it's called Cadet Field Training 2. And it basically just kind of builds on Beast, but it's a lot less strict. Now it's not really on discipline or learning the rules. It's about more military training. So I'll be firing motors, more guns, be in the field more, just doing a lot of the more fun stuff, a lot of the more stuff that you join the military for, instead of getting yelled at. Justin Chezem (52:52.42) that. Scot Cooper (52:53.324) These are going to jump in that we add something. I'm sorry. Justin Chezem (52:55.645) No, I'm soaking this all in. I'm impressed with these two young men. Scot Cooper (52:59.376) Yeah, yeah, for sure. So Jackson, what would you kind of, if you were to advise your younger self, what would you tell yourself as a junior, senior in high school as you knew you were coming to West Point and that sort of thing, like what would you lay out there for yourself? Jackson Meyer (53:22.35) I would say that you can't just change who you are. A lot of times people will be like, oh, once I get into college, I'll fix my study habits. Or once this comes around, I'll start training harder. Whatever that case may be. Or, oh, once we get three days closer to the game, I'll start hydrating. That's really just not realistic in any way, shape, or form. So kind of just preparing my habits more. I would say that I didn't really have the greatest study habits in high school. I didn't... My training habits were good, but you can always push for better. So it's like, you have to start working on those things earlier and preparing yourself for college, college soccer in general, no matter where you go, like, are you, how is your leadership skills? How are you, how are you in practice? Are you, if it's a drill that you can, are you just staying back or are you fully a hundred percent in and attentive and talking and doing things that coaches want to see like. Everyone knows that once you go to a showcase, you might open your voice a little bit more because you want to be seen, but are you doing that in practice? Do you just turn it on for a game? So I think it was for me really just telling myself like, you can't just flip a switch. It's a consistency type of thing. And that's really what the academy has shown me a ton, just being consistent and you can't, people talk about that a lot right now too. Like once you are in the big army and you're a platoon leader, you don't just all of a sudden then be able to enforce standards and. hold people to a different standard and push them to be the best versions of themselves, you have to start doing that now. And that's kind of what the whole process is here at West Point is figuring out what your leadership style is here now and working on that and crafting it. So not just waiting to flip the switch, but doing it then. Scot Cooper (55:04.052) Real same question. Jackson Meyer (55:05.438) Yeah, of course. First thing I would do is I would hand my 16-year-old to self a big fat book that says SAT study guide. But no, on a serious, on a serious note, like Jackson was saying, I think as soon as, so I probably had the best GPA my junior year. I had like a 4.0, 3.98, I was right there. And then I commit my senior year, I'm like, okay, now I'm just on cruise control, we just gotta make it to graduation. But. everything you do matters. The things you do every single day, that becomes your culture, that becomes your way of life. Those things that you do become habits. So you know, you're sleeping in until seven, you're getting to school at 7.15. Those things are gonna translate over and it's gonna be a lot harder to transition into this strict lifestyle of waking up at six and having to be somewhere at seven. So I would just say to my 16 year old self, to the 16 year old who's watching this now, start doing the hard things now so you're getting used to it. Challenge yourself. Every opportunity you get, try to challenge yourself. Try to fail, because ultimately the failures are what build you. Scot Cooper (56:16.832) And then just to kind of, for me anyway, to close it out, like talk about what happens once you graduate, you get a commission, you know, you're a second lieutenant, and then talk about, you know, what it's, what it like, I know it depends on the branch that you're going into, but you know, what that looks like to go into the big army and be a, junior officer and that sort of thing, what kind of opportunities are there? Jackson Meyer (56:49.526) So I'll take this start. Right away you commission, you finally walk on stage, it's probably one of your happiest moments of your life. I can't wait. We've got two years, but every day feels like a step closer. But you get 60 day leave right when you commission. So your 60 days are for me perfect for the World Cup. That's on the blueprint. You get 60 days leave to go see your friends and family. And then right away you're going to some kind of training based on whatever branch you go into. So if you're in the infantry, it's the eye bullock and so on. And it's kind of more of a technical training into whatever branch you pick. And then you're going right in after your bullock and you're going to be a platoon leader and you're in charge of 32 men. You have... your PSG with you and your fallen commanders intense. So all the leadership training that we've done here for the past four years are going into your platoon leader time. And you have people that are rating you and making sure that you're doing a good job. And you can go up the ranks, you can go, they might not like you. So I feel like everything we do here is for a reason and it's preparing you for that moment and to make sure that you were like the best. platoon leader possible when you get to your post. And then eventually those five years come around and you're making a decision whether you wanna keep going or whether you wanna get out. And those are just decisions based on how you like the Army. There's some guys like Jibril kind of pointed on earlier. They thought that they would hate the Army. They really didn't like it that much when they were here. But then they get to their platoon and they love it. And they stay in for 20 years. So taking it just a step at a time. Scot Cooper (58:46.048) Um, yeah, this one's I'm gonna ask your bro a question actually. Um, so let's say you're forward, right? So let's say you're your last year, um, you score 20 goals and the MLS comes knock in or whoever, right? So as someone who's going to graduate and get commissioned, what is that? Are you do you have the ability to go play in the MLS? Jackson Meyer (58:55.335) Yes, sir. Jackson Meyer (59:04.427) Mmm. Jackson Meyer (59:08.555) Mm. Scot Cooper (59:12.737) You know, is there a process there? I remember David Robinson when I was a kid, you know, he went to the Naval Academy. You guys might not remember. I'm saying how old I am now, but go ahead. What's the process there? Jackson Meyer (59:18.533) Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, so it honestly changed. I can't give you an answer that answers this question in four years because it changes so much. As of right now, you can leave. You just would owe the money, the $250,000 that the Academy paid for you. But there are other instances where, I don't know if you guys are familiar with Zach Bradshaw. He's a West Point graduate and he's playing right now for the Portland Timbers. And kind of funny, also ironic, the... Canadian national team. But yeah, so if that opportunity presented itself in four years, given the way now, I would honestly just have to see what it looks like financially, because obviously $250,000 is a lot of money. Yeah, but it's honestly changing so much that as of right now, I can't give you a solid answer. Hopefully, I could call you in four years and be like, hey, I got this M-Last contract. And Congress decided to be a little nicer to me. Scot Cooper (01:00:27.372) Cheese will write you a check for the 250, don't worry about it. Cheese, what else you got, anything? Jackson Meyer (01:00:29.632) Yeah Justin Chezem (01:00:32.629) decimal points can be misplaced. Let's put it that way. Jackson Meyer (01:00:34.798) Thank you. Justin Chezem (01:00:39.737) I'm wrapped up buddy. I'm super impressed with you guys. Jabril Jackson. Thank you so much. I hope we cross paths one day and I hope my son's with me so he can meet you guys. I think you guys are going to be excellent role models and I'm excited for the future of our military with gentlemen like you. So thank you very much. I appreciate your time and I'm definitely going to be following you guys this fall and rooting for you. And if I have the chance, I'm coming up. Scot Cooper (01:00:41.184) Good luck. Jackson Meyer (01:00:52.814) Yeah, I'd love to meet him. Jackson Meyer (01:01:08.046) Sounds good. Yes sir. We would love to have you. Thank you for having us on sir. Absolutely. Alright. Justin Chezem (01:01:11.573) I'll wear an army shirt. I promise to wear an army shirt. Scot Cooper (01:01:15.685) You guys have anything else? Any pearls of wisdom you want to leave for young student athletes out there? Jackson Meyer (01:01:24.162) I'm not too good with words there to be honest. No, just thank you guys again, honestly. It's a privilege to represent the soccer team here and to represent the academy. So I'm glad we're here speaking on behalf of the Army, on behalf of the academy, and appreciate you guys for giving us this opportunity. Yes, sir. Thank you. Scot Cooper (01:01:41.964) Thanks for being willing to do it, appreciate it. Jackson Meyer (01:01:44.206) Appreciate it. Justin Chezem (01:01:45.549) Thanks, boys.

100. Craig Appleby Head Coach, Men's Soccer, Johns Hopkins University Hi I’m Scot Cooper and this is the 100th episode of the Tales From the Trail podcast by MatchPlay. In this episode, Justin Chezem of Christopher Newport University Men’s Soccer and I welcome Craig Appleby. Craig is the head coach of men’s soccer at Johns Hopkins University. Coach Appleby has been highly successful at a prestigious university and recruiting the right type of student-athlete is the lifeline to that accomplishment. This is a great conversation with two leaders of perennial tournament teams who recruit and compete at the highest level. Summary The conversation covers various topics including missing a convention, getting into high academic schools, financial aid and affordability, recruiting camps and events, the timeline for admissions and decision-making, and a thrilling game against Babson. The discussion also touches on the stress and academic rigor that student-athletes face. The conversation covers various topics related to soccer gameplay, strategy, outlook for the next season, spring training, coaching relationships, recruiting, and transfers. Takeaways Consider the location, content, and commitments when deciding which conventions to attend. Getting into high academic schools requires maximizing test scores, taking rigorous classes, and maintaining high grades. Financial aid and affordability play a significant role in the college decision-making process. Attending recruiting camps and events can provide valuable opportunities for student-athletes. Understanding the timeline for admissions and decision-making is crucial for prospective college athletes. Student-athletes at high academic schools face unique challenges and must manage their time effectively. Thrilling games and comebacks can create unforgettable moments in college sports. Student-athletes must navigate the stress and academic rigor of high academic institutions. Gameplay and strategy play a crucial role in the success of a soccer team. Spring training provides an opportunity for tactical development and introducing new concepts. Coaches often have friendly relationships and collaborate on recruiting players. Transfers can be challenging due to admission requirements and limited availability. Chapters 00:00 Introduction and Convention 03:00 Missing the Convention 06:00 The Comedy Store in LA 09:00 Getting into High Academic Schools 16:00 Financial Aid and Affordability 21:00 Recruiting Camps and Events 26:00 Timeline for Admissions and Decision-Making 36:00 The Exciting Game Against Babson 45:00 Dealing with Stress and Academic Rigor 46:05 Gameplay and Strategy 47:49 Outlook for Next Season 49:30 Spring Training and Tactical Development 51:59 Coaching Relationships and Recruiting 53:14 Transfers and Admissions 55:45 Closing Remarks Justin Chezem (00:01.215) Craig, did you head out to Anaheim this year to go to the convention? Craig Appleby (00:05.694) No, I didn't make it. Justin Chezem (00:07.635) Are you one of those that's like, I'm only going to the ones that are a quick drive away? Craig Appleby (00:15.102) I've been to, like went to LA. So I do go to some of them. But yeah, I'm finding, you know, you're getting to the age where, you know, you start looking at the rundown of what's being presented, how far away it is, how much time away from your family or other commitments. So. Justin Chezem (00:38.795) Yeah, this was the first one I missed in a long time. And I don't think I missed it. I got, and I was, I get excited to like, like last year when we hung out together the whole time, stay in the same apartment area or whatever, whatever that setup was, it was a cool setup. But no, I don't know of anybody that really was going that I was, you know, really close with or anything. So I don't know, I'll try it next year. I think it's Chicago next year? I think so, probably Chicago. Of course it's freezing cold out there. Craig Appleby (01:03.498) Think so. Justin Chezem (01:07.347) The one thing I do miss is when we went to LA, oh, that was five or six years ago now, that was, we went to the comedy club. What do they call it there? Not the comedy, cellar. What's the one in LA called? The store, the comedy store. Man, that is, that's an experience. That was a lot of fun. That was a lot. My face was hurting at the end of the night from laughing. Scot Cooper (01:20.071) store. Craig Appleby (01:28.65) Yeah, I wish I had found that. I went to the South Carolina, the ECNL event recently. I think I went out, I got there, went out to get something to eat Friday night. I think it was Friday night. And I was walking back to the hotel and there was a comedy zone there. And it had the thing out saying, it was the live mic night. Justin Chezem (01:36.875) Okay. Justin Chezem (01:56.905) Yeah. Craig Appleby (01:58.002) I was like, oh, I'll just check it out. Wasn't so great. I wasn't laughing. Justin Chezem (02:05.905) Those guys aren't professionals, huh? Craig Appleby (02:08.322) Uh, yeah, they're still working on a lot of stuff. Justin Chezem (02:10.407) Yeah. It's cool when you go to the big, I've been to both the seller and the store in New York's and LA's. And it's funny, you'll see people like, I was in a movie I saw. So you'll see people that are kind of recognizable. And some of them are just rolling out their best stuff to get laughs while other ones are testing things. And I got a buddy that lives in Brooklyn, and he goes to the seller all the time. And he says that there's every once in a while, like, Oh, wow, he's just showed up to test, you know, five minutes, 10 minutes of material. It's like, wow, that's pretty cool. That's an interesting lifestyle those guys live. It's an interesting lifestyle. Craig Appleby (02:47.543) Right. Craig Appleby (02:51.17) Yeah, I imagine it's hard to be disciplined. Discipline with your body, your health, and sleep and all that stuff. Justin Chezem (02:56.211) Yeah. Justin Chezem (03:00.98) Hehehe Yeah, they have to be night house. I have a hard time. I remember my coaching days with the club. You're on your way home at like nine o'clock at night. It's not like you're swinging in the Whole Foods and picking up some kale and you're like, oh, okay, Wendy's is open, let's do this. So, yeah, those days. Scot Cooper (03:16.442) Hehehe Craig Appleby (03:16.704) No. Craig Appleby (03:20.453) Yeah, we got Taco Bell, Wendy's, McDonald's. Justin Chezem (03:24.135) Oh yeah, the club coach life. Well, it's good to see you here. I guess the last time we saw each other was down in Greer. So this is a cool podcast we've been doing. We've been talking to a lot of fun people and it started as mainly a recruiting tool for people, the scouting tool so people can jump on, hear coaches actually talking about things. Scott's done a great job of finding. other people to put on here that are not necessarily college coaches, but it relates to the college game. And it's uh, it's turning into a pretty cool thing. And so I'm excited you're on here. You're at a different place than seeing you, Johns Hopkins, even though we're, we're going to compete, we're gonna play each other the whole nine yards, but you're recruiting is vastly different than mine and your timelines different than mine. And so it's, it's good to get a different perspective out here. And so the kids that are listening to it can be like, oh, this is what this is how I can end up at a Johns Hopkins or a similar school versus going to like for Newport or William & Mary. And so, you know, one of the things I've noticed you say, and I want to kick off this way, is you talked about how difficult it is to get specifically into Johns Hopkins, but you know, you're in a great conference, a centennial, most of the schools are really strong academic schools, similar to Hopkins, and you know, you're kind of similar to those NESCACs and Ivy League schools, so if you don't mind, kind of talk about not only how difficult it is to get into a Johns Hopkins, but... what it's like to get into those schools in general and what's your best advice for those kids trying to get into those super high academic places. Craig Appleby (04:52.446) Well, just. Justin Chezem (04:53.099) I know it's a loaded one hour answer there. So we're just gonna sign off here. Just let us know when you're finished, okay? Scot Cooper (04:58.039) I'm out. Craig Appleby (04:58.638) To start off, I wouldn't have been anywhere close as a student athlete getting into any one of these institutions, but high academic institutions, the best advice is to max out everything best you can. Leave everything open so you have as many choices as possible. What does that mean? Well, to maximize. do the best you can on your test scores and to maximize the highest level classes you can take at the school, which would be regarded as rigor, and to pop in As in all those classes. Different academic schools have. And feel free to. to chime in here because this might have a tendency to wander all over the place. But in regards to support, there will be academic schools that give support, but the level of support is different for each institution. Some support will be able to pull in student athletes that may be a little bit below the academic range of a typical omit. And then there'd be some schools that don't do that. I've said before on other podcasts that we have a certain pocket that Hopkins operates in. And our support still is in that pocket. You can't get somebody outside of that pocket. But does our support help? It does help. I think MIT might have support. But it's not. In my conversations with those coaches, it doesn't seem like their support has quite as much weight as ours, but. Justin Chezem (07:00.775) Craig, when you say support, you're talking about getting into the school, right? Yeah, not while you're already there. So here at CNU, the academic standard to get in as a student is one thing. But as an athlete, we might be able to get you in maybe at a lower standard. I mean, that's kind of what you're talking about there. And at Johns Hopkins, though, you got to get in there. There's no wiggle room is what you're saying. Yeah. Craig Appleby (07:05.131) Yes. Craig Appleby (07:26.082) Correct. I would say, within the pocket that a Hopkins usually pulls or accepts from, they also are denying a ton of people in that pocket. So I think when we recruit, we have to find people in that pocket. But our support, if it's in that pocket, is pretty solid. It's just that our support to try to pull somebody outside, underneath the pocket, into the pocket. doesn't really happen, but I would think like the Ivy Leagues have their supports that they're gonna be able to get guys in that they just applied themselves. Most of them won't get in or a good number of them won't get in. I won't say most of them. I think the Nescahx have their bands. So they have A bands, B bands and C bands, where the C bands would be student athletes that typically don't get into those institutions with And this is me speaking like somebody from the Nescahk may go, oh, Craig's wrong about this, but this is just my gathering the information I've gotten. I'd say the B bands also would be very iffy at a Nescahk by themselves, but a B band supported is going to get you in at a Nescahk. An A band, I think, how I perceive it, an A band would be somebody who would who would typically get in on their own. So each of those schools have different levels of how many A bands they get, how many Bs, how many Cs they get. And that would probably be the griping point for those NASCAC schools. Justin Chezem (09:09.691) Yeah, I've noticed the very high academics. You'll see, you know, especially in the division one world, you'll see a very high academic school and you'll say, how did that kid end up there? And you'll see different types of support for sports. It's like, well, look, we, we have this excellent academic rigor, but we also want to win. And so we will have a cushion, we'll have a buffer where, okay, we'll let you have some kids that probably would not have gotten in here and then going once they're there, they're going to have a ton of support to make sure that we can graduate these young guys and girls and you know, they're not affecting our academic situation here. They're still great students that go off and get great jobs. And I mean, there's definitely plenty of stories like that. Um, it seems like at Hopkins though, there, there isn't much wiggle room. I mean, I remember a few times that we've talked about it. Uh, I mean, they're probably, you're not getting a lot of kids. I mean, it seems like it seems like they want you to talk about exactly what type of Standard is it just to get into a place like Hopkins. Craig Appleby (10:13.034) Well, you can Google JHU by the numbers, which would bring up, I think, data from two years ago, which will be kind of similar. With it, we'll give you stats like our 50% median is a 1510. You know, that's an average, but I'd say that's kind of the number you want to aim for. It doesn't mean if you get that number, you're going to be accepted. That's just one piece of the academic puzzle that admissions takes into account. GPAs, there's no telling. You know, when we go to tournaments and look at profile books and what GPAs are listed, a lot goes into a GPA like rigor, you know, what types of classes you're taking. Craig Appleby (11:10.102) You want to get As in all those classes? Do people get in here without all As? Yes. But I wouldn't say it adds strength to your CV if you have Bs on your resume. So obviously, you want to max out that and make sure you're getting the highest grade you can. Justin Chezem (11:34.751) So Scott, if you and I were to add our GPA and SAT together, we might be able to take some classes. No, no, it'd be close. It'd be close. Ha ha ha. Scot Cooper (11:43.35) No. Not if it were relying on me. I mean, it definitely would be, yeah. I mean, I don't know where I'd go these days. Like, it'd be pretty tough to go anywhere. Justin Chezem (11:53.503) Yeah. Craig Appleby (11:54.846) Yeah, I'd be in the same boat. Justin Chezem (11:56.843) Well, Craig, you, you know, Dan, on the women's side, of course, is a good buddy of mine. I've talked to him about this a lot. You guys do specific camps that are, you know, created specifically for kids that are very, very high academic achieving kids where the only staffs that are invited there are similar schools to Johns Hopkins and these Nescah and the Centennial, like we've discussed. How critical are those camps and, you know, what are they like for you in the process? Scot Cooper (11:58.306) Hahaha Craig Appleby (12:28.21) Are you just clarify you talk about our individual camps are the ones we go to. Justin Chezem (12:35.063) Uh, well, I guess yes, both, uh, you know, your camp, of course, you would hope that a kid isn't signing up with a below a three Oh, trying to go to Hopkins. But, uh, I know that like, you know, like soccer masters and some of these other camps where I would imagine everybody there is very competitive academically and you have a chance at all of them versus comparing it to like this weekend, you're going to go into the ECNL showcased on Florida and 90% of the kids are probably can't get into Johns Hopkins. So it's just, you go to one event and everybody there's competitive versus the other event where while they might be good students, they just can't, you know, they only have a 4-2, 1400, they can't get in, you know, so, you know, what are those camps like? How important are they for you? And I mean, do you do a lot of your work? Craig Appleby (13:17.542) Yeah, they're very important for us. And I'd say, yes, first and foremost would be our own individual camp where you're, and we do bring in a few coaches. Most of them have similar academic institutions, but yeah, they're mostly coming for us. It's our camp. So we have a pretty good idea that all the kids that we're looking at, at that camp. If we like them, they would also be interested in us. Soccer masters is also important for us. The staff they put together are all very high academic institutions. And so the kid you get is kind of. Craig Appleby (14:05.834) very much suited for what we're looking for. There'll be IVs, there'll be, you know, high, like Stanford or high academic institutions on the Division 1 level. That helps us in a way that it might bring some kids that are just thinking of those schools at the time. And so if we can be there and keep tabs on those guys, and if they don't get into like the IVs or their dream of playing at those high academic D1 institutions, that's a good place for us to be to wind up, you know, waiting for those guys to kind of fall out of the tree. Craig Appleby (14:54.378) So yeah, soccer masters, as I mean, we quite often have players there that come to us. I got some sort of loop back where I was getting echo on what I was. Scot Cooper (15:00.004) Quite often players think... Justin Chezem (15:09.791) Yeah, heard that too. Scot Cooper (15:13.742) Is it okay now? Okay, I'm gonna... let's pause for one second. I'm gonna try something. Craig Appleby (15:16.002) So far sounds good. Scot Cooper (15:33.406) Uh, that didn't work. Okay. That's not what I thought. Okay. All right. I'll edit that out. Um, okay, cool. Uh, sorry. Interrupt you guys. Craig Appleby (15:38.562) Sounds okay at the moment. Justin Chezem (15:43.399) Hahaha. Craig Appleby (15:51.95) I think we've finished up that. Justin Chezem (15:51.987) No, that was good. Yeah. I want to jump into the financials, of course. So, you know, a lot of the schools that we're talking about, they're not exactly cheap. And to assume that everybody's going to go in there and pay full is a big ask. What is the process like at a Hopkins? And maybe you could speak on, you know, made the centennial, you compared notes with those guys a little bit. But what's it like on finding out how much money you can get as a, you know, through your fast forward through all of your financial aid stuff? that you guys do. What does that look like for you? What's the timeline look like so these kids can get an answer before they commit to saying yes or no? Craig Appleby (16:32.058) Uh, well, one, uh, Michael Bloomberg came in, man, I want to say it was, uh, 2018, I should know this, but he gave $1.8 billion to Hopkins and that money, and it's funny how people go around and go like, yeah, he gave a billion dollars right. And I go, yeah, I wish I could just easily dismiss the 0.8 billion. But yeah, that money went to Justin Chezem (17:04.728) Right, right. Craig Appleby (17:13.534) we would often gap student athletes. And I remember one time there was a kid from Mississippi, 6'3", could play every position. Nobody knew about him. And what we gave compared to, and the deal was his whole family was going to Harvard. He was going there. But if he didn't get in, he was coming to us. And he got deferred early action. So I was like, OK, it's us, right? And he was like, sorry, coach, but Northwestern gave me $20,000. And we didn't give him anywhere close. It was very bad, the difference. And so we lost him. But since then, with the money that the Justin Chezem (18:00.831) Yeah. Craig Appleby (18:12.426) Bloomberg gave, we don't gap anymore. So their EFC or their financial read that comes back, we meet that. And since then, that's been, you know, very few people have given me the excuse of I can't afford it. It does happen from time to time. But before then, that was one of the higher excuses of why we would lose somebody, which was cost. And so you have to kind of. you know, talk them through, you know, investing in their own and in themselves, you know, that it is worth the money. And, but it is quite a chunk or a financial hit upfront. But as we go down the kind of recruiting timeline, yeah, we'll go out. We see you either way. it gets some interest through email or we go out and see you, we like you, and then we're going to try to find out one, if you can get in, and two, if you can afford it. We're mostly concerned with the can you get in piece, but we do direct them towards the financial aid estimator. And if they fill that out correctly, they will get a good idea. of where they stand for the next year if they were to commit. Hopkins rarely makes big jumps in their tuition. So at the max, you know, it's typically only increased by like a thousand. So there isn't a big jump from year to year that would Craig Appleby (20:02.526) make a major change between what you would see on that financial aid calculator and what you would expect if you got admitted. Justin Chezem (20:10.387) You mentioned this Bloomberg guy. Do you happen to have his cell phone number? Maybe he can reach out, I'll donate it to seeing you. It doesn't have to be 1.8, but maybe something similar. I don't know if you have his cell. Craig Appleby (20:19.922) Yeah, I wish I did. Justin Chezem (20:24.719) That guy even have a cell phone? I mean... Craig Appleby (20:27.818) He shouldn't. I'm sure he has something. Justin Chezem (20:30.067) Yeah. Scot Cooper (20:30.799) I have a bit of a complaint about that. I mean, he could have shaken 200 million more out of his couch probably and made it an even two instead of one. Justin Chezem (20:39.271) Yeah, why didn't he round up there? What was going on? Some sort of tax cut. Craig Appleby (20:44.158) Yeah. Justin Chezem (20:48.84) Cool. I do. What's the other part? What's the what's your timeline look like? I mean, you know, so I've talked to kids where, you know, they were looking at like a University of Chicago was last I talked to and, you know, Chicago's like, no, we wrapped up. We have to because we have this, you know, we have a date, you know, we these kids accepted by a certain date. And it's, you know, significantly earlier than majority of the Division three world and a lot of division ones. So what's it like for you guys and maybe as I compare to the rest of Centennial? Craig Appleby (21:21.002) I think the centennial, we might not be similar to a lot of the centennial. We might be, I mean, some of them we are, but we don't have rolling emissions and there's a few centennial schools that do have rolling emissions, which means, you know, they can take somebody in. I don't know how far rolling goes, but I've typically heard that rolling emissions. uh can take somebody pretty close to pre-season. Uh for us uh the timeline would be like currently we're out to go recruiting the 24 class is pretty much uh seen and located and we might be waiting to see what will happen with regular decision. Uh we got two guys that applied regular decision. very difficult to get into regular decisions. So if they get in, great, but it's very hard. So we'll see what happens. So right now we're heading out to kind of get more info on our 25 class. So through the winter tournament scene and recruiting scene basically trying to get a lock on the next class that is coming up. So that would currently be the 25 class. And so we'll, we'll start getting some ideas on guys and info, but the real movement won't happen till like July 1st is when we can start submitting some information to Craig Appleby (23:15.106) how they read those student athletes and their admissibility. Through that, if it's extremely positive, we can move pretty fast to try to lock them up. It's rare to be extremely positive. If it comes back in the middle area, then now we're keeping the conversation. We're talking through, you know, you know. where they stand with us, the gamble that it might be in terms of going early decisions or early decision two, and where they see us. If they see us, number one, then maybe they want to apply early decision and see what happens. And for us, we have early decision one. Typically the deadline date for that is November 1st. and you would receive your notification as to whether you got admitted or not or deferred, typically around December 13th, 12th, 14th, 15th or something like that. Then we have an early decision two. The deadline for that is usually the same deadline as regular decision. You're just clarifying whether you're going to apply regular decision or early decision two. Early decision two will get a confirmation or their notification of their status. I want to say mid-February, mid to third week in February, whereas regular decision is not going to find that out until end of March, beginning of April. Yeah. So ideally for schools like us, Justin Chezem (25:06.975) That's pretty late. Yeah. Craig Appleby (25:12.606) We want to know what our class will be. To have that happen, early decision's really where we're pushing our recruits, because if they go early decision, they get in. We know they're coming. Regular decision flips it in that if they get accepted, we're usually waiting around to see, you know, what that student athlete is going to do, because... They're usually waiting for IVs or some other schools that want to see what all their results come back and then they'll make the decision. So that puts the coach in a waiting game, not really sure what's gonna happen. And you could get stuck not filling. We have a certain roster limit and it's typically 28. But if we're waiting around for too many regular decision candidates, we could get stuck at. not using two of those spots and be like at 26 or 27 and not maximized our recruiting for our team. Justin Chezem (26:19.955) Yeah, that's definitely not ideal. Why, what is the Johns Hopkins reason for your roster limit? Craig Appleby (26:29.13) Title IX, size of school. Yeah, all the, I mean, we have a lot of sports and we have a lot of big sports as well. So, you know, Title IX is my answer. It might not be the correct answer, but yeah, I think we have to keep our roster at a certain size because of that. Justin Chezem (26:31.263) besides the schools where I thought was gonna be the main one. Yeah. Justin Chezem (26:44.267) I know that coming from across. Justin Chezem (26:55.096) And you also have a different animal than most of us. I mean, only a couple of you guys have this, but you have a division one sport on campus. Well, like three, right? Is it three sports? Craig Appleby (27:06.346) Just one. Well, it's men and women's lacrosse. Justin Chezem (27:09.695) but not field hockey, cor women's across our divisi that's a weird anim you guys have to fight. W Colorado this year and th team and they also ice ho one. Uh, the rest of its and um, yeah, what's what like? What was it like ha animal? Of course, I was Craig Appleby (27:11.794) No, field hockey is Division III. Justin Chezem (27:35.883) They're also really good. I mean, Johns Hopkins at the top of the division one world too for lacrosse. So what is that like? What's the relationship there? Craig Appleby (27:45.198) Relationships good You know, I don't really I Don't really see it as anything different, you know The difference would be how many people show up for the games the difference might be I mean there are plus death plus side of the difference is that The very well-known the Hopkins is very well known Justin Chezem (27:55.647) Good. Craig Appleby (28:11.862) for the lacrosse program. It's basically like the lacrosse program in history. And the Hall of Fame used to be here on campus. It's now moved a little further north to get more space. Tours used to come through all the time. I still think, you know, teams bring their young athletes by because the Hopkins name in lacrosse is such a high regarded name. And with that comes some benefit of like Under Armour really wanted us involved with them. So I think without the La Crosse piece, would Under Armour be wanting us as strongly as they do? Maybe not, but it definitely feels like a benefit. So I think Hopkins gets... It certainly has a strong reputation academically, but I think the reputation that Hopkins has in La Crosse also helps us department-wide as well. Justin Chezem (29:21.215) Do you have as nice of an office as those head coaches? Craig Appleby (29:26.783) I would say no because they have a nice view. I have a decent office. I have a roomy office which some other coaches have been ogling. But no, I mean, yes, they have a nice building. It overlooks a field. I'm in what I call a little dungeon with no windows. But, uh, no. Justin Chezem (29:56.561) Maybe Bloomberg can help us out in that regard as well. Can knock a couple walls out over there. Craig Appleby (30:02.174) I'll see if I'll send them a note. Let's see if we can expand. If we can get the offices on top of the building so we can overlook the field that would be good. Justin Chezem (30:05.088) Yeah, that's right. Justin Chezem (30:12.341) That's Debbie Golden. Scot Cooper (30:16.762) Craig, you obviously are dealing with a lot of high achievers, and we've kind of joked that we definitely couldn't have gotten into Hopkins, much less a lot of other schools back in our day. But talk about just dealing with the stress levels that these kids face and just a different academic rigor maybe than a lot of student athletes. faces they had off to college and just dealing with kind of that, the culture of, you know, what the school is and where these kids will be four years after you get them. Craig Appleby (30:53.45) Right. Well, one, Hopkins won't let in somebody who would fail here. So the student athlete that gets in here can handle it. Could we handle it? No. But they can. And so it's tough. It's not easy. The month of October is difficult because. Scot Cooper (31:07.592) Right. Craig Appleby (31:18.794) You know, they say, OK, it's midterms. And you would think midterms last for a week, but no, it lasts for four weeks. And so they really have to be masters of their time. I've had maybe in the course of 16 years, five to seven guys that, okay, your GPA is not where I think you want it or where we want it. So let's have discussions about that. We'd meet once a week. And every time it was time management, when they would come in and say, I just don't have time to do this or do that. And when they actually give me their schedule on a spreadsheet, and I see that like they're waking up at 10am. I found the gap and you usually can find those gaps that you can't be. You can't mismanage your time here. You can't be playing Fortnite or Call of Duty or whatever. Uh, you can do it if you manage it. You set a time for it. Going to spend 30 minutes playing it, but it can't be the fill in the gap of everything. The escape to stress or anything like that. You got to take care of business. And. Justin Chezem (32:12.18) Yeah. Craig Appleby (32:41.362) If you take care of business, you'll be fine. We do have sometimes, you know, new players right after the season. They also have a little bit of adjustment because the time that they've plugged in for soccer is now wide open and how you feel it, you can get lost and open up the can of worms where you don't feel it. It becomes fortnight time or whatever time. And that blends into more time of undisciplined structure. And that can snowball unless you take some accountability and set up that time and don't let it run away from you. But we usually get on the guys to make sure that doesn't happen. We also have the other issue that happens If a high school hasn't challenged, if you have a particularly bright individual that hasn't been challenged by their school and they can, because of that they they're not sharp, they can cram the night before a test, ace a test, no problem. What are we talking about? And then they come here and think they can do the same thing and they get smacked in the face with that. Justin Chezem (34:02.759) chance. Craig Appleby (34:03.718) Yeah, there's no chance you're going to cram the night before the test and do well here. You're going to have to stay up with the notes, stay up with the lectures, do the work that's given to be fine here. Justin Chezem (34:17.343) Well, that's fantastic advice for all schools. You're obviously at the top there, but that's the same holds true for all the other schools. Most schools are on the same level where they're like, well, we're not gonna bring a kid in that can't study here, but the biggest difference is you're not underneath your mom and dad's household anymore. You don't have this crazy schedule where it's from seven o'clock in the morning until 2, 2.30 in the afternoon, and then you have high school practice, then club practice, and you come home, I mean, your free time's incredible. I remember when I was a player and as soon as the season ended, I didn't know what to do with myself. You know, I was an early riser. I took like eight to nine o'clock classes and I had a break before practice. We practiced at three and, um, and then I would train and then I'd go home and do my thing or whatever. And, uh, once that went away, once the soccer went away and I was home at like 10 o'clock in the morning and the rest of my day was over, man, that was That was the hardest part of college for me. I had to figure out what to do at that time. It was so easy to say, I'll just do it later. And then later it ended up being 10 o'clock at night. And you're like, yeah, I haven't even started yet. And that's where you'll see, I mean, we've had kids come in, get a little bit of academic money. And next thing you know, they're on academic suspension or probation immediately. And it's 100% for what you just talked about. They didn't take care of their free time. And that free time really opens up, especially for a freshman that has never experienced this before. It's really tough to adjust that first Monday after your season's over and you turned in all your gear and you don't have anything to do with soccer anymore. All of a sudden you're just a student for the next few weeks until finals roll around. Yeah, that's an eye opener for a lot of kids. It really is and I mean, it's true everywhere. I mean, even at not as good a place as on Johns Hopkins, it is very true there as well. Scot Cooper (36:08.565) for sure. Justin Chezem (36:09.391) I want to shift gears a little bit here. You and I chatted a little bit about it. I actually watched your Bapsin game. So I don't want to like the Bapsin fans here, you know, might be opening up some wounds there, but that was awesome to watch. It really was. I thought it was like, I remember thinking to myself like, man, that is a beautiful D3 right there. That is what I love to see. Just a little backdrop, correct me if I'm wrong, but you guys were down too late in regulation. scored two to tie it, you can maybe fill in the blanks on the timing there. And then you go into overtime. We're only in year two, I think year two or three of the overtime rules changing where it's not golden goal. So you go down again in overtime and then you guys scored two goals and the last was it like two, three minutes to win the game. What a game man. It was so fun to watch. I don't know if you wanna fill in the gaps there. That was fun. Craig Appleby (37:02.502) Yeah, I when the game was over, I must have said 10 times that just happened. Uh, I, I've been around the game. Probably, I mean, coaching wise, getting close to in between 25, 30 years. Um, and yeah, I've never experienced anything like that. Uh, we, we started off the game. The typical for us, if we, if we can set up our control, I feel pretty comfortable. Then it's just finding the way through to get the chances. And I felt like we were doing that. Uh, but, uh, they made the decision to play one of their better players who's this huge kid. Uh, we scoured them. He was playing center back. Um, but, uh, they showed up playing target forward against us. And like, he was a lot like. The. His rib cage was a barrel. The thing was huge. So it's just this massive guy. And they caught us. It was a big ball that came. It looked like my center back was in the right position. But then as the ball bounced and he took a jump, the guy came in. put a shoulder on him, all perfectly legal, and kind of moved him out of the way, had an open shot, and now we're down one nothing. Okay, that's not great, but I still think we have a good part of the play, so we should be able to get back. And then, honestly, I admire everybody can pull out every little detail of things. The second goal. Alludes me, I'm sure it's a free kick goal because it seems like that's, we gave up probably 80% of the goals we gave up were set piece goals. I think that's what it was. It got floated over and nobody really dealt with it and was put in. So now we're down two nothing. Yeah. Yeah, it's first half. Justin Chezem (39:23.371) Is this all in the first half? When was the score two, nothing? Craig Appleby (39:30.734) And also my mind blurs between the Babson game and the Middlebury game because the Middlebury game I thought was going to end the same way in that, okay, they go up two-nothing and we're battling back and we're going to score late. We were getting chances like crazy late against them as well. So I can't remember the Babson second goal, but yes, we second half I think we had worn them down a bit with our style of play. They're up to nothing, so they're also in the mindset of just protecting that, seeing if they can get that third, but not overloading it, over committing to try to getting it. So that gave us a little bit of a foundation to set up our attack and get repetitions in the attack. And Craig Appleby (40:28.882) Yeah, it was the first one I think came into Griffin received it. They over committed. So then he just spun and hit it upper 90. And so, all right, it's a two to one. We feel like, okay, we got a chance. And then. Craig Appleby (40:55.187) What? Wow. I'm remembering Max's goal, which was, it's crazy because it came in to one of their center backs. He's standing on like just inside the six. And most of the people are standing there and looking, but Aidan Dumphy who's playing a 10 for us, comes in and pressures him. And he had done this a few times where we scored. these goals because people freak out because he's so active and comes and pressures him. So he comes running up and they see him first instead of finding the ball. And then as they go to find the ball, they look down and like half kick it with their heel out to the side and then Max just kind of flings at it, pops it in, which ties it up. And then we go to OT. Justin Chezem (41:50.371) Hold on, hold on before you go to OT, the coach in me needs to know what you said at halftime. I mean, was it, was it, I mean, I never mind, I'm out of the way. What did you say at halftime? Craig Appleby (42:04.547) At halftime, I was just saying, you know, basically we were controlling the game. So like the opportunity, and we had missed some opportunities as well. The keeper came up with a lot of good saves. I, so the chances were there. So it wasn't like we were in a game struggling to generate anything. It was there. We just had to remind them that when we get to those moments. It just takes one to put it in to start getting the feeling that we can get this game back. And that's what happened. There was a point in the second half where I. Craig Appleby (42:44.306) I switched and eliminated the midfielder to add a forward. And then we actually, again, this is blurs between Middlebury and Babson because it actually, how it lined up, we were going in the same directions at the same time, trying to get the same result. So if one of those games, I know I went man to man in the back, just to take, take the risk, add an extra attacker. And yeah, panned out. I, going back to the Babson game though. That third goal they got, I think, yeah, it's similar to, if anybody, I know you know this, because we talked about this, but it's similar to Rowan's game last year against Stevens Tech. Yeah, the double post that they called a goal that physically can't happen. And I told Scott, man, Justin Chezem (43:26.454) I'm gonna... Justin Chezem (43:39.391) Double post. Craig Appleby (43:49.17) I feel bad for him because if I were in that spot, I don't know how I'd handle it. And so a similar situation happened in the Babson game in that they had gotten down, they had gotten down deep into the corner, but it was so deep that the keeper's in a good position, it would be very hard to score anything from there. But they had a runner running late coming into the middle in front of the goal, but we had a guy in great position in front of him. And the Babson player just took off for him and took him down. And so our guys down out of the play, they pass it to the guy and he taps it in. And the ref is right there. He's right on top of it. And so I'm going a little bit going to like, you need to explain to me like what just happened. He's like, yeah, I just saw that as incidental contact. And if you, if you go back and look at the video. The guy is running looking at the ball. Then he looks to see what he has in terms of space. He sees our guy in good position and he speeds up. He sees him, he speeds up to go at him and then takes him out. It's not a shoulder to shoulder charge. It's like shoulder into the middle of his back. Take him down and then it's just an easy goal. So I'm livid. Thankfully I didn't like. Justin Chezem (45:03.219) Baaaaah Craig Appleby (45:18.55) go too crazy and, you know, yeah. And so, yeah, we got, we got the third go back and then, you know. Scot Cooper (45:20.314) Thank you. Justin Chezem (45:22.131) Yeah, you had another game to coach. Justin Chezem (45:32.107) It was like 30 seconds later, wasn't it? You got the next, the winner. Craig Appleby (45:36.01) Yeah, I think it was like one minute and something like one minute and 20 seconds or something like that. And we got it. And yeah, we were exhausted like coming up coming off the field. I was like, and I had watched scouted Middlebury. They played before us. And they got up to nothing fairly early. Yeah, well, I don't know. I don't know if they did, but the game wasn't Justin Chezem (45:39.956) Yeah. Yeah, awesome. Justin Chezem (45:59.293) at some people. Craig Appleby (46:05.55) fast, right? You know, there was a time there, one of their top players, St. Louis, had the ball and he was kind of like standing on it with the defender, very cautious because he's very fast and strong and physical and the defender was like, you know, if he gets even a little bit on me, I won't be able to recover it. So he's being very cautious about it, but none of his teammates were coming to help him. So St. Louis was just standing there with the ball like Okay, we can just hang out here until you make a move. And that guy wasn't moving. So it's like, and that's a lot of the play was just slow enough that I thought Middlebury was in a much, much better position than us, who was crawling off the field after the Babson game. Justin Chezem (46:51.435) Sure. Justin Chezem (46:55.891) Well, and talk about a difference. I mean, for the second half and two over times at 65 minutes of you chasing a game, you were down that entire time. Really? I mean, uh, other than maybe what? 10 minutes total at the very end of the first half and at the end of, uh, or at the end of second half and at the end of, uh, overtime and so where you were tied and then you were only winning at the very, very end. And so, you know, the demand on your body and the boys that you had on the field. I mean, you were sending everything forward. You weren't even thinking about why need to be ready for tomorrow. You were thinking, why need to get to tomorrow? And that's definitely difficult. I wonder if one day in the future they're gonna give us the same thing they're given the final four and give that mandatory day off each weekend and just play Friday, Sunday. I know that all of us coaches would be unanimously agreeing to that. I'm definitely a big fan of that. That's another conversation, sure, but we're moving forward. How's it looking for next season? What's your outlook? You know, I'm sure you got a tough schedule again. You know, what's it look like for you guys? Craig Appleby (48:03.242) Well, we're still seeing what's going to happen with our class. I think we missed a spot or two that we're going to have to wait and see with the transfers what happens. So we're still waiting on that. We feel like we've got a solid pool that we're looking at from that. I'm loving the rule change where we have more days in the spring. And so we've actually already started. And we're going to go like two days a week. But yeah, I'm looking very much forward to that time to be able to because, you know, during the season, it's all about management. Like, you do a lot of stuff in the preseason to try to set like Justin Chezem (48:33.669) Oh yeah. Craig Appleby (49:01.058) tactical knowledge and catch everybody up. But really in the spring, I find is the best time to work on more and more tactical content to upload that when you're not thinking game, you have a lot of space to introduce these concepts and work on them and develop them. So, yeah, I'm looking forward to the fall. But right now I'm looking forward to the spring. And we'll end up playing Loyola Maryland early in April. So we'll see how the spring goes at that point. Justin Chezem (49:42.975) Yeah, that's such a good point. You know, in the fall, once you're in the meat of the season, you get maybe a day a week where you don't have a game the next day or you didn't just have a game the night before. And a day after a game, it's not a get after a day. Usually it's a recovery. Maybe you played six, seven, eight guys, 90 minutes, you know? And so you probably aren't even using them. And then Then if you did that on a Thursday after Wednesday game and Friday, well, I'm playing Johns Hopkins the next day. I'm only preparing to go try to play Johns Hopkins. I, I'm not developing the bottom half of my roster at all. My focus is on trying to beat you guys. And, uh, when you get into the middle of the season, that is, that's a huge chunk. I'd say probably 75% of your season is recovering from a game or getting ready for the next game. And not as much of an emphasis on development. You're 100% correct. I'm looking forward to these extra days. And I've already kind of circled like, I think this guy can help us. He did it in the fall. We need to really, we're gonna coach the mess out of this kid. We're gonna teach him a bunch of things. And the guy ahead of him, was it all region kid or whatever, he's gone. So now we can really give this guy the lion's share of minutes and he'll play the whole William and Mary game for us. And that's huge. I mean, it's such a big. Big jump, big advantage for us. I'm so glad we get the extra days. I hope we get maybe an extra game or two as well. I mean, you get to play Loyola, but I'd love to come up and play you guys as well, get something on film and then go play William and Mary. And you know, my prep for William and Mary is playing my alums and that ain't exactly the same type of competition. So yeah, we could use a couple more games, but I'm definitely happy they gave us more. That's, it's gonna be great for the boys. Craig Appleby (51:27.074) Same here, yeah. Beggars can't be choosers, but yeah, next step would be to get one or two more games in the spring. Justin Chezem (51:36.159) Just get, even if it's just one day and it will take it out of my practice days. It's like, all right, you know, like one of my 24 days, I have to sacrifice it for a game. I would do it in a heartbeat. So it's not like it's an extra, it's no extra work and maybe an extra cost to hop on a bus, but that could be an institutional decision. Craig Appleby (51:41.588) Yeah, sir. Scot Cooper (51:59.31) You got anything else, cheese? Justin Chezem (52:01.563) No, I mean, Craig and I see each other on the recruiting trail all the time. And it's funny how it is. I mean, we're highly competitive guys. We play against each other, but I mean, we've talked about recruiting a ton. We've sat down next to each other, called each other about players and, you know, it's, it's interesting how it works. You know, it's a, it's a small world, the coaching world. You know, Craig and I never really talked or anything. And now all of a sudden we're going to the convention together because Dan's a common proponent of ours. And we're You know, we're all hanging out, having a few beers, just shooting the bull. It's a fun world, it's fun environment. And I've enjoyed chatting with Craig about players and we've talked about these transfers, actually he's mentioning a couple of them. Yeah, they were in on my, they were on campus with me too. And they're visiting Craig next week and, you know, we fight over those guys a little bit, but, you know, other than the 90 minute games, I, you know, it's, it's super friendly. It's a, it's a fun, it's a fun environment, fun job. Scot Cooper (52:58.746) Craig, are you finding success with the transfer portal with you guys, or is it, does the standard change at all to get a transfer in versus a freshman? Craig Appleby (53:14.018) Well, there's two different types of transfers that you would think about. Right now, because of COVID, everybody has, this will be the last year where everybody that was in college during COVID has a COVID waiver. And so, yeah, typically we're out looking at the portal for regular transfers. and they would be applying obviously to our undergrad school, but the grad transfers or the ones with the COVID waivers would be transferring to grad schools. So each school operates with their own admissions department basically for grad schools. And so we just go, yeah, we're interested. Good luck and tell us if you get in. And I think depending on the school depends on how tough it is to get in. There's schools that, yeah, that ain't gonna happen. And there's schools like, okay, like if you go there, I think we got a good chance. And for regular transfers, yeah, I think it's about the same. Well, one, it's very difficult to transfer if you're a freshman, to transfer here in between your freshman and sophomore year because Students here are required to live on campus or freshman and sophomore year. So in order for somebody to transfer in there actually has to be a bed open. And that means people have to transfer out and some do I'm sure but not many. Not many at all. So those get those spots can fill up immediately which would make that extremely competitive. And then But sophomore to junior year, junior year, you live off campus. So they don't have to have a bed for you. And I find, yeah, it's a little bit easier to work with a transfer that is a sophomore looking to come in and be a junior. Scot Cooper (55:29.37) Cool. Cheese again, anything else? Justin Chezem (55:33.059) No, that's it. Craig, keep an eye on my guys down there in Florida, OK? Maybe, yes, I could do that. Craig Appleby (55:37.662) Okay, give us your list. Scot Cooper (55:40.689) Hahaha. Scot Cooper (55:45.314) Yeah, Craig can't thank you enough for coming on. I know we've talked about it for a little while now, so I'm glad it finally happened. And I have to drive up to Baltimore and see you and Dan say hi. So really appreciate it. Justin Chezem (55:57.815) I'll hop in the car with you Scott. You good, you good trip. Scot Cooper (56:00.054) All right, let's do it. Cool. We'll go see you. We'll go see the cross. Craig Appleby (56:02.49) Good. Happy to have you. I'm sure Dan's got some food marked out somewhere for us to go. Justin Chezem (56:07.869) That's it. Tell them we said hi. It was good seeing you Greg. Craig Appleby (56:13.006) Will do. Take care, guys. Scot Cooper (56:14.702) Thanks Craig. See ya. Justin Chezem (56:14.987) See you guys.

98. Pat McStay Director of the ECNL's Heritage Project Hi I’m Scot Cooper and this is the Tales From the Trail podcast by MatchPlay. In this episode, Justin Chezem, head coach of Christopher Newport University men’s soccer and I welcome Pat McStay of the ECNL’s Heritage Project and the Richmond Strikers. Along with his duties at the Strikers, Pat has taken on the role of developing the Heritage Project which connects youth soccer players in the U.S. with the countries of their heritage to potentially play for those countries’ national teams. Pat describes it as: With the overwhelming success of the 2023 Women's World Cup, featuring dozens of ECNL alumni, the ECNL has decided to launch The Heritage Project. The project's underlying motive is to provide additional pathways and opportunities for players currently playing in the ECNL (and alum) who may have ties to other countries based on parents and/or grandparents' place of birth or other factors (heritage players). The project's overall goal is to help connect high level players with Federations they may not have access to otherwise. It will be an extensive, time consuming journey, but both the ECNL and partnering Federations feel that this could be a very important part of their scouting future. Summary Pat McStay discusses the Heritage Project, a program in partnership with the ECNL that aims to connect youth soccer players in the United States with their heritage countries' national teams. The project seeks to provide an alternative pathway for players who may not be selected for the US youth national teams but have eligibility for other countries. Pat explains the process of identifying eligible players, reaching out to federations, and facilitating connections between clubs and national teams. He emphasizes the importance of spreading awareness about the project and encourages support from the soccer community. Takeaways The Heritage Project aims to connect youth soccer players in the US with their heritage countries' national teams. The project provides an alternative pathway for players who may not be selected for the US youth national teams. The process involves identifying eligible players, reaching out to federations, and facilitating connections between clubs and national teams. Spreading awareness about the project is crucial for its success and support from the soccer community is encouraged. Chapters 00:00 Introduction and Personal Background 03:10 The Heritage Project 08:28 Connecting Clubs and Federations 13:40 Eligibility and Evaluation Process 18:29 Success Stories and Closing the Gap 21:14 Reaching Out and Getting Involved 25:26 Focus on Women's Soccer 27:31 Expanding Beyond ECNL 30:54 How to Support the Project 32:43 Closing Remarks Pat McStay (00:01.891) Yeah. Scot Cooper (00:02.003) I don't know. Justin Chezem (00:02.923) Pat, I just pulled up your LinkedIn, man. That, I forgot about that head of lettuce you had. It's been a long time. Pat McStay (00:08.83) I know. I grew my hair out for about two years and cut it off about a year ago. I had lots of hair and then figured I was 40 and couldn't pull it off anymore. I had to cut it off. Now it's high and tight. Justin Chezem (00:17.041) Okay. Justin Chezem (00:23.01) Ha ha ha. There you go. Scot Cooper (00:28.327) So you're shaving it down by choice, not by natural selection. Pat McStay (00:31.462) Mmm, it's I would say it's 33% genetics and the other 66% by choice Yeah Doesn't look as nice as it used to Scot Cooper (00:40.531) Gotcha. Little cheese and I would jump. Yeah. Very cool. Well, like I was telling you before we hit record, I just wanted to get, you know, you're working on something pretty interesting called the Heritage Project. And I don't need to explain it because you can, but like you were saying, it's in partnership with the ECNL. And... Justin Chezem (00:46.906) Mm-hmm. Scot Cooper (01:09.123) Yeah, I mean, just run with it. Just kind of give us a low down and let us know which. Pat McStay (01:12.722) Sure. So about, I would guess now 12 to 15 months ago, I started working with the Samoan Federation as the head US scout. And then I started working with the Marshall Islands as they're the last country in the UN that does not have a national team. And so they're trying to find a way to get recognized by FIFA and I'm the head US scout for them as well. And through my endeavors with Samoa, I started out the first six months, had a lot of good leads, found quite a few players that have now appeared with either the under-20s or full national team. And that was great. But my leads kind of dried up and I became very frustrated with the fact that there wasn't one place I could go to. to find players. And so out of that brainstorming with myself, I kind of came up with a, wouldn't it be great kind of scenario if the largest youth league in the world had someone who was kind of the liaison. And the premise is, you're a club in any part of the country that's part of the ECNL, you have this fantastic player. Maybe she's not going down the path of being recognized by the US youth national teams, but she may have heritage with Fiji, New Zealand, Mexico, whoever it might be. And then the project for that club is how do I find the one contact that is the most important in X country, name it, Mali, England. so that this player who I feel could be a part of their Federation Youth National Team System gets recognized and gets the opportunity for that alternative pathway. And so I tried to put that idea on paper. Had a few conversations with some people at the ECNL. I've yet to find a person who thinks it's a bad idea. So. Pat McStay (03:39.546) they kind of jumped on and said, this sounds like a great idea. Let's kind of start slow and reach out to some membership clubs and see what they have to say about it and see if you can start getting in contact with federations and see what they have to say about it. And so I've been doing it for about a month now. I think I've been able to get in contact and have conversations with about two dozen federations. I just talked to Honduras this morning. They're extremely excited because I've been finding out that through these conversations that all of the smaller federations who know they have players here also have the same problem. Puerto Rico knows that they have, you know, a large group of Puerto Ricans who no longer live on the island that live in the United States. They do play soccer somewhere, but they just don't know how to find them. So, that's kind of my job is to go out and use the ECNL as a platform to let people know that this project exists, that there is a liaison between the clubs and the throughout the world and to try and connect them. And some are easier than others. And some that I thought would be easy to get in contact with are turning out to be impossible. So this is a long-term project that I think is going well so far. So we need support from the clubs to say, yes, we do have these players that I think would fit and they've got to do a little bit of work on their end to ask. player X on the U-15s who they think is pretty high level, that they may have assumed it doesn't have any background anywhere else, like where are your parents from, where are your grandparents from? And I think some federations, I think will be pleasantly surprised with the players that might come out of this project, because there's a lot of players from Ireland, Northern Ireland, England, who could have an alternative pathway here in the next few years. Justin Chezem (06:02.982) I mean, look at the success Cameron Simmons experiences past Women's World Cup. I mean, you know, you see an L star and playing in. I believe she just transferred right. She was at Tennessee and she's going to Florida State now. And I mean did great and Jamaican star and she's got a little brother. That's a heck of a player too. So I mean that's it makes sense to ton of exposure there tons of notoriety there. And that's just that's without this program in place though. You know, I'm sure that there are so many kids that saw that happen. Pat McStay (06:13.882) Yep. Floor state. Justin Chezem (06:32.29) And they're like, wait a minute, I have, you know, a dual citizenship, right? You know, I'm also, my dad was raised here. Why, why, why can't I maybe, you know, go, go play in that country? You know, I think it's an awesome, awesome idea. Um, so I mean, speaking of the dual, I mean, how many kids, you know, I, I'm sure this thing's just now breaking through, but I mean, how many kids now are kind of reaching out like, Hey, this is what I'm thinking and. You know, what, what countries are involved? Or you mentioned England and Ireland, but I mean, the girl Cameron was in Jamaica. I mean, it's gotta be all over the. Pat McStay (07:03.726) Right. Yeah, so what I've done is for the membership clubs, I've started small with, I would say, two or three dozen clubs, letting them know that this project exists. The ECNL symposium, by the time this comes out, will probably have come and gone, which it's next week. But they'll do a little bit of an announcement there that... Hey, we're starting this project. That's a pretty ambitious project. Uh, it's not going to be an overnight success, uh, because there is quite a bit of background work that directors would need to do in order to not only find these players, but make sure that their ability level is, is matching with the federation that they may be a part of. So, um. I think it narrows the player pool quite a bit, but it's still an extremely large player pool in terms of the players that could be eligible for other countries and the federations that I think could benefit from taking these players into a national pool scenario, where they're at least getting looked at. The federations that I've been talking to, Philippines, Honduras, England, I mean, I could probably pull up my list, but there's two dozen or so, but I've reached out to every single one of them. So part of my job is to go on every single federation website, find the initial, you know, information at whatever federation it is, reach out. Hopefully someone... uh reads the email that has a lot of information and it sees that this is a valuable project and gets back to me as kind of the initial first step so in doing so i've been able to have contacts with australia new zealand samoa uh tanga and there's some uh some other ones that i'm missing probably off the top of my head but um i'm learning a lot Pat McStay (09:20.934) There are a lot of federations who already do US-based camps. Like the Philippines have been doing it for over a decade. Like this is not a new project. It's kind of happening all over the country in little kind of micro cosmos of this project. So I talked to a club down in Florida. That director immediately was like, I've been doing this for 30 years for my players, but he only has so many contacts and so many players that are. that are able to make that leap. And so another club in Maryland doing the same thing. But then you have other directors that I've talked to who have been struggling to find these contacts. Like, hey, I've got a player. I'd really like her to be seen by the Mexican Federation. Can you help me out? So I think that the more the information spreads to parents from directors, to parents from the ECNL, that... this project exists and there's a way to have your player, if they're good enough, get in contact with the Federation that you may have heritage or background, parents, grandparents were from there, then I think the more success we'll see. Justin Chezem (10:37.11) Yeah, I mean, I'm thinking about this and the word of mouth is going to be massive. I mean, look at look at the soccer community. They talk about the six degrees of separation. Really the soccer community, we're like two or three. I mean, think about how many phone calls is it going to take for you to get one of the biggest coaches in the EPL? I mean, you're maybe two phone calls away. It sounds like Oh, no, what are you talking about? Like, I'm sure you know somebody that knows somebody that knows the biggest coach in Europe, you know, like I'm it's not that far of a stretch in the soccer world. And so I think that once this thing picks up and starts to spread at all, it spreads like wildfire. I mean, who doesn't want to find their kids some great opportunity? I mean, that's this is the whole point of me coach and use soccer. And, you know, I'm thinking about this trying to compare it to college recruiting. And I would imagine you already mentioned camps, but you're going to be able to put on camps for different countries, bring countries, representatives here to have a big international camp. And, you know, I can see stuff. I can see you guys going abroad. And doing showcases in Europe or doing showcases in South America or whatever. And I, I could see it kind of being similar to the college recruiting landscape where you're sending film, you're sending highlight tapes. You've got this international recruiting database that you could send kids. You know, they're, they're profiles to all these different countries. Like, Hey, this is a national from your place. Check out these details. I mean, there's, I feel like there's a lot of directions you can go here. Pat McStay (11:59.354) Yeah, and again, I'm kind of the liaison between the league and the Federation. So my job isn't necessarily to deem these players good enough to represent any Federation because they're all going to have different requirements and different opinions about players. But what we'd like to do is if the club thinks that a player is good enough, hopefully it's just one phone call. It's to me and then I have the contacts to then move that kid in the right direction. And then if they get selected to go to a camp abroad or here, whatever it may be, then that's a win for the project. And if they don't, it's also to me a win for the project, because at least that player had the opportunity to be seen and then that federation can make a decision. based on the video, the information, the club, the kid, whether or not they're good enough. So I think there's a fine line between being inundated with every kid who plays soccer in the whole country that may be from a different country, parents or grandparents or even themselves, and getting the ones that would be the right fit because you can only recommend so many players. to a federation that aren't a good fit until they stop asking you. So your credibility is on the line a little bit. So we're trying to start small, start with the ECNL platform and those players and kind of work our way backwards from there. Scot Cooper (13:40.367) Hey, Pat. So back up a little bit and just, you know, talk a little bit about what it takes to know kind of what's what creates eligibility for someone to go as a US citizen to go play for another country. Pat McStay (13:56.719) Yep. Yeah, so in general, if you're born here in the United States, but your parents were born in a different country, then you in turn would be eligible to represent that country at the national team level, youth or full national team. And then you go one more generation back. So if your parents were born here, you were born here, but... your grandparents were born in a different country, that would also make you eligible. The third generation ineligible. So if your parents' parents were born in Greece, but then your parents were born here in New York City and then you live in New York, you're still eligible to represent Greece. And so that's kind of as far back as FIFA will allow you to go. And then the other the other way is. For the Marshall Islands, for example, you may not have been born there, but you can gain citizenship, I would assume, just like the United States, by living there for a certain amount of time. So I think the Marshall Islands is five years. So if you were born in the United States, but you then moved there, lived there for five years, you can gain eligibility that way. But good question. Scot Cooper (15:13.175) you. Yeah, so I guess just as a guideline, either first, or if your parents or grandparents are from somewhere other than the United States, then you have a shot at you're at least eligible to write. So then how do they then determine so like what's the most common as it's as it is today, Pat McStay (15:30.85) Eligible. Correct. Yep. Scot Cooper (15:43.495) you know, be evaluated and get in contact and all that. Like how is that being done? And then how are you shifting that? I mean, I kind of get an idea of what you're doing, but you know, maybe just. Pat McStay (15:53.518) Yeah. So with, uh, so with the Simone federation, a lot of times they don't have the resources to come over here, watch them play, uh, have a U S training camp, uh, for three weeks and then make decisions. So the, what was it? The under 20 world cup qualifiers for the women were I think last May or June, and we had. I believe seven players go into the under 20s for Samoa that were from the United States. A couple of them had already played for Samoan youth national teams in the past, so they came back and were eligible. The others either I had found or the head scout had found in the United States. And it was... literally based off of video only. We had to use the resources that we have, compare it to who's currently on the island and the level there. And so in doing so, and the lack of resources for some of the smaller island federations either in CONCACAF, I would imagine it would be the same thing, is that the head coach gets a list of the eligible players, any relevant video, if they can. They make decisions and see if they can add them into camp. And so sometimes it's a matter of the timing. So if the timing of the U-20s was at the same time as, let's say, the college season, that may mean that a few. Justin Chezem (17:44.726) Okay. Pat McStay (17:47.17) males or females, whoever was being invited, were going to choose their college season over two weeks with the Samoa national team, for example. But it worked out that these seven could all play, and they ended up third in qualifying, which means that they didn't qualify for the World Cup, but it was the first time ever that the U-20s had gotten that far. So with the addition of the... what I would call heritage players, which were from New Zealand, Australia, and the US. Samoa was able to close the gap big time in the Oceanic Federation with the U-20s. So they were pretty excited about that. Justin Chezem (18:23.555) Alright. Scot Cooper (18:29.715) Cool. Thanks. Justin Chezem (18:30.058) Yeah, and historically those kids would have never had a chance because they would have been just Pat McStay (18:33.738) No, because they weren't even playing at the ECNL or GA level. They were just playing youth soccer. Some of them were playing at a higher level in the ECNL. And those are extremely valuable pickups for countries like Samoa. Those players are almost one in 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, whatever it is that you find those players and they're eligible and they're also available. And so adding those things in, it becomes really tough to find the right combination of players to make a difference. But the more you seek them out, the more that you find out that there are players eligible, you just need to do the background work to find them. And so Samoa did a really good job of trying to create this project within a project to go outside their own country. to go outside Australia and New Zealand, which would have been convenient because they're the closest, and try to break into Europe and the United States to find even more eligible players and they were able to do it with pretty decent success so far. Scot Cooper (19:46.595) Yeah. How many federations are there in FIFA? Pat McStay (19:51.054) I believe there's 200 and... I'm gonna get it wrong. 206 maybe? Somewhere a little over 200. Scot Cooper (19:56.323) Mm-hmm. So, so ballparking 200 or so. And then, like, I wonder what percentage of those typically are, you know, making it to the World Cup tournament, the final, you know, the final two or three weeks or whatever it is. Pat McStay (20:01.283) Yeah. Yep. Pat McStay (20:15.066) Yeah, I mean they're expanding it. So what was it this past World Cup 48? Scot Cooper (20:20.492) Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Pat McStay (20:22.082) Again, I'm pretty sure I'm wrong, but it's something like that. And then I believe they're expanding it again for the World Cup in the United States. Um, or, or was it 32 and they're expanding it to 48, something like that. Scot Cooper (20:37.691) Yeah. So real smart. Pat McStay (20:38.874) So yeah, out of the 200, you're trying to qualify. Some people don't even make it past the first round of qualifications. So to get to the third place game, or even to get to the final to almost qualify is a big step in the right direction of closing the gap in certain federations, especially the Oceanic Federation where New Zealand dominates. the majority of the time, men and women. Scot Cooper (21:10.291) Gotcha. Scot Cooper (21:14.247) So let's say there's a kid here who has grandparents from, I don't know, we'll just say Samoa since you're familiar with that, the most familiar. But what's the process, they live in Arizona and what's the process to get in touch with you and how do they kind of work things up the chain of command there? Pat McStay (21:37.638) Yeah, so again, for Samo it's pretty easy because it's an extremely small federation. I'm the only one in the US at the moment, I believe. So in wanting to do a really good job, I spent my own money and created a website so that people could easily find me, but also it lends itself to having me be a bit more credible because sometimes when I'm reaching out to college coaches, I'm reaching out to players. I don't necessarily know that they have a Samoan background. I just know that based on certain surnames, last names, things that I've been able to look up and figure out over time that they might have eligibility. So I have to reach out to them, explain who I am. But being able to point them to a website. uh, always makes it a bit more credible on my end. And I've had some pretty good success, but really it would be, and I've had actually at 2009 from Charlotte, she played in the ECNL and I was able to watch her play last spring against Richmond United, um, and, and see her in person. That's been the only player on the East coast that I've been able to identify, but it was as easy as they found my website. They sent me an email. I conversed back and forth with the father. She was a 2010, I believe. She's not currently eligible for anything because she's too young, but being able to keep tabs on a U-14 that's soon going to be eligible for the U-17s is an exciting prospect for any federation that's that small. So being able to do that and just keep them up to date as to the process, I then send that on to... our head scout and I'm done. So if I'm able to gather video, gather information, do kind of the legwork to make sure that parents or grandparents are actually from Samoa, it's a little bit tricky because 60 miles away is American Samoa and they're a whole different country. So if you're American Samoan, you're not eligible for Western Samoa. Pat McStay (24:03.066) So just doing that little bit of background research, making sure that they can find parent or grandparents passport and birth certificate so that they can prove to the federation that they're eligible. And then the head scout has a process to get those players a Samoan passport. And then that's what really is there, what we would consider their player card, so to speak. Scot Cooper (24:29.843) you. And then you're also working with some of the bigger federations. So, you know, how do their processes work? You're obviously looking for, I mean, probably a higher level player. Pat McStay (24:44.218) Higher level player for sure. I was able to talk to England a few weeks ago and England's FA is pretty interested, said to keep in touch. I don't exactly know what their process is at the moment, but they're definitely looking for an Alex Morgan. They're not just looking for anyone with eligibility because their parents or grandparents are from England. It's a bit different than let's say like a Samoa or a Fiji where they're casting a bit of a wider net. It could be a lower level player because they're, you know, they're ranked 150th in the world and not 10th. So they have a bit of a different player profile than the England's and the Americas. So yeah. Justin Chezem (25:26.446) Chances are those kids will be on America's radar since they're in our country and American citizenship more than likely. So I could be just handing England players if we can avoid that, I'm sure. Are you finding more immediate success on the women's side than on the on the men's side? I mean, what's that? Pat McStay (25:33.627) Yeah, for sure. Pat McStay (25:37.294) Right. Yep. Pat McStay (25:46.766) Yes, so the players that have been able to make an impact and to be put in faster have been females for sure. And I just think it's harder overall for a male player to come into it's not obviously it's happening. But the female side for. Our project specifically, I think almost 100% of the players so far that have come across my desk have been females and then trying to get them linked into whatever national team Italy, Mexico, Philippines and trying to make that connection. Scot Cooper (26:37.671) Because the truth of the matter is that other countries are behind us in developing female players, right? Yeah. So what if my daughter doesn't play in the ECNL? Is there, obviously, I mean, I know the answer to this, but I just kind of want you to answer it and give direction to folks who aren't involved with ECNL. Pat McStay (26:44.09) Female players, yes, for sure. Yep. Pat McStay (27:04.122) Yeah, again, this is a project that the ECNL is backing. So we are looking at that platform as our priority. But the ECNL also has the ECNL regional league platform. And then a lot of these clubs have teams underneath that. So from my experience and the exciting part about this project is that the multiplier is, you know, Loudon, for example, has the ECNL, but they also have 12,000 kids in their club. So, uh, the information getting out to the director and the players, we might be starting with the ECNL platform because for a lot of clubs, that's the top platform for boys or girls or boys and girls, but who knows there could be a player that. Their grandparents are from Guatemala. They play on the ECNL regional league team or, or their parents are grandparents are from Belize and they play on the third team and they would be a great fit to go into the U16s or whatever it might be. So my, uh, the excitement to me is that it's not just 10,000 players in the ECNL I'm making up that number by the way, but it's, it's not just the hundred plus clubs, ECNL teams. It's. the multiplier of the ECL regional league, the NPL teams underneath that or the league below that and then the recreational base as well because there are going to be some players that maybe choose not to play in the ECL or regional league or can't afford to play in the in travel soccer but are but could fit into a smaller country's national team just fine and so being able to at least educate parents that this idea, this program exists. I have no problem having more players than less to kind of decipher and send to federations. And so that's kind of my problem to solve is that I need to be ready for a player whose grandparents are from Gambia to get in contact with them within a week. And so... Pat McStay (29:26.626) I'm trying to work on both sides to get support. So like I said, no director has said this is a bad project. No federation has said this is not going to be worthwhile. But I think it's just going to be a matter of time before we as the Heritage Project at ECNL kind of see the benefits long term. So we're really excited about the upcoming Men's and Women's World Cup, the next cycle. to see what this project can do over the next three years and see if we can place some players. And even if it's not players who are featured in the actual World Cup, there's gonna be plenty of players from the ECNL who participated in World Cup qualifying. Their country just didn't make it to the World Cup final. Scot Cooper (30:18.011) Right. Well, how can we help? Justin Chezem (30:18.23) Did you say you were going to Anaheim? Are you out there now? Pat McStay (30:22.326) No, no, I'm at home, but the ECNL Symposium is in Vegas, I believe, next week. So it's a two or three day symposium where ECNL directors gather. They've got presenters. It's, I think I went last year or the year before and found it very worthwhile. So it'll be a good way to connect with some ECNL directors, talk to them about the project. I already had a few emails go back and forth today about, hey, can we meet at the symposium and talk about this? So. Justin Chezem (30:27.445) Oh, okay. Justin Chezem (30:51.694) That's great. Scot Cooper (30:54.789) How can we help? Pat McStay (30:57.902) That's a great question. I think as we get into month two, three, and four, and this kind of gets rolled out a bit more publicly by the ECNL, I think that more opportunities will come up to maybe come back on the podcast and give you an update. And I'll try to share some things via LinkedIn and kind of go from there. But any support would be great. I think the more. The more information we can get out that this exists, the better. Scot Cooper (31:31.751) Yeah, I mean, it's a great project. So we'll support it however we can. We're not Joe Rogan or anything, but some people listen here and there. So, but yeah, I think it's awesome. And great job taking it on. That's quite the project you got going there. Justin Chezem (31:31.799) Yeah, I agree. Justin Chezem (31:39.788) get there. Pat McStay (31:49.33) Thanks, thanks. Yeah, I'm looking forward to seeing what happens, you know, 24, 36 months from now. Scot Cooper (31:56.207) Yep. Cool. Yeah. I mean, never hesitate to reach out. Definitely get your word out there as best we can. So yeah. Cheese. You got anything else? Pat McStay (32:04.038) Yeah, we'll do. Justin Chezem (32:07.618) Well, that's it. I'm just wondering when the next time you and I could wave and passing while you're sprinting to some other field, you know, so. Pat McStay (32:14.47) Let's see, are you going to be up in Arlington? 28th, 29th? Yeah. Is it next weekend already? Yeah, crap, yeah. Justin Chezem (32:17.102) I will, next weekend? Yeah, I'll be there. Justin Chezem (32:23.01) Well, the boys wait. Yeah, the boys is next weekend, right? And the girls are the following. Yeah, are you going down to Florida? Pat McStay (32:28.07) something like that. Pat McStay (32:31.704) I'm going down to Disney this weekend. Yep. Justin Chezem (32:33.142) Disney gotcha. Yeah. We'll have some coaches at the ECNL event for the boys, Lakewood Ranch. Pat McStay (32:37.634) OK, yep. I'll wave to you eventually. Justin Chezem (32:41.526) Yeah, we'll say hi. Scot Cooper (32:43.059) I'm gonna go. Oh man. Pat, did I miss anything? Pat McStay (32:49.394) I don't think so. Yeah. Scot Cooper (32:50.395) Okay. All right. It was great seeing you. I'll probably be at that audience in a minute. Justin Chezem (32:53.17) Awesome bike, see ya. Pat McStay (32:57.018) Yeah, thanks guys and I'll be listening to the other episodes as well. I saw Jay DeMarritt just came out, so I'll have to take a listen there. Justin Chezem (33:08.758) That's third time's the... Scot Cooper (33:08.856) I got a big one coming out on Thursday. Pat McStay (33:11.321) Okay, right on. Scot Cooper (33:13.731) So I won't tell you who it is, but. Pat McStay (33:17.318) I'll get the email. Justin Chezem (33:18.603) Yeah. Scot Cooper (33:19.027) There you go. There you go. I appreciate you listening. It's awesome. Really do appreciate it. So I hold on. Pat McStay (33:22.674) Of course.

97. Jack Rasmussen, Founder, Caddix Cleats Hi I’m Scot Cooper and this is the Tales From the Trail podcast by MatchPlay. In this episode I welcome Jack Rasmussen, the Founder of the Caddix Cleat Company. This innovative to cleat utilizes small movements in the studs to prevent non-contact injuries. Jack and his dad took an idea and made it a product through research, trial and error, and ingenuity. This is a fascinating product that is available for pre-order on February 14th. Check it out! Summary In this conversation, Jack Rasmussen discusses his journey in developing innovative cleats for injury prevention in sports, particularly focusing on women's soccer. He shares how the cleats work by allowing for a small degree of flexion to reduce rotational load and prevent non-contact ACL, MCL, and high ankle sprain injuries. The need for cleat innovation is emphasized, as traditional cleats do not provide the necessary flexibility to prevent injuries. Jack explains the testing process and the positive feedback received from professional athletes. He also discusses the marketing strategy, product design, and the upcoming pre-sale and delivery of the cleats. Takeaways Innovative cleats with a small degree of flexion can help reduce rotational load and prevent non-contact ACL, MCL, and high ankle sprain injuries. There is a need for cleat innovation, as traditional cleats do not provide the necessary flexibility to prevent injuries. Testing with professional athletes has shown positive results, with no negative feedback regarding stability or mobility. The focus is on women's soccer, as they have a higher risk of ACL injuries, and there is a lack of differentiation in cleats for women's sports. Chapters 00:00 Introduction and Background 02:06 How the Cleats Work 03:00 The Need for Cleat Innovation 04:08 Testing and Feedback 06:35 Focus on Women's Soccer 07:27 The Journey to Becoming a Shoe Company 09:15 Celebrating the Product's Development 10:35 Marketing and Product Information 13:41 Designing Cleats for Women 15:47 Exploring Different Colors and Designs 16:42 Pre-Sale and Delivery 18:10 Emotions and Excitement Jack Rasmussen (00:00.735) Yeah, I got you. Scot Cooper (00:03.404) So you've found yourself a shoe to be a shoe industry guy now, but how did you get to this point? What brought you to this? Jack Rasmussen (00:11.722) Uh, yeah, so it's kind of a long story. I'll try to make it as short as possible. But, um, essentially my father was watching a soccer game one day and someone tore the ACL and he like called me in the room. I was, I was just like a teenager, just got out of high school. I wonder if she could like rotate. I'm like, I don't know if she was going to rotate. And he's like, well, I feel like that could be the mechanism for injury prevention, both kind of sounded and contemplated it. And he just, you know, he was like, I don't know the time to do this. this whole project, this whole thing. But if you want to do it, it's all yours. I'm like, I'm 18. I'm barely passing high school. Like, I can't, I can't, I can't do this right now. So, kind of a couple years went by and I just kind of cut to the back of my mind. And one day after work, I decided to just go by a cleat and just see what the inside looked like. Tore it apart, ripped it open, kind of built like a different shoe. Just hoping to make some sort of thing rotate in it. Cause like, when you look at ACL tear, you get your foot stuck in the ground and then you kind of like have that lack of give. So, and my dad's an advertiser, I was working as a housekeeper in Utah, no background for this, but ended up teaching myself quite a bit of biomechanics and physics when I was 19. My dad and I actually wrote our first patent and we kind of had this layer configuration of our cleat sole that each layer had a specific job that could flex a certain degree and level. Went to university out west to get it tested, came back positive, got hooked up with iGenerator. They're in Portland, they're kind of like the shoe gurus of the world years ago, and then sort of fell into a biomedical field. Someone reached out to me at Biomechanics Lab. They do a lot of footwear testing for professional sports, and they tested our cleat, and turns out we actually do have something to claim that it does what reduce rotational load responsible for injury, so. I'm not a shoot guy, but I'm definitely a cleat guy now. Scot Cooper (02:06.778) Yeah, I mean, that's a huge world to be in, right? I mean, there's cleats everywhere and they come out, new ones come out every week, it seems like, from different brands. So yeah, get into like how yours works and I'm looking at a picture of it right now, like how the cleats allow rotation or even if I'm, I don't even know if I'm stating that correctly, but. Jack Rasmussen (02:16.938) Yeah. Jack Rasmussen (02:34.538) Yeah, you're doing great. So essentially, these studs will just flex. That's kind of the only degree of flexion you need to alleviate a lot of the torque responsible for non-contact ACL, MCLs, and high ankle sprain injuries. So it's not a ton of flex. Like whenever you show someone, they're like, oh, I can never run in a straight line. It's like, well, you absolutely can. We have a test of our athletes, professional athletes, college athletes, but. Scot Cooper (02:41.504) Oh, that's cool. Jack Rasmussen (03:00.726) But it's just a little flex. And just the front studs flex, these are the normal traditional rigid studs, but these just move laterally and back and forth in any direction. And like I said, if you ask any athlete what happens to a person, their teammates, when he or she twitters, the word we always use is stuck. You get stuck on the ground, it's a turf monster or whatever. This just allows you to be free, that's it. So at some point, I mean... There's this contentious debate between turf versus grass versus, you know, whatever. And like, I'm not gonna lie to you, all the things are just are not ideal for athletes. They're not. And the cleats don't give and the field won't give. So ultimately our bodies give and that's just wrong. So the fields will never change. They won't. So it's something, something has to give is the studs, it's the cleats. Scot Cooper (03:50.994) So talk about like, how can an athlete still plant, change directions, that sort of thing with this, you know, increased mobility of their contact with the ground. Jack Rasmussen (04:08.642) Yeah. So it's not enough movement to affect and act as a detriment towards someone's ability to cut or perform or run or translate linear to lateral. I don't think it's not that much. I know you've seen me look at my fingers and you think, wow, if I have my body on that, I mean, that's going to move considerably more. And that's not really the case. It's only set to a certain re-reflection. So it really can't go much further than that. And we had this thing. So all the others out there, they're wondering if they can... well. We have this tested with 1200 pounds of force rotationally and like that's about the max a human can produce and it didn't waver it didn't impede the ability to go a certain direction so it's been tested it's the same thing it's just a little bit more freedom in terms of your joints and your ligaments stuff you don't want to be compromised. Scot Cooper (04:59.734) Right. So talk about the testing. Like when you said you have professional athletes tested, I mean, what's kind of the standard test and how are they, what's the feedback been? And, you know, how do you know it works? I guess. Yeah. Jack Rasmussen (05:18.175) Yeah, for sure. So we did in the lab testing, not with humans, with cadavers and machines and force plates and all this stuff that I only know so much about. But that testing is essentially, when does the cleat give? When does it slip? Is the rotational setting still the same? Is it safe? Is it more efficient? Stuff like that. As far as the human ones go, I played college football. So I pretty much may approach this my entire college career and I would just call my friends, but hey, can you please go on quick and run around. We did that for a while. And as we kind of grew and got a little more recognition, I had some NFL players where I'm last year in testing, not like in games, but just testing, ran some drills and no one could feel any difference. So that's kind of like our goal is to have this thing function the way it does, but have athletes be unable to tell the difference. Because as you can feel it move. You're going to get freaked out a little bit, but you can't feel it. So, but no, everyone did drills and they ran, ran routes and DV drills and it's the same. It's exactly the same. So there's been no one saying it feels like it's loose. I feel unstable. I don't feel, I feel too mobile. None of that's happened. None of that's occurred. Scot Cooper (06:35.922) We need to get Pacheco to try them out, the way he runs. So yeah, I mean, are you focused mainly on soccer right now, or just any sport can wear them, I guess. Jack Rasmussen (06:39.65) Yeah. Jack Rasmussen (06:49.806) Yeah, so we're doing men's football the first year, and then we're gonna do women's soccer the first year. We're not gonna do men's soccer. We're just trying to get that advantage for women's sports that they need, and they deserve, and they haven't had yet. So we're doing that. And also, they're at way higher risk of ACL injuries. So we're going women's for the first year, maybe even first two years, we're not sure. So yeah, I mean, that's kind of where, and then the cross, where I was making the cross ones, because the cross cleats are essentially football cleats and soccer cleats, just labeled the cross cleats. So, yeah, no baseball, I mean rugby you can, but just specifically men's football and women's soccer. Yeah. Scot Cooper (07:27.942) Gotcha. Talk about like, how do you make this happen? Like, how do you become a shoe company? You know, you had a great idea, and you went through testing and patents, and now you're ready for production. Like, how do you find a place to produce it? How do you end up with that cleat in your hand and then able to sell it to your customers? Jack Rasmussen (07:53.578) A lot of luck. I'll say that right off the bat, man. A lot of luck. I think, I mean, I was, during the beginning of this, I was super lost. Like, I had no idea. I knew nothing about cleats and manufacturers, intellectual property. I think the big turning point was when we hooked up with iGenerator in Portland, and they've been making shoes for decades. These guys are just like the guys you go to if you have any problems with shoes or questions about footwear. They've been, they've been... kind of aiding this whole process. They've been serious in the right direction. They have a manufacturing connect in China. You know, they're in Portland, which is just a shoe capital of America. But it is a lot of luck. It's right timing. I mean, I found myself in the right place, right time, more than I deserve to be, in my opinion. Yeah, it's also just, you know, I don't know. I think an idea is only as good as what you do with it. I mean, This was an idea and now it's a tangible thing I can hold in my hand, which is amazing. But I mean, you know, it takes hard work and obsessing over and connections and luck and all these things kind of play in this melting pot of reality. It's exciting. I mean, it's definitely surreal to see it come to fruition. That's for sure. Scot Cooper (09:15.694) Yeah, I imagine you and your dad are raising a glass to, you know, having to have in a cleat in your hands and Right off of the napkin that you drew on, you know, however many years ago. So Jack Rasmussen (09:27.294) Yeah, it's, uh, it's, it's great. I was telling my dad this the other day, actually, because some of these came in a few days ago, we have our friends running around these all over the country, but these came in like five days ago, I want to say. And our first prototype I made in our garage and I combined like blue dish soap and quick hardening caulk and makes like this transparent rubbery substance. And like I ripped the sole off a cleat and I put that on there. So I could just watch it move. And like, that was our first prototype. And now we've got, you know, there's actually decent looking. functioning, you know, kind of high-end product and it's just, you know, a long time coming. So we're raising glasses all the time here. Scot Cooper (10:05.246) Good, good, good. As you should. So there's been a lot of testing like of ligament tears, grass versus turf and men versus women and that sort of thing. And like you said, there's a higher rate of injury in women. And that's cool that you're focusing on women's soccer because they happen all the time in women's soccer, obviously. So. Talk about like how you're marketing that to, let's talk about women's soccer, because that's kind of where we are in this podcast thing. So talk about how you're marketing and what age can start to wear them and all that good stuff. Like just kind of a product info download and then how you're getting the word out. Jack Rasmussen (11:00.495) So when it comes to women's soccer, we're just, we're not, first of all, not targeting the youth sports yet. We're trying to keep it a adult thing for now, just because kids are still growing. And that's just, I want to say it's messy, but I'll say that like messy. And that was a soccer joke. It actually was. I appreciate that. But you know, I like to. Scot Cooper (11:21.279) Well done. Jack Rasmussen (11:26.11) We're focusing on women because they deserve it. And then, and ultimately there's a greater need for it than men's sports. There just is, there simply is. Um, so it's, it's the same concepts. The stud orientation is different. So this is the men's football league. Um, the studs will be configured a little differently based on the anatomical differences of women and men, just because of that's, that's why they get very stale as torn, but they have how. So, uh, it's the same thing. Um, we're, I know our Instagram just was like football right now. because we have Instagram or NIL athletes we signed from college sports, but we're actually signing two soccer players this week. I can't tell you who it is yet, but we're, we're looking to get some testing done. Our women's cleats come in about probably a month. We're going to send them out to different colleges, different girls we know playing college sports and the professional levels as well. So just kind of going about it the same way. But unfortunately men's football is a bigger market, especially on social media. So we're, we're pushing. both, but men's, I mean, men's is just coming in at different wavelengths. Um, but I'm excited to start, you know, letting everyone know who we're signing and what we're doing with women's soccer. I'm really excited. I think this could be so big for the sport and just that whole entire space because they don't have anything that the men don't, you know what I mean? They don't have anything to differentiate themselves between different. I think it's very, I think it's wrong, but I'm excited because, you know, it's, it's a necessity, so we're just trying to push it out the same way, the same way as football. But like I said, it's not our first girls this week. And we're gonna get in there. Their cleats, they can try them out and wear them and market them if they feel they deserve marketing. And yeah, same approach kinda. Scot Cooper (13:10.962) Cool. Yeah, so obviously, like we said, there's a higher rate of injury in the women's game and that's really cool that, I mean, I love the way you say that, like they deserve it. So that's certainly true. Have you like, how did you develop a different cleat pattern? Is that based on the science or kind of testing or how did you determine that they needed a different cleat pattern? Jack Rasmussen (13:41.034) There's been like decades of literature on this very subject, like stud orientation, stud length, subplacement, um, conical or splated studs. And then you have all that information based off of gender specific sports. So we're, we're kind of just taking, I mean, we even, it sounds like a dumb term, like we've been taking those in this for 10 years. Like we, I mean, we're kind of just be there. Everything's going on in terms of the. the coming outs of all this information. So we're just kind of basing off that. And also, like I said, that the people we've asked for counsel for this, I mean, they've written these papers before, so they know they're guiding us in directions that, you know, we would be putting ourselves in if we didn't have them on our team. So we're looking at what people have done before. We're looking at what people have tested, looking at what people have proved. And we're, you know, getting advice from biomedical engineers who have Ph.Ds and stuff. And, you know, They understand on a level that I will never understand. So I don't want to speculate too much and say the wrong thing, but you know, we've done our homework and you know, it's a time and place for football studs and women's studs and you know, we're going two different ways. Scot Cooper (14:38.487) Right. Scot Cooper (14:52.661) Are those, are they replaceable? Like, okay. Jack Rasmussen (14:55.13) No, they look replaceable, but they're not that we there's no other screw in studs. Yeah, it was never worked out very well. They've they've tried that for years and all companies have, you know, ultimately, I think they just, it just didn't pan out the way anyone thought it would. So we're not going to do screw ins. Scot Cooper (15:14.159) It looked cool. Jack Rasmussen (15:15.958) They did look cool. Scot Cooper (15:17.074) as a kid it was cool to have some studs, but you only could wear them when it was absolutely sloppy, right? So yeah. Well, cool. So are you going to, I see that you have a black pair with kind of some teal detail, teal soul. Are you going to explore, yeah. You're going to explore new other colors and color ways, and you're going to be trying to be fashion forward, or how's that? Jack Rasmussen (15:25.163) Yeah. Jack Rasmussen (15:34.326) Mm-hmm. Scot Cooper (15:47.186) How's that work? Okay. Jack Rasmussen (15:47.534) Yeah, we're definitely gonna be functioning forward for sure. But a lot of the comments were like, we'll make white ones. Like, all right, we'll make white ones. Just, yeah. So we're gonna have a white and a black pair the first year. This is very much a trial and error thing. The next few months, just to kind of see what everyone wants. Like from a fashion perspective, not function. But yeah, there's a great designer. Scot Cooper (15:57.282) Yeah. Scot Cooper (16:02.066) Gotcha. Jack Rasmussen (16:13.862) with our generator. Her name is Lindsay and she is just elite when it comes to design. Send us new things every week and we have the things to pick from. We're sending to our friends seeing what they think. So we're kind of gathering you know the data from the masses to see what looks good. So we're going to make a white pair similar to this one but the women's one will have a little sock right here like they kind of like the soccer ones. It'll be widened. It'll be pretty sweet. I'm excited to reveal it. Scot Cooper (16:35.198) Oh, yeah. Scot Cooper (16:40.498) Cool, when are those gonna be ready? Jack Rasmussen (16:42.682) Yeah, uh, probably a month, probably less than a year. Scot Cooper (16:46.838) Okay, cool. And so your tomorrow, meaning February 14th, Valentine's Day, Wednesday, not tomorrow, Wednesday, two days, is your pre-order, your pre-order sale starts, right? Did I say that right, pre-sale? So everyone can get online, football players, right? Can get online. Jack Rasmussen (16:55.906) to. Jack Rasmussen (17:02.382) Correct. Yep. Yep, you did. Jack Rasmussen (17:11.17) Anyone. So women's soccer or women's football. Scot Cooper (17:13.486) Okay, women's soccer, men's football can get online in order. And then, so like what's that process and walk us through, you know, when they're going to actually be able to put them on their feet. Jack Rasmussen (17:22.994) Yeah, so Wednesday the pre-sale opens and then this summer they'll be delivered. I know it's a long time away, but we're just trying to see, like I said, kind of trial and error in terms of design, who wants what. So if we, if we sell out in one design and one color, now we know not to make up the color. So, yeah, but it's as simple as that. Our website will be live on Wednesday. You can go in now and enter your email address to be kind of have first access to the pre-sale, we're only releasing a limited number of quantity. Scot Cooper (17:32.742) Yeah. Jack Rasmussen (17:52.662) So, but yeah, it's just, they're coming this summer and probably, probably June for the pre-sale orders and then everything else probably July. So, yeah, yeah. Scot Cooper (18:04.502) you. Okay cool. What am I missing man? Jack Rasmussen (18:10.283) I don't know man, I think I did pretty good. Scot Cooper (18:12.182) Okay, I mean, it's exciting. I can't imagine like, how like, excited and probably nervous and just like, all the emotions all in one, you know, as you bring this thing to market, it's gotta be crazy for you. Jack Rasmussen (18:24.414) Yeah, yeah, no, it's a lot. It's like going on in my head like on With my dad and you know, my buddy Grant does social media and he's the guy in the videos you all see and you know Just it's we're It's fun though, man. Like I said, very lucky way luckier than I thought I deserved to be but it's a fun spot to be in so Scot Cooper (18:29.509) Right. Scot Cooper (18:45.038) Yeah, very cool. Yeah, I'm excited to see like how it pans out and can't wait to see who you have coming in soccer wise and I'll definitely be following you on social media. Jack Rasmussen (18:59.602) Yeah, please, Jim, I'll send you a pair when they get here. Yeah? Yeah. Scot Cooper (19:02.574) Right on, yeah, that'd be awesome. Well, cool, maybe we can talk about doing a giveaway or something for a few minutes. Okay, cool. Awesome, got anything else? Okay, all right, hold on. Jack Rasmussen (19:10.462) Yeah, I'd love to man, I'd love to. Let me know. Jack Rasmussen (19:18.87) Hachew, yeah. Scot Cooper (19:22.534) I'm just gonna.

96. Brian Plotkin, West Point Men's Soccer Head Coach Hi I’m Scot Cooper and this is the Tales From the Trail podcast. In this episode, Justin Chezem, head coach of Christopher Newport University men’s soccer and I welcome Brian Plotkin, head coach of men’s soccer at the United States Military Academy at West Point. Brian discusses the unique recruiting process and requirements to become a cadet and athlete at West Point. Coach Plotkin also describes a bit of the day to day cadets experience during their time as cadet-athletes. Once you listen to the podcast, you’ll understand why Coach Plotkin is with the Black Knights. Summary Brian Plotkin, head coach men’s soccer coach at West Point, discusses the unique recruiting process and player development at the United States Military Academy. He highlights the importance of finding players who are not only talented in soccer but also have the right mindset for the challenges of West Point. Brian shares success stories of former players and emphasizes the pride and esprit de corps that cadets experience at West Point. He also discusses the relationship between athletics and ROTC and the recruiting timeline for the academy. Brian concludes by sharing his own soccer journey and the differences in the recruiting process today. Brian Plotkin discusses his playing career, transition to coaching, and the impact of his mentors. He shares how he blends the coaching methods of Indiana and Notre Dame, and the importance of lifelong friendships in the coaching world. Brian also highlights the development of cadets at West Point and the emphasis on mental health and support. He discusses the future of the Army's culture and offers advice for recruits. Finally, Brian talks about upcoming recruiting trips and his plans for the future. Takeaways Recruiting at West Point focuses on finding players with the right mindset for the challenges of the academy. Success at West Point goes beyond soccer and includes personal development, leadership skills, and service to the country. The relationship between athletics and ROTC is harmonious, with both programs emphasizing discipline, accountability, and competitiveness. The recruiting process at West Point involves educating potential recruits about the unique aspects of the academy and providing opportunities for visits and interactions with current players. The Army-Navy game and the Army-Navy Cup are highly anticipated events that showcase the pride and camaraderie of the cadets. The influence of mentors and the impact they have on a coach's career. Blending coaching methods from different programs to create a successful coaching style. The importance of lifelong friendships in the coaching world. The development of cadets at West Point and the emphasis on mental health and support. The future of the Army's culture and the role of college athletics in developing future leaders. Advice for recruits on making decisions and trusting themselves. Chapters 00:00 Introduction and Bears Fan Discussion 01:17 Recruiting and Player Development 04:15 Success Stories of Former Players 06:38 Recruiting Process and Daily Routine 09:10 Understanding the Demands of West Point 12:24 Recruiting in Obscure Places and Potential Military ID Camps 15:18 Pride and Esprit de Corps at West Point 17:19 Impressive Qualities of West Point Cadets 20:49 Importance of the Prep School 23:07 Relationship Between Athletics and ROTC 26:36 Recruiting Process and Timeline 30:54 Army-Navy Game and Army-Navy Cup 36:27 Brian Plotkin's Soccer Journey 37:59 Brian Plotkin's Playing Career and Transition to Coaching 39:55 Mentors and Lessons Learned 41:50 Blending the Indiana and Notre Dame Coaching Methods 43:12 Lifelong Friendships and Growth as Coaches 46:49 Developing Cadets at West Point 47:17 Mental Health and Support at West Point 50:18 The Future of the Army's Culture 51:34 Advice for Recruits 52:12 Recruiting Trips and Future Plans Justin Chezem (00:01.648) Brian, I read you're from Chicago. Are you unfortunately a Bears fan too? Brian Plotkin (00:08.519) I am. Yeah, yeah. Lifelong bears, you know, it's fun. I think for my generation, the Cubs were the lovable losers, but I think for the generation behind me, that's the Bears now. You know, at least I got one Bears Super Bowl. I was I was only about four months old, but I did get one. So, you know, so, yeah, unfortunately. Justin Chezem (00:26.176) I'm a fellow Unfortunate Bears fan as well. It is, I'll tell you what, this is the most exciting and scary off season. If I was Ryan Pohl's, I would be like, what do you do? You're gonna be wrong according to 50% of the world with whatever decision you make. It's like, wow. Brian Plotkin (00:28.919) There you go. Brian Plotkin (00:39.219) No. Brian Plotkin (00:43.299) Yeah. No, you're either. It's kind of like a little bit of the Mitch Trabisky, Patrick Mahomes thing all over again, right? You get it. I don't know. I'm glad I'm not in his shoes. Justin Chezem (00:56.62) Right. And it's how did it, how do you, what do you think he was thinking when the whole stadium was cheering? We want fields at that last home game and we were winning the game and you're like, Oh, what do you do? And he's such a fun kid to root for. And I just love watching him play. You're like, Oh, do we, do we let him go for this other guy? Oh, I don't know. I wouldn't want to be him. Wouldn't want to be him. Brian Plotkin (01:09.948) It's true. Brian Plotkin (01:17.615) Mm-hmm. No, no, me either. And, you know, and then it's funny, you're watching like Roquan Smith, the Rae, like dominate, you know, well, not dominate, you know, had a hell of a season and up until that last game. But, you know, bears let him go for a couple of second round draft picks. And you're like, well, I don't know what we're really doing. So. Justin Chezem (01:22.949) Yeah. Justin Chezem (01:26.297) Right. Justin Chezem (01:31.608) Yeah, that might have been his only bad poll because we used that pick on the clay pool kid and that didn't work out too well for us. But yeah, well, it'll be an exciting off season. But yeah, anyways, that's a whole different world than our world, specifically your world. I appreciate you being on. Thanks for joining us. We already had practice this morning, man. That's pretty common in our world. So, but yeah, thanks for joining us and we wanna jump into it. We were talking a little bit beforehand. Brian Plotkin (01:49.194) Yeah, well, thanks for having me. Brian Plotkin (01:55.4) Mm-hmm. Justin Chezem (02:01.144) You know, a kid that I had coached went to West Point and awesome young man. And, you know, we loved him and he actually stepped away, which blew our minds because the kid, you know, it just, that would never in our wheelhouse that he wasn't going to finish his career and finish playing soccer, but, you know, a place like West Point, that's, that actually makes sense with what he wanted to do. He wanted to really focus and dive head first into everything else the school has to offer. Uh, you know, at most plac just going to be hanging a lot more and doing the whatever. But at your pla Uh, you want to kind of t Brian Plotkin (02:42.302) Yeah, I mean, I think, you know, it's interesting. You know, we have a way of kind of describing when we're speaking to recruits early on in the process, where if, if being a top, top soccer player is a nine out of 10 and being a, you know, receiving a great education and developing a unique set of leadership skills and serving your country is less than five, we're probably not a great fit for you. And it really does a good job early on of separating. those that don't have the right mindset for what they're about to encounter. And, you know, the player you're describing was someone that was in his second year here at West Point when I became the coach back in 2021, you know, and had just come off an injury and had been kind of, you know, entertaining the idea of walking away from soccer and really investing into his abilities as a cadet, a leader and a future officer in the U S army. And so it's, it's an interesting side of it where other programs, the will become a little bit of a thing where guys will, you know, maybe they're not getting the minutes they want or the experience they want, and they'll transfer institutions or they'll step away and, you know, engage you in a little bit more social side. Uh, here, it's, it's something that our guys really, um, contemplate is, you know, do I want to spend this time becoming, you know, furthering myself as a cadet in order to be more prepared as an officer when I graduate. So, you know, credit to, to your player was one of the key leaders, um, in, in the Corps of Cadets. And, you know, as it has a really bright future. ahead of him and love seeing him around campus. Justin Chezem (04:15.14) Yeah, he's an awesome young man. And actually I do want to talk about one other young man you have. And it's a little different. We, I think we use his name because he's had, he looked like he had an amazing career. I was like, let me check on this kid because we had him on campus. We loved him. We thought we were going to get him. And one more thing I want to talk about soon is the prep school situation you guys have. And he ended up going to your prep school before coming to you. And I'm like, let me, let me check on him. And then I see John Ponce had himself a heck of a, you know, I saw senior year stats and Brian Plotkin (04:34.305) Mm-hmm. Brian Plotkin (04:40.366) Okay. Yeah. Justin Chezem (04:44.276) I mean, what an amazing young man he was as well. And it looks like he had a pretty good soccer career. You don't have to talk specifically about him, but what kind of, what was his outlook after he finished up and what's he doing now? Brian Plotkin (04:48.95) Yeah. Brian Plotkin (04:56.374) Yeah. So again, John was a senior my first season. So, you know, credit to him, he took a new coach and, you know, was willing to listen and do some things a little bit differently. And, and, you know, fortunately for all of us, he had a pretty positive senior year. You know, I think he was a third team all Patriot league in that year, if I remember correctly, but, but yeah, wonderful young man. You know, it has gone on now and really uniquely. So when you, when you commission or you're in the army, there's actually an all army soccer. team, you know, and you can go on and play. And essentially, when you're doing that, you're actually trying out in a way for like the all armed forces team. And then you go off and you can actually compete against other nations, armed forces, soccer teams. And so John's been really active in that and, you know, has, unfortunately, just a couple months ago, I think he suffered an ACL injury. So he's out for a little bit right now. But Justin Chezem (05:47.512) Yeah. Brian Plotkin (05:49.782) You know, but it was fun following him and a couple of our other guys that were in that class. Carter Kovalevsky is another kid out of Pennsylvania that came here that was playing in the All-Army team as well. So it's one of the things where, you know, the pathways are a little bit different, but you can always stay close to the game no matter what you're doing. Justin Chezem (06:08.924) Yeah, I mean, you have such a unique situation there. I'm glad you kind of highlighted it a little bit, but I want to dive into your recruiting situation. It's night and day different than mine. I get to go to ID camps and go to showcases. Like, oh, that kid's pretty good players, got the grades, let's reach out. Why don't you just tell us, how do you start? I mean, it's nowhere near the same as mine or most of the guys that have been on this podcast. So kind of what's your niche? I mean, how do you find kids and identify them What's your daily routine in the recruiting process? Brian Plotkin (06:40.822) So this is the most enjoyable part for me. I think when I took this job, I had come from Notre Dame, I had come from Dartmouth, I came from Loyola, Chicago, like three really unique experiences and in all names were well enough known to get into conversation with most players. And one of my big things was I wanted to continue that. If I had the opportunity to coach at a school where the name would attract something, right? Some sort of connection. And for us, you know, here, we don't recruit much differently than I did there, or, you know, then John did at Penn and Harvard and that, you know, Dan had done at Stony Brook and in Yukon. You know, we really recruit the same way. The biggest difference comes, we do what we call West Point 101 as basically the second or third contact. Um, you know, it's a, it's a zoom call that we do where we go through kind of the four aspects of West Point. So we talk about the academics, we talk about admissions, we talk about the, the military and the service component. And, you know, we conclude with the soccer. And so, um, you know, that part of it, we, we really just try to educate early on. And, and I'm hopeful that it leads us to a place where in a turbulent time of college athletics, with a lot of turnover and transfer, that we do a good job educating the guys on what this experience is. And when they make the choice to join our program in this institution, that it is a strong, strong belief that this is what they wanna do. And so, it really isn't much different. We go out, we identify the players we think are the best for the team we're trying to build, and then we recruit them. And sure, through the recruiting process, are there characteristics, are there little details and tells of whether they'll have success through this place or not? 100%, but you have that everywhere. Um, and so it's just identifying the ones here that are, that are most, you know, applicable to what leads to success, you know, really more off the field on the field, you know, we're going to be able to coach them up and we know what we're looking for, but off the field is finding the right character, the right mentality, the right, you know, set of disciplines to go and be successful. So I do think, you know, it's one of my favorite questions to answer because so many, you know, have this idea of it being one way. Brian Plotkin (08:52.878) But in reality, a lot of there, it's an overlap. You know, I always laugh when people are like, oh, he's a West Point, he's a surefire West Point kid. And I'm like, I think there's a lot more of them out there than we naturally believe just because so many of us have this idea of what it is without the reality of what it is. Scot (09:10.291) How long did it take you to realize, to kind of understand what it took to be successful there and be able to handle everything that's demanded of them and really succeed? Brian Plotkin (09:25.298) Yeah, I'm still learning. You know, it's almost like a constant, you know, evolution of that, you know, I think there are some kids you look at and you know, you talk to them and you're like, they'll be fine. Right? You know, they dot their t's, they cross their eyes already there, you ask them for something, you know, in an email and they get it to you within, you know, 12 hours or you ask for it in a text and they're popping it right back to you and those little indicators. But part of it too here, you have to, it's developmental, right? You know, it's a place that's going to produce the best outcomes of you if you're willing to lean into it. Right. And, and so just to, to kind of wipe it all with a big brush would be unfair. So I do think each, each individual's, you know, their own situation. And then just, you know, if it really does speak to them or, you know, sometimes you do, you're kind of on a gut, you're like, look, I know that some of this doesn't add up, but I, but I believe we can get this one right. And so you go from there. So. It's constantly changing. It's a fun part of our conversation in the office when we're talking about players as we're getting into, you know, the final phases of the recruiting process. But it's kind of the fun of it all, right? You know, trying to forecast these things out and hopefully that the ones come as accurate to your hopes as possible. Justin Chezem (10:39.852) When it comes to kids reaching out, are they, do you find that they're reaching out to not just you, but also to the Naval Academy, also to the Air Force, Coast Guard, whatever, are they trying to like, I'm trying to jump into a military academy to play as well. And it's kind of a two-part question. If that answers yes, and it's kind of a broad, like, hey, I'd like to go to one of you, four or five academies, or, and then do you also have like an ID camp that's military specific? Is that something, am I off base here or is that something that happened? Brian Plotkin (11:12.138) You're not off base. No, there's certainly a section of players that are driven by soccer and service. Right. And so with that, those players will connect with all five service academies. Right. And beyond that, you'll find them also applying to different, some of the maritimes as well. And so there's always that overlap. And then it's funny. forces camp idea, right? It's not something that we've pulled together, but it's something since getting in here I've thought would be a pretty unique situation or opportunity for a lot of players that maybe You know, we do, we've got military bases all over the world, right? And so with that, we also have military bases in some areas that aren't necessarily hubs of, of soccer communities, right? And so, you know, the ability to have a little bit of an outreach and go connect with them where they are, I think would be something that we should probably look a little more seriously into doing. We haven't done it yet. For me, it was a little bit more, let's learn the soccer and this side of it before investing a little bit more time into the camps. But I think now that's probably something we should look a little bit more actively into. Justin Chezem (12:24.664) My dad was a Marine and so I lived in some of those bases. We lived in Camp Kinzer and Okinawa and then 29 Palms. And I'm glad I did that as a young kid because if I was a good soccer player in my high school days and I was there, I wouldn't know how to be recruited. I mean, I don't know what the soccer landscape could possibly be in 29 Palms or how far I'd have to travel just to get on a good team. And luckily enough, I was in Northern Virginia for Quantico for our final go there. So it was... Obviously a soccer hotbed up there, but I mean, where are you looking? I mean, are you looking at some super obscure places? Do you have maybe a story you could tell us like, wow, this kid came from this little town, but he's such a good player for us. Brian Plotkin (13:06.034) Yeah, I mean, I don't think I've got the tenure here to have that, you know, stories like that quite yet. But, you know, you do you look around and, you know, I'm hopeful here a little bit. It might be you never know. It could be an alum son or something like that. You know, we've got, you know, right now, you know, we have an alum son who's a colonel in the army, whose son is a junior out of Oklahoma, you know. And so, you know, that's one right now that, you know, is kind of working his way through it. But, you know, Germany is a place where there's a lot of servicemen. and opportunities there. We've had some kids reach out. And just one of the things, our foreign tour's coming up in the spring of 25. And we're actually trying to debate whether we want to go over to England and make it a little more soccer intensive or into Germany and kind of share the soccer and service intensiveness. And so kind of share that a little bit. And I'm leaning towards the latter just because I think it's a little bit more the reality of who we are and what our guys are going to go do and see and give that experience. You know, in our class, you know, since I've been here, we place guys in Germany, we place guys in Hawaii, we place guys in Korea. You know, and, you know, I think since I've arrived, we've had, you know, we had eight, three. And we'll have, you know, I've just had two graduating classes so far, and then we'll have eight more this year. And, you know, they're figuring out where they're going at the end of this month. Their night they find out is February 28th. And so, you know, we'll go from there. So a lot of opportunity. And I think, you know, it's kind of fun too. We do a, we started it actually on the first Sunday of January. And this Sunday will be the first Sunday in February. We're doing like an alumni hangout every Sunday night at 7 on a team's call. And for this one, we actually invited all the alums to come on and talk about their post, their first post, right? Because our seniors will have that experience now at the end of the month and wanted to give them some valuable insight, maybe some, you know, some reviews on some different locations. Hey, you think about this? Hey, this seems neat, but that? Because they will. They'll have a great opportunity to kind of set forth the next three to four years of their life here at the end of the month. Justin Chezem (15:12.24) That's a fantastic idea. I'm stealing that and putting that in the program, for sure. Brian Plotkin (15:16.142) I'm going to go to bed. Scot (15:18.652) Yeah, I mean, it's such a unique place like the pride that people feel graduating out of West Pointer or, you know, any service academy, but West Point, which is older West Point or the Naval Academy. Brian Plotkin (15:31.306) I don't even know. I, we're, we're like 223 years old right now. I know that. So. Justin Chezem (15:35.228) I'm going to go ahead and turn it off. Scot (15:36.215) Yeah, yeah, for ever old. So just like the pride of coming from there. I mean, I'm sure that like the esprit de corps is amazing. Like, so when you first stepped on the campus, even like for an interview, is that your first time coming going to West Point and Brian Plotkin (15:55.03) So sort of, so I grew up in Northern New Jersey for about, I shouldn't say grew up, I spent three years there when I was little. We had three, third to sixth grade. And it was somewhat funny. My mom used to threaten us with discipline of, if you don't behave, this is where you're gonna go. And so there's a fun picture of me and my siblings on the cannons at Trophy Point from back in like 1994 that we were looking at as I was interviewing. But after, we kind of did it as a school field trip, that type of thing. But since that time I hadn't been back, Again, like I mentioned earlier, it's a national thing, right? It's something everybody, it resonates in one way or another, whether you're a history buff or just you've heard about it or the army, Navy football game. And so, you know, there is a sense of pride, even not having served or been a part of the military in any way. Now, just knowing I get to work with, with cadets that are going to go and be, be prominent people in our country's futures is a rewarding thing. Scot (16:47.535) Right. Yeah. I was just going to lead into their special specifically for you young men that you're working with and just talk about like taking that in and understanding that they're there for a bigger reason and you know just times that you've kind of been wowed by them as people and You know what you when you kind of realize what they're capable of and that's Brian Plotkin (17:19.594) Yeah, I mean. What I love is they are passionate about their country. They're passionate about their development. They're passionate about their academics, but they're still incredibly passionate about their soccer. They are still, at this point as a cadet, they're still like soccer players at heart. It's still their first love and it may be their future. It may not be that that's kind of what we transition them through a little bit here, but they are so passionate about their soccer. It's fun to see them. The days are quite structured here. You're up every day. every morning around six, 6.15. You know, you've got morning formation, you're into breakfast for seven, you're at first class for 7.40, and then the day begins. You know, and from that there is downtime in between class periods, but you're studying, you're seeking out additional help, you're sneaking maybe an academic meeting in there. And then what's neat here at West Point, we've got what's called MacArthur time. General MacArthur established it as the superintendent here. It's a block of time from three to six in the afternoon, roughly, where everyone here has to do something athletic every day. So, you know, there's, you know, what would be other schools called intramural athletics. There's, you know, here it's called companies. You're within your smaller teams. But you go and everybody does something athletic in that period of time. Then it's dinner and then the evening study period. But what I love is our guys find time to do more, right? Whether it be, you know, spending time within their little company unit in the Barracks or getting out on the field and doing something or getting some sprint work in or a little bit of an extra weightlifting session, you know, they just find this idea that they can do, you know, their capacity to do hard things is greater than most others, right? And one of my favorite points for them, and this is kind of to answer the question fully, is when our first year students go home for the first time at Christmas break. Brian Plotkin (19:07.73) They are pretty tired, right? They've come here and, you know, through the month of July, did basic training and kicked right off into our preseason, gone through a season. And then when that ends, the intensity of school only ramps up because we're right into finals, right? And so it's a fatiguing period at the end, but then they go home and they're excited to be around their families, they're excited to be around their friends. And when we bring them back, we're like, how was that? You know, and we just finished these meetings last week with all of them. And... You know, they're like, it was interesting. Like I'm certainly a different person than when I left, right. I I'm a better communicator. I think differently, you know, my family like made all these comments about how this and that, and, and I just think you don't get that at other places. Right. It's an intentional part of the development here. And it's a culmination when you do that for four years. Um, and you're constantly seeking out the more challenging, you know, path in different ways and you have people around here, truly holding you accountable to high, the highest of standards. you're going to become and grow into a very close version of your best. And I think like that's, that's what I love to see. And then these guys do. Right. So, you know, when they're doing their, you know, projects day as a senior and they're presenting how them and a teammate and another couple of guys, you know, we're sending rockets up into sub orbit and in different things like that. You're like, yeah, I get it now. You know, because not only is that never been something they've been told they can't do, but they've always been like, well, why can't I do that? right, you know, if not now, when and go from there. And so there are, there's so many little stories like that go through here, you know, but it is, it's a rewarding place overall for all. Justin Chezem (20:49.112) That's extremely impressive. We were just talking a little bit, I kind of threw it in there, talking about the young man, John, and going back to the recruiting, tell me how important that the prep school is and what that looks like for you guys. I'm assuming all the academies have this as well. What does that look like? I mean, I feel like you have a lot of kids that go through there first before you get them. Just talk about that for a second. Brian Plotkin (21:05.239) Mm-hmm. Brian Plotkin (21:11.922) Yeah, it's, it's a little bit of a mix. So it's one where, what if there is a, so there are certain injuries, right? Where, you know, if you can't complete the basic training portion of, of your, your plea beer here, you, you're not able to, to start. So you can go into the prep school, or if there's an academic question, you can go into the prep school or a physical development question, you can go to the prep school. So there's any number of reasons that you may attend the prep school. And then there, You know, really it is, it's a year to prepare you for West Point, whether that be, you know, the discipline, the academics, the standards, the expectations. And then when you transition over to what they call kind of down the hill, you know, you're a little bit, you have a little bit more firsthand experience in the expectations. And so, you know, it's one, oddly enough, in our first year in 2021, we had, we didn't have any players come in from the prep school. This past season, we had. um sorry in our first year we didn't have any we currently have two that are plebes right now we'll have one next year um so it's not a you know i think for some of the other sports where you know the progression maybe in the recruiting process is very fast or that they are the highest level of sport in their country you know for wrestling lacrosse For our football program, the prep school is maybe a little bit more prominent just because it's under the year of physical development in those sports. But for us, it's a valuable asset if we need someone to have one more year of development. Justin Chezem (22:50.064) It's interesting, we've talked about this a little bit with what you have going on before they check in for soccer. But I would imagine that once they get in there and you can finally start coaching, you don't have to worry about the fitness side of things like a lot of programs do. Brian Plotkin (23:03.494) You'd be surprised. You know, you do have to fight. There is the military fit and then there's soccer fit, right? So it's, we've got to be, we've got to, you know, make sure they're not so worried about, you know, beach workouts at times and a little bit more on the single leg and, you know, some of the agility stuff. Justin Chezem (23:20.412) We have ROTC here and I've had a few young men wanna go through that and I love it, I support it. And ROTC is very supportive of us. We kinda alternate semesters. They still have the responsibilities in the fall, but they know that they're getting a lot of their fitness and a lot of their workout through being soccer players. And then I kinda flip it and I cater to whatever ROTC wants out of them in the spring. So what's the relationship? I mean, you're very demanding, you have to be in order to be successful in the Division I world for soccer. but so is your school. And so I'm imagining you're very deliberate about it as a university and you're, as the academy and you're very talkative when it comes to this stuff. You guys are making sure you're on top of everything. What does that look like? The relationship between the school and the soccer. Great. Brian Plotkin (24:06.282) Yeah, it's, you know, I guess the word would be like synonymous and harmonious, I guess, you know, we, they need them to be fit and we need them to be fit. Right. And, you know, there are different, you know, like I mentioned, there's different types. So for instance, you know, you know, there's PE classes here at West Point, you take them every year, right. And, and, you know, you've got to take kind of two sections. And for our guys, they don't do them in the fall because we're in season. So they do them both in the spring when we're in our non competitive season. are in boxing, our sophomores are in military movement. And then as you get into years three and four, it's a little bit different. Our seniors right now are in what's called lifestyle sports. So they're learning to golf or play ultimate frisbee. So it's different phases of it like that, but really there's a standard of physical expectation. Before every semester starts, you have to take an ACFT, like a cadet fitness test. And, you know, there's an expectation of score that you receive. And fortunately, our athletes, you know, are able to meet that without too much strain. But then there's an indoor obstacle course that's pretty notorious around here. And our juniors and a couple of our seniors, actually it was last night, I went and watched it about 430. And it's fun to watch because you do, you've got, there's no difference in their minds now other than a little bit maybe time between male and female cadets between a 280 pound football lineman that's trying to be as agile as a 140 pound men's soccer player. Right? And so watching them go through these difficult things where they're using all sorts of strength, whether it be the ability to climb up onto a shelf, a story up, or to be agile enough to move through the foot ladders or to climb a rope up and then to test your endurance with, at the end, almost a mile run, whether you're carrying a med ball or trying to sprint to make time. So there's a lot of overlap. And I think it all runs under this theme of accountability and competitiveness. You're always a, you know, Brian Plotkin (26:09.59) being held to a standard and then you're trying to compete with the others around you. And I think that's in the end when that's your life and you grow up around it for four consecutive years here, it does just prepare you, whether that be fitness or academics or military or sport or, you know, learning how to bring people around you with you as well. Right. And so I think it is, it all comes together. It's just such a special, special thing. Scot (26:36.903) Yeah, for sure. You going, Cheese? Yeah, I was just gonna ask about what the recruiting process is specifically like in so far as there's mutual interests. And so how does it, for people who are unaware of how that whole process works, you know, maybe just kind of. Justin Chezem (26:40.914) I've got a few notes here, go ahead. Brian Plotkin (27:02.603) Mm-hmm. Scot (27:05.479) go through how it starts and how it ultimately ends up with you. Brian Plotkin (27:06.892) Yeah. Yeah, so most times it'll identify or it'll begin with some sort of identification, whether it be an email from them where we watch the video and reply or whether we're out at an event or a game and, you know, and we'll connect with them from there. Typically, then, you know, we'll ask for just an idea of where their academics are, you know, kind of see what you know whether they've taken an ACT or an SAT test yet we're still one of the schools that does require it. get a sense even if it's in a good place we'll set up you know our West Point 101 call. Where we go through, here's what everything is. And it's me doing it. It's about 45 minutes long. I go through it with all of them. I try and answer as many questions as they have. And oftentimes the questions they have are answered through it. And by the end, they're like, oh, OK, I have a little, I have a better understanding of this. And we then leave it in their hands for a few days. And then usually John or Dan or Chris will reach out to them now and just be like, hey, what do you think? Is this something you want to pursue a little bit more? And oddly enough, we do. have a good return rate if we do West Point 101. And so from that then we start to gather a little more information. There's some medical pieces to it. We educate them on like kind of the entirety of the admissions process here from you know the medical to the nominations and whatnot. And it's a very much a guided process and one we feel really comfortable knowing and working our way through with everybody. And then you know it culminates with either you know if they're local we might bring them up for an unofficial visit for a day before bringing them back for an official Brian Plotkin (28:44.892) Or we do, we're like, you know, look, as you get nearer to a decision, we want to bring you out, you know, and our visits are typically pretty, you know. identical, where they need to sleep in the dorms. They need to go through at least a morning, like two meals with the guys. And then, you know, we'll usually take them for the afternoon of the day until practice and show them around and have them meet with some of our different resources or the different people at West Point. And then we put them back with the guys, you know, as soon as we can after that, because I genuinely think the biggest thing that is a belief amongst like 16 and 17 year olds about our... our players is that they are these like rigid, you know, always disciplined, you know, constantly serious, you know, people. And the truth is they're 18 to 22 year olds, you know, and with that, they love to laugh, they get on each other, they'll play, you know, their games, they love to everything that every other 18 to 22 year old can do. The difference is our guys just can turn it on when they need to academically, right? And that's not who they are at all times. And so, you know, once the, you know, they're sitting up in our team room or, you know, they're at a meal and they're laughing or they're talking about music or, you know, FIFA, their ultimate team, whatever it might be, you know, all the sudden those preconceived ideas break down and now they're like, wait, they're just like me, right? And then they're just like me, but they're doing all these things. And next thing you know, the kid goes back and is like, no, I can see myself doing this. And that's the outcome we love the most. And I think it's a real truth of what they'll experience here. We're not putting rose-colored glasses on anything. If anything, I don't talk about, and we're really deliberate. We tell them, we're honest, we're gonna show you what this is, because when you're here, everything's based in trust. You have to trust us when we recruit you that we're telling you what this experience really is. And then when you're here, Brian Plotkin (30:41.418) You have to be able to trust us when you're struggling or working through things and that can only work if we both feel a good connection throughout it all. And so that's what we hope to achieve and that's what we're seeing with our group of players right now. Justin Chezem (30:54.576) That's such an interesting thing you just mentioned about how these kids, while they're special and they're going through this amazing situation at your place, they're still 18 to 22 year old young men and they still have video games and they play and that's funny, Langley Air Force Base right around the corner from our house and I'll take my kids over to air shows and I've had buddies that work there that'll kind of let me go see some of the airplanes and stuff and the last time I was there I was taking my five year old, he was looking in the jets. And we're going through one of the buildings and where all the work is going. This is where this goes, all of this super nice, like, wow, this is where they, oh, this is also our bar. Like, it's just this big open area. This is where like, hey, every Friday, as soon as we clock out the entire units in here, we're just, we're letting off some steam, we're just having some beers, we're telling lies, you know, like we'll alternate, who's the bartender for the day? There's like a video game station over there and they've got the flight simulator. I mean, they're just like. Brian Plotkin (31:33.872) Mm. Justin Chezem (31:52.824) It just totally, oh wow, this sounds amazing. It's just the coolest part of the tour. And I'm like, yeah, he goes, yeah, every week, this is the best place to be Friday at five o'clock. This is, we're all here. You know, and some of us need help getting back to our barracks, but you know, we get there. We're all, we take care of each other. Brian Plotkin (32:01.726) No, it's true. Mm-hmm. Yeah. Brian Plotkin (32:09.48) No, absolutely. In our team rooms right above my office, like their floor is my ceiling. And so there's times when I can hear them having, you know, they're, you know, uh, one day I actually went up and I'm like, what are you guys doing? And it was just two guys were in like a week golf competition and the whole team was in their chair in a month. So, you know, they find their moments for sure, but, but just not during academic hours, right? So. Justin Chezem (32:25.648) That's awesome. Justin Chezem (32:31.768) Now, when it comes to recruiting, do you get to start before the rest of the country? The academies get like a head start on when you can contact and I feel like I need, is that right? Is your timeline different? Brian Plotkin (32:44.274) So it used to be, but then when they backed everything up to June 15th, it kind of took that away. When it was August 1st, we could always do July 1st. So for soccer, it's not as big of a thing. For our lacrosse programs, it's an awesome advantage that they get because they do. They get 31 days more, you know, before anybody else can do anything. So for us, not as much, but for some other sports for sure. Justin Chezem (33:07.228) Gotcha, okay. If I remember correctly, the young man that played for me, I mean, I think he got a phone call at 1201. And I'm like, are you the first kid in the country to commit? I mean, that was just, because he committed on the spot. He was like, I'm going, if they call me, I'm going. And you know, and there was, you know, where Chris Norris is a good friend of ours that, he's like, man, I couldn't have called you for another month, you know? So just, I knew your time was a little different. Brian Plotkin (33:15.902) No. Brian Plotkin (33:18.954) That's where you will get scared. Nice. Brian Plotkin (33:27.886) Thank you. Scot (33:34.155) You got one cheese. Justin Chezem (33:35.42) Well, I was going to ask you, you'd mentioned the Army-Navy game, the football game. Do you go to those? Do you get the opportunity? Brian Plotkin (33:38.187) Mm-hmm. to my first one this past winter. Yeah, so it typically overlaps with the like the MLS next event. But this year the dates shifted so we were able to make it out there. And so my wife's from the Boston area. So we went up her brother or sorry, her brother-in-law and her father we took the four of us went so it was my first one and I think everybody should go to at least one in their lives. It's an incredible thing. Justin Chezem (34:05.756) couldn't agree more. I think I was 11 maybe 12 years, 10, 11 years old. And I like I said, my dad was a Marine. And so that was just something as I'm taking my sons. And so me and a little brother, my dad went to an army Navy game. We had a couple other military families that we joined. We actually sat on the like basically the stadiums divided in half and we sat where the Navy crew was sitting and I was looking across and I basically felt like I was actually on army side because it was just a sea of gray. Brian Plotkin (34:28.64) Mm-hmm. Justin Chezem (34:35.588) And I don't know what the arm chance was or the arm movement was, but it was like a wave of hand movement. And it was, I mean, I was barely watching the game. I was just so enthralled just watching that. I was so impressed and it was such a cool experience. I mean, it's the I've been to a bunch of different sporting events. That is by far the greatest sporting event I've ever been to. Like I said, I may have watched half the game. I was just so just so engulfed in everything. We're at the what's the old Philadelphia Stadium call before the Brian Plotkin (34:39.469) Yeah. Justin Chezem (35:04.836) came in. That's where they did a lot of the games. Yeah, the bet. And so that was that we were in that stadium. It was just an amazing, amazing experience. I still kind of get goosebumps thinking about that was 30 years ago for me. And it was still just such an amazing experience. Brian Plotkin (35:05.65) Yeah. Mm-hmm. Brian Plotkin (35:19.698) Yeah, and it's cool now we've got, you know, our own version in a way with army Navy cup. So we play it in the Philadelphia unions home stadium every year. Um, you know, it's, I think this was the 12th season of it. Um, and you know, the, the smallest attendance that's been at the game is about 8,000, um, the biggest right around 14 or 15. So, um, it's, it's a really neat thing. The city of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia union lightos, like that, all of them do a wonderful job of promoting and putting it on and, you know, they, they host both before and it's a thing that not too many college teams get to experience. I know youth players now get to play in those stadiums a little more often than I did growing up. But you go out there and they've got the anthem and they do the flyover and the jumpers and our guys love the experience and I love it for them. Justin Chezem (36:12.796) Yeah, shifting gears a little bit here. I mean, you had yourself, you know, a heck of a career and you played at some pretty good levels. Actually, I saw you were a Carolina railhawk. Did you play with, I got a couple names for you. Did you play with David Stokes or John? Brian Plotkin (36:23.058) Yeah. Brian Plotkin (36:27.095) I did not. I missed David. Yeah, I knew he was. He was a great player in Carolina back in the day. Yeah. Justin Chezem (36:30.124) Okay. Yeah, we were high school classmates. And how about John O'Hara or Chris McLaughlin? Do you know those guys? Brian Plotkin (36:39.07) I don't, I don't. I think they might've beat me by a little bit. Justin Chezem (36:42.268) Well, they were goalkeepers, so you know, they're friends of mine, so I give them a little bit of our time. You know, yeah, just goalies, but, well, I mean, do you mind kinda talking about how you grew up with your process and what it looked like then, maybe even tied into what it looks like today and how different it is, and maybe give us your timeline? Brian Plotkin (36:43.922) Okay. Brian Plotkin (36:57.422) Thanks for watching! Yeah, for sure. So I did. I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. I grew up playing for a club called the Soccer's. It's been a, it's still around today doing a great job. In the coach, coaches that I had are still the main coaches in the club. We've got David Richardson and Brett Hall kind of still doing most of the older teams in the club. And so it's always fun to see them at the different events now from this side of it and call them about players that we're recruiting and so on and so forth. where it's different now, like, you know, the August 1st was of your senior year for phone calls and, you know, began getting recruited then and, you know, took a couple, you know, took majority of the visits in September, and ended up going to Indiana. So when, you know, kind of got in there, was able to play for, for Jerry Eagley for his final two seasons, and then Mike Frye tag for his first two seasons. And, you know, was fortunate enough in, you know, kind of year two with Coach Yaggs and year one with Coach Frye to win national championships with, you know, just blessed to be around great, great people, great teams, great coaches, you know, went on, was fortunate enough to, to play with the Chicago Fire and Columbus crew for a little bit, and then the Carolina railhawks, then, you know, kind of the whole time though, like from my time in Indiana, I knew college coaching was really what I had a passion to go and do, I think, you know, just the impact, you know, Jerry had and coach Frye and, you know, Todd and Caleb and Sean and GIF and those guys, like I was just like, that'd be what a neat thing to do one day. And so, you know, once my career ended playing, I got straight into coaching Loyola Chicago for three seasons with Neil Jones, who is now the coach at Wisconsin. Then went on to Dartmouth with Chad Riley for two seasons before moving with him when he got the Notre Dame job and coached with him for four seasons at Notre Dame. And then came out here to West Point. So. Brian Plotkin (38:55.186) A lot of, I genuinely think, I don't know, some people are like you've had a great career and I genuinely just look around at the people I've been around and I'm like, I think I'm more of the passenger in it all, even at the youth level to play for David and Brett and then play for Jerry, be on teams with guys that played in World Cups while I was at Indiana or had 10, 15 year MLS careers. Even then at the pro level with the fires, Chris Armish, Jim Curtin, CJ Brown, guys who are coaches in the league now And then once you get into the college, or Martin Renny, who was in MLS for a while at the Railhawks. And then beyond that, then just once I got to work for Neil and then work for Chad, I've just been really fortunate in that way. And so now I try to just, from my position, help develop my assistance in the way those guys helped develop me. And try to help our players become the best they can be, like so many of those guys did for myself. And so just really fortunate and blessed to have been in the places I've been at the times I was. Justin Chezem (39:55.228) That's amazing. Scot (39:56.859) So what were those guys as your mentors? What were some of the lessons that you kind of think back and say, yeah, I mean, that came from Jerry Aglie or, you know, one of the other mentors along the way that, that especially applied to. Brian Plotkin (40:13.972) Yeah. And it's fun. Like, you know, you look back and it's, you know, I talk about it because it's, it, you know, so much of this can be emotional and so much of it can be intentional. Right. And so with that, you know, this combination, I talk about it a little bit like this fiery competitiveness of Indiana always kind of simmers. I almost say it's like a little bit in my blood. Uh, but then, you know, the college piece being very developmental, you know, being very You know, purposeful educator type. You know, I take that from Neil and Chad and, and talk often now about how, like, you know, I'm hoping to kind of blend those two, right? Like Chad played at Notre Dame for Bobby Clark, you know, coach for Bobby Clark for a while, went off and has had an, I think in, in 10 years as head coach, he's, you know, won six league championships and, you know, been in two final fours. And, you know, You know, just want, I don't know, he said so much success that, that everything there is, is a, you know, he's so talented as a, as a leader and as a coach and just being able to steal some things there. But really just that, you know, combination, a little bit of this Bobby Clark kind of tree method of, of educating and developing and, you know, how to really teach with the bit of the Indiana, you know, just, you know. you know, what makes an Indiana soccer player, you know, just the competitive, you know, excellence that kind of oozes out of that place and trying to marry them a little bit, right? And bring these two, you know, it's almost a little bit of like the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean, right? When they meet, the waters don't look the same, but it's all in, you know, it's all still an ocean. And so we try and put it together in a way here at West Point that we can try to emulate a little bit of the successes of those two programs. Scot (41:50.687) Yeah, there's so many of you Indiana guys. I mean, you're not even the first, I think Alexi won, Alexi Corral, he won two national championships as well. So it's pretty crazy that we've had two multiple national title winners on here. Um, yeah, I mean, it's, it's incredible. The legacy that program has put out and, um, you know, it's great that you're, you're kind of paying it forward and helping the next generation be successful. So. Brian Plotkin (41:58.19) Mm-hmm. Yeah. Brian Plotkin (42:16.662) Yeah, no, it's fun. It is. And I think what's enjoyable too from all of it is, Kevin Robeson is one of my closest friends now. And it's fun chatting to him at times, because I think he's in that space as he's at an associate head coach role there for a while. And they've been so successful. And as he kind of gauges the different job opportunities that come around, like now being in this position, being able to speak to him about those thoughts and different ideas. And so it is. It's fun to. He and I competed against each other in high school I was on the soccer's and he was on Scott Gallagher. And we were the kind of the gatekeeper to them going and playing the bigger games they were hoping for and then we go to Indiana and we're there together. And as we've gone now, we're growing as coaches together. So it's just fun to have these lifelong friendships rooted in something so where you really did kind of figure out who you were together and grow into the people you've become. Scot (43:12.482) Right. Yeah, I'll close out with one thing, get back to recruiting a little bit. How does a kid kind of prepare and immerse herself to... Scot (43:24.947) come into that environment and what you see is maybe a common thread among the players and cadets that you're around that are common to all of them that are there and experiencing success. Brian Plotkin (43:39.966) Yeah, I think the simplicity, you're not going to do it alone. You know, it's, it's much like a team sport there. Um, you're going to need the people around you. You're going to need your teammates just like your teammates are going to need you. Right. And, and to expect to come in here and have it all figured out and not make mistakes. You know, we, we really try to get, let guys know it's, you know, you're, you're gonna make mistakes. You're going to. You know, have some things where you feel bad, but just know that's normal. It's part of the process. And so, you know, just knowing now the people here at West Point are what make this place special, right? It's, you know, you come here and it's historic. You feel it, you look around, you see all the buildings, you know, but does it doesn't scream new to you, right? It's not like this, you know, marvelous new architecture is being constructed. Right. You know, what, what makes this place so much better than, you know, obviously biased, but, but many, many others. is just the quality of the people that are here. And the true purpose behind all of them, they know is just to develop the cadets, right? It's not, you know, we joke around a little bit. Our classes are small. They're, you know, rarely more than 20 people. All of the professors in there teach. There's no teacher's assistance. There's no grad assistants. They are there only to teach. And we joke around often if, you know, at other schools, those professors are distracted with research or publishing or tenure and all those things. Here are your professors. They care about you, right? Here, our academic advisor works just with men's soccer and women's basketball, right? Here, our sports psychologist is out at our practices at 7.30 in the morning yesterday in our off season, making sure that we're being taken care of. And I just think there's a level of care here that supports our cadets. And so, we do a good job of through the recruiting process, teaching our recruits and our incoming guys about that. And then, really in reinforcing it while they're here to use the resources that are here. I think one of my favorite stories was my very first road trip we went, we had an away game, and the night before we're traveling and it's Friday night, we play Saturday. Brian Plotkin (45:43.418) And a bunch of the guys are on headphones and they've got their computers up and they're talking and I'm like, man, I wonder, are they all like in a group project or something and I kind of walk around and three of the guys are on with professors at, you know, eight 30 at night on a Friday, right. Getting additional instruction about some stuff we're working on. So, you know, when I say those people are willing to do a little bit more, I, you know, that that's the truth of it. And, and I love, I love to be at a place where, you know, with all of the changes going on in college athletics right now. This is still like. of into the core where we're developing these people to go, yeah, we use sport and we want to make it the best. And, you know, do we want to turn this place into a top 25 soccer program? 100%. But in the end, you know, this is still the root of what college athletics, I think should be, right? It's about developing the people, you know, getting them, teaching them to work through harder, you know, harder things and teaching them what they're capable of and really growing them into the people they can become. And so. You know, here it's done because the people here are all passionate about helping the cadets. And I think that's why our outcomes in terms of future successes are so great. Scot (46:49.071) That's cool. One thing that came to mind was, there's kind of this mental health thing at the forefront of, as of late, and in general, talk about how that's dealt with there and this kind of suck it up culture that can be present in the military and how, obviously you have to be acutely aware of what the state is of your players and how do you help? What's the infrastructure to help them and that sort of thing. Brian Plotkin (47:27.434) Yeah. So it's an area of this place takes incredible, incredibly seriously, but also provides the resources. So, you know, we've got our own sports psychologist that works with our team. That'll, you know, one of the things we do in January is every guy on the team has to meet with her at least once. Uh, and then from that, you know, if they continue to see her, that's their choice. But, but again, just showing here's the resources you have, right. Overall, the counseling and wellness program at West Point is ranked in the top five in the country. I think most recently it was put at number four by, I think, U.S. Newsroom reporter, Princeton View. I don't remember which one, but... You know, there are three separate entities at West Point, all in different ways that are there to set up, that are set up to help with cadet mental health. And so it's, you know, some of it is done at the peer level, some of it is done, you know, through professional psychologists, right? And then some is done through the military side too. And so it exists in many different phases. You know, none of them are, you know, impactful on your army career. which I think is a huge thing. I think a lot of people, there's that stigma again of if I use these resources, I'm gonna be labeled or something, and they've done a wonderful job here of making it, no, this is for your best. This is to produce you as your best, right? And if these are the resources you need to use, then use them in abundance. And so, really love that. And I think the best way I describe it to our guys, our sports psychologist, I meet with her probably once every two weeks. You know, and, you know, I sit down and I talked to her about some of the things that are going on in my head about leading this program, about, you know, different things, whether they be frustrations with West Point or, or joys of West Point, right. But, but I think the best way for my team to know that there's value in it is to see the people that are giving them guidance, using them as well. And so, you know, West Point is, is wonderful with that. And so, you know, I think, you know, we're going to continue to push the mental health side of it, right. And, and all of that now is resources, you know, that I've spoke of, but then Brian Plotkin (49:28.048) There's the emphasis on sleep, on diet, right? A little bit on meditation and mindfulness and in those actions as well, that can help alleviate some of those things. There's relationships, like true relationships, right? Instead of just feeling like you're in a group, it's like, no, these are people that care about me and I care about them and building them in those ways as well. And so, I think that idea of... you know, the suck it up type of thing. You know, I think that was common not only in the military, but across the world, you know, across all of the society for a while. And, you know, I think what I love seeing here is, you know, as that is changing, and hopefully has changed in a lot of ways, you know, even here in the military, where it might be the last sense of that not being the case, it's clearly changing here too. So I feel really good about that. Scot (50:18.207) Yeah, I mean, in a way you're developing the people who are going to drive the culture of the future army, right? So it's kind of cool to see that that's part of the fabric of how they're going to lead and that sort of thing. So that's great. Are we leaving anything on the table that would be interesting to get out there and useful? Brian Plotkin (50:43.494) Not really. I think for any recruit out there, just do your homework. Everybody's got their ideas on what things are. I joke around with our guys often, there is the perception of what things are. Let's just say here, the reality of them are your side, the perception, best case scenario, worst case scenario, and the truth is usually somewhere in the middle. Even I think for recruits with West Point, what you envision is probably not true. It's probably somewhere But it's the same elsewhere, right? Whether you think you're gonna step on to Clemson and be a day one starter on the national champions, I don't know. But are you gonna be a guy that doesn't play a minute? We'll find out, right? And go from there. But believe in yourself, trust yourself, and make a decision that your guts behind and your family support you, and then you'll be good to go. Justin Chezem (51:34.627) Awesome. Great advice. Now, just where are you going next? Where's your next recruiting trip? Scot (51:34.635) He's got hands. Brian Plotkin (51:40.59) So I'm here kind of working with the group the next few weeks, but John, Dan, and Chris are headed down to Florida tomorrow. So they'll go get some warm weather. And then the weekend after that, I think in Delaware for a couple of days, you know, before then going back down to Florida at the end of the month for one of the, I think this weekend CCL. And I think at the end of the month, it's the NAL or something like that or NAC. I forget exactly, but yeah, it's a busy, you know, busy three, four, three, four weeks for us. Scot (52:12.151) Brian, I can't thank you enough. It's been a privilege to have you on and thank you so much for being generous with your time and sharing what it's like to be a West Point guy. Brian Plotkin (52:23.802) Appreciate you guys reaching out and you know spending the time with me. So thank you guys Justin Chezem (52:28.924) Thank you, Brian. Very impressive. Thank you. Scot (52:31.031) Hold on one sec. Brian Plotkin (52:31.128) Yeah.

95. Allen Hopkins, Jr. Executive Director of Black Players For Change Hi I’m Scot Cooper and this is the Tales From the Trail Podcast by MatchPlay. In this episode I welcome Allen Hopkins, Jr. Allen had a long career through college and professional soccer. He went on to be a sports broadcaster, which is a great story he shares and now is the Executive Director of Black Players for Change, which is comprised of Black MLS players, staff, and coaches. BPC is a positive bridge between sport, life and soccer, it’s a universal language that can be used to advance and advocate for Equality. BPC spearheads impactful programs that transcend the game that are designed to tackle racial inequality head-on. The collective strength of BPC leverages the influence and visibility of Black soccer players to drive meaningful change contributing to a more equitable and fair environment in the world of sports. This was an enjoyable and enlightening conversation; Allen’s positivity is contagious! Summary Allen discusses his background and soccer journey, the growth of MLS, and the formation and priorities of Black Players for Change. He emphasizes the importance of legacy projects and increasing access to the game, particularly in underserved communities. Allen also highlights the need for representation and opportunities for black coaches in the soccer industry. In this conversation, Allen discusses his role in supporting coaches and job seekers in the soccer industry. He shares how he has helped 50 individuals find jobs in soccer and academia. Allen also talks about the importance of being a good teammate and collaborator, and how he strives to create a strong team at the Black Players Coalition (BPC). He emphasizes the need for athlete activism and the support BPC receives from organizations like Players Coalition. Allen highlights the unique challenges and opportunities for soccer in America and the importance of connecting with other black athletes and civil rights leaders. He concludes by discussing the importance of knowing your value and finding the right fit, and expressing gratitude for meaningful dialogue. Takeaways Legacy projects and planting trees for shade you'll never sit under are important in making a lasting impact. Increasing access to soccer in underserved communities is crucial for growing the game. Representation and opportunities for black coaches and executives in the soccer industry are essential for equality and diversity. Collaboration, communication, and transparency are key in creating meaningful change. Supporting coaches and job seekers in the soccer industry is an important role that Allen takes on. Being a good teammate and collaborator is crucial in creating a strong team at the Black Players Coalition. Athlete activism is a powerful tool for creating change, and BPC seeks to support and empower athletes in their activism. Soccer in America faces unique challenges and opportunities, and there is much to learn from other leagues and organizations. Connecting with other black athletes and civil rights leaders is important for creating meaningful change in the soccer industry. Knowing your value and finding the right fit is essential for personal and professional fulfillment. Chapters 00:00 Introduction and Legacy Projects 02:01 Allen's Background and Soccer Journey 09:26 Covering MLS and the Growth of the League 14:48 Black Players for Change and its Connection to MLS 25:14 Developing the Youth Game and Increasing Access 30:44 Formation of Black Players for Change 36:28 Priorities as Executive Director 44:02 Addressing Issues in the Black Soccer Community 46:14 Representation and Opportunities for Black Coaches 49:53 Supporting Coaches and Job Seekers 51:29 Learning from Other Leagues 53:46 Supporting Athlete Activism 55:09 Understanding the Magnitude of the Fight 56:41 Knowing Your Value and Finding the Right Fit 57:02 Gratitude and Meaningful Dialogue Allen (00:01.494) I want to make sure I maybe I can answer off kilter here, but this particular piece used to hang in a barbershop in West California, the campus of UCLA, and was a spot that had been frequented by some legendary black student athletes and was a hub for sort of that time. And It very much sort of mirrors the work I've been endeavoring now where you really have to plant trees for shade you'll never sit under. You really do have to find the legacy projects and the legacy default settings, as I'll probably say more than once during our time in terms of what you're trying to do. Now, nothing happens by accident. Every day is a gift. If you just sort of keep trying to get at it, I think there's a chance. You know, it's something I say all the time. It's got a chance. Even when I know it's going well. Um, cause I think there's a little bit of humility that goes into just seeing something out. So, you know, um, no, look, I appreciate the opportunity to have a conversation because I think a lot of the work I'm endeavoring on is iterative and it's about having conversations and dialogue and, and just meeting people and being curious about their journey and what they're trying to do. So I think there's a little bit of mastery that is in all of us. And I often say intelligence. intelligence and wisdom is widely distributed, but opportunities are not. So my job is to canvas far and wide so I can beg, borrow, and steal on people's learnings and experience because only the people who do the work do the learning. Scot Cooper (01:41.379) I'm gonna go. Scot Cooper (01:45.683) Right, right. All right, so let's go back a ways and tell us your background and how you grew up and how you got connected to soccer and walk us through that journey. Allen (02:01.13) Well, I have, I know I'm special, not just because my mother says I am. I think we're all special like that. But my journey is truly unique in the sense that I'm an Army brat, born in Germany. Soccer was my first sport. Went to six schools in my first eight grades. Always moved, always moved, always was a new kid. And every sport I ever played, and I did everything from soccer to track, to wrestling, to baseball, basketball, football, flag football. I literally did everything that was on offer. I even think I get a little bit of bowling for like a season somewhere. My mom, I think, got me into one of the bases. So, soccer was a constant. And it was something that I always gravitated toward and tried to always. uh, fine. And ironically, it was when we were living in Alaska, my dad was stationed in Fort Greely and we used to get like this random handful of channels way before anything of any, any viewing streaming that we have now. And we used to get right, you know, the R.A.I. right. And we used to get that. And I used to just consume their like weekly Sette Ah highlights, you know, this is 80, 81, 82, and I just was really consumed by like whatever nuggets I used to get. And it wasn't until we moved to Colorado for the second time in the mid to late eighties that I really sort of get dropped into a community. Um, you know, I grew up watching Marcelo Balboa and Robin Frazier. And I trust me, I tell those guys all the time that I am younger than them, although I do have a three gay gray hairs. Um, and I grew up in a really cool time in Colorado. the game was sort of, it was new and old at the same time. There was a lot of energy and Lauren Donaldson, who I've known forever, was instrumental in helping paint pictures for how to play. Chris Martinez, who was a great coach in the MLS ecosystem, but was a big time player with the Clemson, Sterling Westcott with the Fresno State. I'd go on and board people with random names connected to MLS back in the day. Allen (04:23.858) But it was like that community that I really sort of started to identify. You know, the first thing I remember really saving up for was a pair of Copas. Um, and just, just love the game. I always fell in love with the game, went to Santa Barbara, had an incredible small college soccer experience, um, playing for Dave Wolf at Westmont and Santa Barbara and Santa Barbara. So I don't have to say anything more than that. And it was a professional. It was very much like, I think a lot of the top. 50 division one men's programs are in terms of the professionalism like we did a lot of stuff back in the day because I think Dave had that experience where We did everything that pros did in terms of how we tried to prepare our training the periodization and it was a very professional environment and I took a lot from that a lot and I learned and You know, he was very intentional about getting me connected to people I got connected to C.E. Schmidt. He gave me my first big break coaching with the 20s back in 1996, him and Dean Wurzberger at Chula Vista at the training center. And I was assistant coach at San Diego State at the time, I think one of the youngest full-time assistants in the country had just turned 22. And, you know, I thought I was going to be on that coach pathway, but as you know, it's not what you like, it's what you don't like that shapes you. And I think, It wasn't enough. And what enough, what I mean is that any coach will tell you that particularly in college, like the coaching teachings, like 20% of the job. Well, I wanted to be 100% of the job. And I didn't really have that understanding as much as I was prepared and was able to do some forward executive thinking, if you will, to run a program. But it wasn't as attractive as finding another journey in the game. And Kept playing and just had a great experience playing with the San Francisco Seals when I was a teenager and through college and in 97, you know, people have been talking a lot about the US Open Cup recently, but in 97, that group made it all the way to the Open Cup semi-finals, lost to DC United in Stockton, California. This is vintage, Echeverri, Moreno, Pope, Bruce, you know, coming out to Stockton. Allen (06:42.082) to play like in a random midweek while they're chasing another title. I remember how mad Bruce was in a good way. I told Bruce this when we were at the USP and I was like, you were mad. I knew we weren't going to win. You were like, what are we doing all the way away from home? And then the next year, I was working in Soccer America magazine at the time. The next year, the team got a deal to do all his home games on local Bay Area TV. Scot Cooper (06:47.939) Thank you. Scot Cooper (06:57.207) Alright. Allen (07:12.534) And their president, GM, coach of the team, Tom Simpson, I grew up with his son, Shawnee, who's now running the Seals now, the only free to play team, I believe, in the whole MLS ecosystem, which is a whole nother story, which I think is really amazing, MLS Next Pro, and, or excuse me, MLS Next. And they were like, hey, you wanna do the games? And I started calling games for them, started thinking like, this might be fun. Scot Cooper (07:13.239) Nice. Allen (07:39.058) was just basically selling my tape out of the, giving out my tape like the back of the trunk at a gas station and got a call from a woman named Emily Bolting. I told this story, I tell it every year to a bunch of students that I speak to. Talked about being ready, sent my tape out, forgot, I just was sending it out everywhere, anyone with any TV in it. Forgot I'd sent it out to this woman. She hits me up probably two months later. Emily Bolting. Coordinated producer of Fox Sports World in Los Angeles. She says, hey, you wanna come down and I'm in the Bay Area. So I drive down there on a Tuesday, interview on a Wednesday. They're like, hey, we like you. Can you stay till a Thursday? Yeah, they're like, hey, we really like you. Can you do a screen test on Friday? I did. And seven a.m. the next morning, Max Breitels and I did our very first game together. So. Scot Cooper (08:32.279) That's awesome. Allen (08:33.59) Yeah, so you never know when life's gonna come, it comes out too fast. And really, man, that's just where I was doing and really now just still sort of leveraging that experience and trying to figure out where the equity lies for me to do the most work in this game. But that's sort of the first act, if you will, and just a blessed soccer journey, no doubt. Scot Cooper (08:59.391) Yeah, for sure. Talk a little bit about the covering the MLS and you're talking about original MLS way back and how you've seen it grow and how you've seen it develop and evolve. And that'll bring us to what you're doing now for sure. And how like, culturally it's changed. Allen (09:11.254) Hehehehe Allen (09:20.894) Sure. Yeah. Allen (09:26.202) It's, you know, I used to have to be a bit of a soccer apologist. Right. Even in Los Angeles, which is a great market. Right. And then I think now you can tell a new neighbor, yeah, I work in soccer and it goes, oh, okay. Right. I work in Major League Soccer. I work for US Soccer. It's got to a point now where it's waterfalled all the way down where You don't have to really spend a whole lot of time explaining what you do, what it is and all that. So I take pride in sort of the longevity of the journey. Right. I do. And I think I have just a deep level of appreciation and always want to express the gratitude for the game. My father's been. Scot Cooper (10:04.171) Yeah. Allen (10:14.838) Pass away almost 10 years now and we should always kind of joke like you should always say, hey, you're gonna have to get a real job one day. And I'm like, haha, you know, I will, I will, I will. And here I am like, you know, two and a half grown kids of my three. One's almost there, but last one. And I think, wow, I'm still doing that. So I'm still connected to the game. And the cool thing is, you know, I get to be a firsthand witness to everything related to the league. And now you're getting second and third generation kids now, you know. And I've also seen it through the prison of working with MLS rookies for the last almost 10 years. You know, you, you see how those rookie classes used to be juniors and seniors in college. Now you see these rookie classes be 15, 16, 17, and what, what you pour into a 21, 22 year old as they transition is different. What you need to pour into a. 15, 16, 17 year old as they transition, right? And I'm much more interested in being a part of the mechanisms and the machinery, if you will, that helps grow players and really puts an emphasis on not player development, personal development. Everyone needs a little bit different. I learned this working with the top college football teams like Michigan or Alabama, Florida State, Texas A&M in my work in player development. And You, the best places, organizations, companies, 501.3C's, whatever it may be, families, they know everyone needs the same thing, but in a different way. The same thing is food, love, water, light. That's what we need and be energy and be connected people. But how we get that is different. And why we need it for the different stimulus that come with that is different. But it's all the same. We all want to be top of the canopy and getting all the light and all the water and everything. But it's really like how much can we do to not just identify problems, just to speak on possible solutions. And that's what I'm hopeful that I am in general, no matter what I've been doing. And I think I'm comfortable now saying, I haven't been perfect. I've won, I've lost, I've failed, I've succeeded. I've had... Allen (12:41.95) a lot of money. I've had no money in this game. I've done it all, but I'm a good dude. Like I will own that. Like I'm a good dude. I care about the game. I care about people. I like when people try to do things the right way in their own way, which I've learned to give more people grace to be themselves. It doesn't always have to be this mold that you have to fit yourself into and come out. Sometimes you can be an amoeba in your growth, right? So Scot Cooper (13:03.651) Thanks for watching. Allen (13:08.298) You know, I think the league culturally now is younger. It is much more part of the culture. And there's a lot of factors. It can be video games. It can be the Americanization and professionalization of youth soccer, which didn't exist 10 years ago, 15 years ago, 20 years ago. If you even think about Development Academy, that was run by US Soccer, which is technically a nonprofit, right? Like, you know what I mean? Like, so... It really now is in this, I would say, version 2.0, maybe 2.5 of what it looks like when we still need to work out the kinks and how we develop players and how we help them be good people. Because you will spend so much more time outside of the game, good Lord willing, than you will inside the game. It's just skewed because you're in the game for the first, you know, 30 years of your life, 35 years of your life. and then all of a sudden you're not. So, you know, I think being a support to the players who've come in and out of this league is something that I appreciate and I value their relationships because that's how you can have the banter and the jokes. And I looked forward to those times more than anything. Scot Cooper (14:24.971) Yeah, it's fantastic. So that brings you to where you are today. And I wanna get into that. So you're now the executive director of Black Players for Change, which is connected to the MLS. I don't know, is that the correct word to use, connected? Or is it part of the MLS or define that for me? Yeah. Allen (14:48.126) Yeah, no. Yeah, no, connected. Yeah, no, it's a great, it's a great clarifier, Scott, you know, I would say connected in the same way that the Players Association is connected, but in an additional sort of large tendon, right? Major League Soccer is the platform for all of our players. And they are the ones led by Commissioner Garber and Shola Wendley and Jamil Northcutt. and a handful of other folks who were very instrumental in making sure that in the wake of George Floyd, these players had a voice. And they came together in the bubble in Orlando and ironically are co-writes footage holders of all the demonstration footage, which I think is an amazing precedent as well. And you know, the mission then is the mission now. It's just different tactics. Right. And I think anyone I use the game to inform me. Right. The object of the game has always been really twofold. It's been to score goals and to not let them in. Right. Now, over the years, there's been a variety of tactics and ways. Right. Right now, we're in the pressure, counter pressure phase, just for ease of conversation. And as a player, playing in every moment, because you're either pressuring or you're counter pressuring. Right. So can you play in every moment? And that's kind of the way the game is right now But you know you as you know like it used to be you needed someone to be a tent To help operate you needed a stopper sweeper. Now. I'm really aging myself, right? There's a time when you need you need it marauding outside backs Roberto Carlos Philip Blom right like Kaffu like guys would go if you don't have that so and now the game is just sort of more like this fluid mix of like style and Scot Cooper (16:24.416) Yeah. Allen (16:39.254) race and eloquent technical ability. And of course these guys are just amazing Ferraris. All of them are Ferraris. Like they're not players at all. Just think about if you went into a rally with all fast cars, they'd be doing fast car stuff. And that's how I see all these players who play in these top leagues at every level. There's just a dynamism about just the kinetic beauty of it all. And you know, I think What we've done is try to find a place for ourselves in terms of fighting for equality and justice for everyone. And the word that I always kind of go back to is equality. Yes, there are issues that are distinct to the black community, the black soccer community. We're fighting those. But can we also be someone and something who builds for everyone else? Because equality is the goal. Just like I said. scoring a goal and not letting them in is the goal. And that's our same sort of goal and transfer of energy. So we have a great relationship with Major League Soccer. We have a great relationship with the Players Association. We are growing in our significance and value, I would say, in terms of our partnerships and actually the programatics. And I'm really in a really great place because the founders and the board of directors, the executive committee are all people that... are amazing gentlemen and scholars and so happen to be just fantastic players. So, you know, we're focused on our membership right now, you know, in terms of just really activating all the amazing players in the league. U.S. Soccer, we want to be a part of their connective tissue as well. There's so many players that are connected through the national team now, right, in terms of their Allen (18:35.762) And then the other part I would say is just like governance and policy, access, representation. What can we do to create meaningful pathways for black coaches, executives, staff members, anyone who wants to live the joy and the misery of a soccer experience? I think it's everyone's right to be able to have, right? I mean, that's what I say. No one needs to say. Scot Cooper (18:59.182) Careful. Allen (19:03.126) because I tell you, this is funny, like my really close friends who are in the league and coaching, head coaches, the guys I kind of really grew up with, not that people I know, you know, it's like a different and you can sort of talk different, right? And we used to joke like after a win, man, you feel like, where's Pep? Like you feel like you can take on City. You lose and you never were in it. Scot Cooper (19:27.89) R.I.P. Allen (19:29.654) You're like ducking the JV team at the high school around the corner, right? You're like, Hey, those guys might get us today because we don't do A, B and C. So I tell people like, you know, when you're able to share a big one with your family in the stands, that's like a dopamine rush I will always chase. Um, and so when I think about opportunity, that's what I think about is just for someone to have that feeling. Scot Cooper (19:35.273) I'm sorry. Allen (19:57.938) like, oh, like that, like today, today was awesome. And it was because I do this amazing job in this amazing sport. And that's what I think about representation. What I say about promotion relegation, it's not about the structures, it's about the people. Right? The reason why we love promotion, and some people love relegation, you know, some people like Halloween more than Thanksgiving, it's all good, right? And, and, and. Scot Cooper (20:14.507) Um, yeah. Scot Cooper (20:24.767) All right. Allen (20:29.294) It's the intergenerational stuff you see, right? The three men, you know, who are watching, their team finally makes it. Or even in baseball, like when there's always a 32 year old lifetime minor leaguer who gets the call up to the show, it's the people. So when people talk about those things, it's about like the people. And if we can create, structures that allow people to be the story, that allow people to be the driving narrative, then we will all sort of find humanity and be all connected because we'll all know what it's like to be a nine-year-old and your team loses and you understand what that means and you're crying. Because I was like that, you know, and I know a lot of kids who are like that. So, and I know a lot of grown men, you know what I mean? Like, you know, I commiserate with when you see like a team that, you know, who is relegated and you see like the pain of it all. So I don't know, I just say that if we can find more reasons to be together, right, and this is not Pollyanna, but this is the world you have to manifest it. We are so much more united. And if we think about all the things that US soccer and our American soccer ecosystem needs, I bet you a little bit more of like... togetherness, collaboration, transparency, conversation, communication would hurt. In fact, it might be just a little over the threshold. That's why I don't consume, we talked about the culture piece, I really don't consume social media for soccer because I'm living it every day. It's my passion, distraction, it's my love, my profession. But... I also had to like exercise that out because it's such a crazy place to be following a game or watching a game and see people posting. And that used to be like kind of part of how I used to consume stuff or how I used to consume stuff. And I finally was like, there's no joy in mudfield for these guys. And it's just like, so what are we doing? And the reality is, is that I think very few people know how hard it is. Scot Cooper (22:43.016) Okay Allen (22:50.434) to do anything in this game. You know, I mean, you can get into a really passionate conversation about Bob Bradley. He'll tell you scoring a goal is the hardest thing to do in sports, right? Of course, if you talk to Tony Gwynn back in the day, I think hitting like almost 400 is hard too, right? Like, I understand there's like, you know what I mean? Like everyone's can, you know, golf has failed many a people. So, you know. Scot Cooper (23:17.611) Yeah. Allen (23:19.338) I totally understand that part, but if we can be more together in these things, not just the big issues, of course, the representation piece and soccer for all and having black head coaches, having American born black coaches, which is another thing people don't really get into. There's levels to this and that's another thing that we want to see too. And then just the access. I think to the game at the highest level, it's not just when they're eight or nine, but what about the 16, 17 year old who's trying to be a first generation black kid in Northern Georgia? And you're like, you know, I can kind of see a pathway. I kind of see it because I don't know what it's like for you, Scott, but my college experience was transformative. Right? And I think you would get a lot of the guys who had... Scot Cooper (24:10.327) Yep. Allen (24:15.262) meaningful experiences to say those been those are nice times and pivots in their life fulcrums Catapult launching pads, whatever and it's that is what I get You know, I want people to really understand there's joy in that and creating that pathway for someone else Because the modeling is amazing, right? We all need models We all need people who look like us or come from backgrounds like us who are trying to do something that we aspire to be That's when I think about equality and representation is the modeling that you need to really increase those things. Scot Cooper (24:51.447) So is one of the facets of what Black Players for Change is doing, is it developing the youth game and reaching down to grassroots and finding ways to get into neighborhoods that don't normally have soccer, that sort of thing? I mean, is that one of the things you guys are doing? Allen (25:14.19) Yeah, so, you know, for ease of conversation, there's like three key areas. So I would say education and governance is one pillar. Representation, something I just touched on, is the second pillar. And the third pillar in no particular order is access. And what does access mean? Just what I just touched on. It's not only for people already in the game and need that advance to keep them going. But what can we do to bring soccer to communities that are not served by our traditional soccer market? And what can we do to support and amplify the work that teams are doing, particularly MLS teams are doing in their market already, right? How can we magnify? How can we partner? How can we collaborate not only for Black History Month or Juneteenth, but year round, you know, and there's some wonderful clubs that have, um, uh, not only raise their hand, but step forward to say, hey, we want to have a real partnership with Black Players for Change that allows us to do the work over the course of a year. And I think for us, you know, we think a lot about, you know, what can we do? We want to have a presence in the traditional soccer sort of suburban experience, of course, right? That's the experience I grew up in. A lot of BPC players did, a lot of... the American black players grew up in those environments, not everyone, but a pretty traditional suburban soccer environment. So, can we go to communities like Indianapolis? Can we go to communities like New Orleans? Can we continue to serve communities in New York? You know what I mean? Like just, you know, Nashville, Atlanta, what can we do in those communities that are not only sort of mission fit for our organization? but really allow us to make the impact that we want, right? And they create the opportunities for engagement. So those are the areas that really mean the most to us in terms of access. We've partnered with US Soccer Foundation right now on many pitches. We are talking to a couple other organizations as well to figure out what we can do in terms of bringing the game to other access points, right? It's how comfortable can I be leading organizations. Allen (27:37.302) to get us in environments that are not comfortable to me from a soccer perspective. It's easy for me to go to Silver Lakes and Chino or to Wakeman and Cary. Those are places and spaces I know. I've been around forever, but can I really go and help introduce the game to kids who won't have other connectors outside of us potentially? Right? So how consistent can we be, right? You can't just show up once a week or once a month, once a week it's actually not bad. You can't show up once a month and hope to move the needle as much as maybe once a week is. And what does that mean? Like a real collaborative approach. You have to find people who wanna do the work together. I find there's a lot of people doing this work and it's worth the investment and time to go find the people already doing the work and then say, hey, can we work together, right? I'd much rather be an operator like a Jay Z or Rick Rubin where you can just produce whomever sound it is. Right? What's your sound? Okay, cool. I'm going to help you make your sound. Not my sound. And I want to bring that out and my partner is already doing the work because that's effective and efficient, honestly. Because it's not sustainable, I think people are seeing the D&I space shrink, if you will. I think people know that. Um, the ERG's, the employee resource groups, those are, those are tough places to be now. Um, as opposed to maybe two or three years ago, who knows? But the point is, is like, you have to grow. We want to be a platform that helps elevate the black soccer experience that connects black culture, music and art and, and media and movie production, all these different things are starting to happen. And I think BPC can just be a nice little conduit. for all those things ahead of what I think will just be a magical run here with Cope America this summer. I mean look this year is already banging. We got AFKON We're gonna have Euros. We're gonna have the Olympics. We're gonna have And then the World Cup after you know what I mean, and I just feel like the Women's World Cup It's just like you know it's exciting. I'm already like fired up on Allen (30:04.234) things are going to happen and if the organization or BPC can be a part of all those things great if we can all just be a part of this magical soccer journey good vibes too and just keep it moving that way Scot Cooper (30:19.459) So go back to how it's how BPC started and you're, I guess in the, in the bubble and COVID and, uh, guys were together and, you know, made useful use of their time, so to speak, and, uh, got together and started talking, I'm gonna say is what happened and, uh, um, yeah, talk about that and, and how that panned out. Allen (30:35.445) Mm-hmm. Allen (30:44.47) You know, I'm new to the position and I would say that it would only be right to defer to the men who were in the room at that time. But here's what I'll say from afar. It was an amazing, amazing show of communication in no particular order. Here's everything that here all the ingredients that went in. Communication, urgency, collaboration. Scot Cooper (30:45.983) Yeah. Scot Cooper (30:50.819) CLEARS THROAT Allen (31:14.566) strength, consensus, operational savvy, because without any of those things, you don't have what happens, right? And also timing. I think it will be a story that gets told, I think, eventually, because when you hear the founders talk about the story, it's The founders being Justin Morrow or Aika Parr or Julio Anababa and Jeremy Obobici and Earl Edwards Jr. These are all guys that were there in the moment saying, Hey, this is what we need to do. And, and, and their equity as men and professionals worked. They leveraged it all because if they were not good, good pros, right. I have to say not everyone that's a professional is a pro. right? And I think I just have a lot of admiration for what they did in the moment because it took a lot. It took a lot of focus. It's a lot of... So I think that someone needs to write a behind the scenes or sort of first person account of it because I've heard several accounts of it from different individuals and I think each one is compelling and it's not hyperbolic either. Right? It's just impactful. And I think that might be something even I should pursue from a content perspective is really being able to have that story out there told in our voice in a way because it is significant. And I'm honored to be in this role as executive director because without it, it just sort of puts you in a position where maybe you don't have the alignment and the clarity that you're looking for. And I feel like I have that in this point in time. Scot Cooper (33:14.479) Yeah, I mean, the simple way, the simple thing is like, to have this emotional reaction, which I'm sure, you know, when you saw that news going on at that time, like, we're all emotional about it. And like to have the wherewithal to organize and, and know that like, okay, we can organize around this and make something good come out of it is remarkable to me. Allen (33:21.553) Mm. Allen (33:33.789) Hmm. Allen (33:40.974) It was a it was an interesting time. I will add to sky in the sense that You know, there are a lot of I call it reverse plate tectonics in the black soccer community That's what's happening right now. And when I what do I mean by that? So Islands of success There are so many of us that were on these amazing islands success where we were the only black person or one of two black People in an entire organization, right? And we're just in these islands of success in soccer. We get together, but really that time, and I give a lot of credit to like Dante Washington and Eddie Pope and some of the OGs, Evan Whitfield and others who really helped sort of bring everyone together. And so you had that happening from like the OG perspective. And then you had these young guys, it's out of the world now, like- It was just like a really cool movement where I think for the first time in a minute, there was an intentionality about staying together and working together for these things. And there was a lot of just shared experience too. A lot of shared experience, you know, there's a lot of venting and pain and hurt and sorrow. And because you're trying to figure out like what's happening. But then you're also connected to this game where you wanna see real changes and have a difference. So I think it's amazing that the organization has gotten this far. I have a huge task and a serious charge and challenge to take it to the next level where the awareness and the recognition from a brand perspective is high and we are connected. You often say, when one is cut, we all bleed, and we wanna be connected. globally as well and work with the PFA in addition to our conversations about MLSPA and MLS, you know, how can we partner together with the players that are sort of out there maybe on their own islands? So I'm excited about some of the strategy we're working on and what we're trying to do to grow and I'm more excited about the men involved and the women involved who really want to make a change and see BPC as a change. Allen (36:01.386) I don't want to say change agent because it happens all the time, but just one of the variables that are needed to change things up for sure. Scot Cooper (36:09.035) Yeah, so as the executive director, what are your priorities? You know, where you hope to see things, you know, in a year and five years and, you know. Scot Cooper (36:24.61) How do you make it happen? Allen (36:28.622) Um, man, that's a, that's a, that's a, I guess, how do I make it happen? I think we, you know, we have to be on our John Lewis, right? Do you see something say something? I think that's part of it. I think you have to really. Scot Cooper (36:34.669) the Allen (36:48.818) Be open and curious, be humble, take some chances. I think that's also important, right? And, you know. I say this because my mother says this about me, but my vulnerability is my strength. So for me, it's how much humanity can we bleed into each other and how much can we pour our goodness into each other. And I just feel like that's super important. So I think for me, it's all going to come down to you can't change hearts and minds all the time. But you can just keep working and collaborate and work with the people who've already stood up to be allies, who've already stood up to be people who want to march with you. But then people who also just, honestly, just want to get out of the way and do something a little bit different. You know what I mean? But no, I think it's a huge challenge and certainly want to make sure that we have a good understanding about... how it looks. You need to have a plan, right? I think that's a big part of it too. But who gets to be the stakeholders? You know, the other thing I'd like to see is a real body of knowledge. And you know, like, there's think tanks in every industry. Maybe there's a soccer think tank and they just never invited me. So I will Scott will humbly say if that exists out there and you've lost Scott's. and Alan's invitation in the mail, please do hit us up after and we'll make sure you have the current information. You know what I mean? I used to, Oh, you got one. Man, see, I mean, get one. So you know what I'm saying? But like, I don't know. I think I'm not trying to regulate anything by any stretch. But you know, when you think about some of these, these institutes that have popped up, right? Global initiative institutes or, or Scot Cooper (38:29.609) Well, I got one. Alan, I got one. No, I'm kidding. Yeah. Allen (38:54.366) even Sundance back in the day or these little, the Aspen Institute, like why not have a little bit of a think tank and people who just, and again, this could already exist, but really what good ideas do you have? What's good for the game? And then just think about those things. Everyone's gonna have a different opinion. I just say it's like Cheesecake Factory. Something on the menu is gonna work for everyone. Just have the menu. You will find one thing and then you know what it is? It's one thing. And you know how fast this stuff goes, right? I'm getting all nostalgic because someone brought up 94 the other day and like, oh, it's the 40, you know, it's the retrospective, you know, and, you know, 30 years since 94. And I'm like, man, it feels like yesterday. And like I have still vivid memories. being in these stadiums at these matches, right? So we know how quickly it goes. So what if we just added one thing a year for those 30 years, we'd have 30 new things. We just would. And again, it's not sexy, it's not cool, it's not fast, but it's compound interest and that always works, always. Scot Cooper (40:16.235) Yep, undefeated. Yep. So, looking at my notes here, some other things that we can get into. So what, as the executive director, kind of what are your priorities and how do you, like, Allen (40:18.346) I'm defeated. Allen (40:31.367) Yeah. Scot Cooper (40:44.415) What are they telling you that you need to get done? What are you telling yourself? All this needs to be done and that sort of thing to get the most out of this organization. Allen (40:47.342) Mmm. Allen (40:54.686) Yeah, that's a great question. And I would say the attitude has been really the board and executive committee, everyone like what can we do to help you, which has been fantastic. I myself put a lot of pressure on myself to fundraise and to develop, but also to do the little things really well. What are the little things? Our social media, our website, our LinkedIn, our comms and media stuff really at a high level. Just do a lot of the simple business basics as a 501.3c. Creating an institutional memory and the infrastructure, that's very important. I think I've done that in the first handful of months is really sort of create the policies, protocols, procedures that you need so the machinery can work from an ad and org perspective. Because once that gets going, you can then start to shift your focus toward, okay, what's my strategy? Okay, now I have a strategy, I have a two-phase strategy. an execution plan. Okay, what are those three things mean? How do I get these partners on board with these? You know, how do I create real value proposition for these partners? So you know, I want to find people who are going to help us bring soccer to communities that look like us, but it's for everyone that hasn't been touched before. I want to bring new programming, sustainable programming, consistent programming to the many pitches and, and some of those access. Opportunities for access that we talked about, you know, I want to grow the brotherhood of the membership of the organization I want to connect the old Legends if you will the game with the new kids on the block and then the founders and everyone in between Right. I want to have a safe space for all black executives in soccer Whether you're working in the league or the club level right, you know, I mean or your referee, you know like just really being the red thread that quilts together the entire black American soccer diaspora. So that really fits my strengths. I can do a lot of different things well, depending on who you ask though, different opinions, but that's where I'm most effective is operationalizing ideas and dreams and strategies, and then having the resilient mindset to get it all done and the stick-to-itiveness. Allen (43:21.234) and the focus is something that I just rely upon. So I think the wind will be how much we can grow our organizations from a community. And I think from a business 501-3 perspective is how much can we continue to show value in the fight for equality and anti-discrimination with the people and partners that want to do this work. Scot Cooper (43:44.599) Right. Yeah, I was gonna ask you, what do you guys see as the issues that are distinct to your community and what do you see as things that you guys can do to counteract those? Allen (44:02.57) You know, it's a really good question. It's a question actually, we talk at levels in the board level, which I really appreciate in the executive committee. And we talk about the work we're doing and how does that feed into ourselves as proper football men? How do we, as black men? Right? So I'm trying to find the alignment and sometimes they are distinct pathways. Some of the work we're doing, I hope to endeavor on as black men is just for the black community in terms of just social justice, equality. Now, is it about doing these things specific to soccer or and or are they specific to wherever we can sort of reach out of our own community? Right? So those are conversations that we have. I would say additionally, all politics are local. How much can I empower the black players, the allies in the league to speak on these issues, to be an advocate, to be a supporter, to be an ally? How much can we create the marketing and the messaging about what we're trying to do and the people to help us amplify that too? I think that's super important. So, you know, I think it's a... it's important to have a guarded focus, right? You can't do everything. And that's why I think having a plan, sharing that with the board, making sure they're in full alignment and agreement based on how collaborative and transparent the process has been. And then I think that allows us to go forward. And also too, we also have to dream about a world that doesn't exist, right? Like, you know, racism in life is not taken completely out. You know what I mean? So part of it is also ideating, creating a world that doesn't exist right now, um, and presenting that as a model and a goal to capture in the future. Scot Cooper (46:09.847) Right. Scot Cooper (46:14.955) So there's 24% of players in the MLS are black, right? Allen (46:22.303) Yeah, between 24 and 28 depending on what the number is, but that's a solid number. Scot Cooper (46:26.19) Okay. And there's one black coach, head coach in the MLS. Is that right? Allen (46:31.946) Yeah, this year one black head coach Nancy with the Columbus crew this year. Last year, Robin, Frazier, Ezra and Nancy were all head coaches at the start of the season. Scot Cooper (46:35.107) Mm-hmm. Gotcha. Scot Cooper (46:46.391) Gotcha. And is that part of what you guys are addressing and trying to develop? people to be in those positions. I don't know how that, yeah, I don't know if that's part of the process. Yeah. Allen (47:04.558) Yeah, like how's that even? Yeah, no. That fits into the pillar of representation. So we've been working with MLS. MLS has a great program called MLS advance that really highlights up and coming coaches in a way that gives them access and opportunity to connect with chief soccer officers, general managers and hiring managers in Major League Soccer. That's been helpful. There's a lot of work that goes into that, whether it be you know, creating these profiles for the candidates to work on whatever they may need in the interview process. There could be a variety of different things in support. Sometimes it's introductions, sometimes it's a little bit more of the interview process. Sometimes it could be a combination of the two. So we partner and work with the league on that. And then for us, it's how can we create pathways that are distinct? Because look, at the end of the day, you know, It's not just Major League Soccer's job. It's not just, it's, it's like, it's everyone's job. It's US Soccer, it's anyone who's a stakeholder. It's USL, it's USYS. And like, there are some people doing it better than others. Of course, of course. But at the end of the day, you know, the call it soccer game too, right? There's some almost 600 men's and women's programs. You know, 90% of them are coached by white men or white women, like 90%. So, you know, it's creating pathways, it's creating like the real professional pathways that differentiate candidates from other people. It's identifying the kids who wanna be pros, but really wanna be coaches. And I think it's how can VPC help support every aspect of the ecosystem? How can we support the coaches at MLS next? How can we support the Academy coaches the next pro coaches the first team coaches and it's a variety of different ways So we have a black talent fund That I started last year that goes to supporting Black coaches for whatever they need primarily in 2023. It was used for Allen (49:26.282) um, uh, financial support for licensing and, or, um, things tied United Soccer Coaches Convention. So we're going to continue to provide those kinds of services. We also do work in, um, like resume and professional development services, right? Helping, um, helping create that little CD that might pop. So we are doing what we can, but also more than anything, it's just being connected to each other. That's the, because we all are in the same reservoir here. We're swimming in the same waters. And I've just really sort of taken on the role where I can just be a great advocate, supporter, write letters, make phone calls, but also listen to a coach going through the interview process. Also listen to a coach who doesn't get the, or who gets the texts, we're going in another direction. Right? You know, those calls are just as important. Just as important. So, you know, I have my little, I would call it, it's been a prominent side hustle, but since 2021, I've helped 50 people get varying jobs in soccer and academia and in sports. And that's my little community is supporting those 50 individuals, whether they are on the technical side, the business side, the operations side, in college soccer, outside college soccer, USL, major league soccer, US soccer. So yeah, it's just a little bit. Scot Cooper (50:23.587) Thanks for watching. Allen (50:53.622) Do your bit, not to sound like an old British, but just do your bit. I'm an excellent teammate and collaborator. I guess that's just who I am. That's who I was as a player. I like being on a team. So I have to create a DPC, a team, because I like being on a team and I know I'm really effective leading teams, managing teams, putting teams together. So that's my mindset is sort of glory to the cause. Clear Eyes, Full Heart, Can't Lose. That stuff still works. Scot Cooper (51:29.139) Yeah. So you guys are, you know, three, four years in with the organization. And have you looked to other leagues who have similar organizations to kind of find what works? Or do you feel like the challenges that soccer faces in this country are unique or? Allen (51:49.138) Yeah, that's a fantastic question. Actually, what we've leaned on as an organization, I believe. And again, I'd love to hear what the founders think in my point of view as the ED. So. America does a couple of things really, really well when it comes to this, and I don't think there's a better country in the world or market for athlete activism. Then America, so. I have a picture in one of my little man cave rooms of a meeting in Cleveland in 1968, the Cleveland Summit, and it was Jim Brown, Ru Alcindor, Muhammad Ali. It was a collection of black gentlemen. You know the picture. So I stare at that thing every day. Scot Cooper (52:36.483) Another picture, yeah. Oh yeah. Allen (52:46.838) That is like, we just, there's no one better. So I have done a couple of things. One predates me, but I've tried to strengthen it. We have a great relationship with Players Coalition, which is the NFL version of BPC for either conversation. And Anquan Bolin and Malcolm Jenkins and the current ED, Angela Lochica, the entire team, Chris Hammond, and House Counsel. They're unbelievable and they've been so supportive and so helpful and they've really just guided us in terms of helping us do a lot of the rote mechanics stuff that I talked about and they're an amazing resource and I'm really working hard to strengthen that relationship because they've been in the fight. They've done all this work and they understand that so I see it as an opportunity for BPC to be a leader in the global space because of the subject black athletes have when it comes to activism. So how can I support the athletes we have now doing the work, right? Like Jeremy Obobacy, who's doing fantastic work with this foundation or someone like DeJuan Jones or whoever, not to single out Kellyanne Acasa. I don't wanna single out anyone because a lot of people are doing work, but how many tools can we give them to be better activists? So, you know, I really try to connect. Justin Morrow and I have a great relationship and we're working together at the USC Race and Equity Center. So really understanding that the knowledge to be first learned and acquired is here. And then we can go out and see what else is out there for us to learn from, be humble in front of, be curious about. But I think there's so many amazing heroes in this space, black men, black women. And... You know, we're also inspired by also real life civil rights people, right? Soccer has chosen adversity. It's chosen adversity. It's not the life that every black person gets to lead. It's the one that's important to us that we lead. So we understand the magnitude of the fight in comparison to gerrymandering or redlining or voter suppression. Allen (55:09.362) or systemic racism, like we understand that. And that's where we try to connect in general is at that level first. And if we can make the game even better because of our influence and who we're talking to and what we're talking about, then I think that's a great place to really sort of hang your hat at the end of the day is that I leave it a little bit better, right? Because that's the key, right? You know, if you... The legends just don't pop up. Like, that's just not how it works. Al knew he wanted to be a legend in his own way. And guess what? When you become parts of these Hall of Fame and parts of these communities where they value what you've given. And to me, like that's my focus every day. I reverse engineering. Nelson Rodriguez has been a great friend and mentor and really helped me clarify that the last few years. It's like, you know. You have to know what your value is. You have to know what you really want in terms of who you work with and the outcomes are going to make you happy. Then you go and find something that fits that you don't go the other way around because you'll never find it. That's for sure. Scot Cooper (56:22.039) Right. That makes total sense. Alan, what am I not touching on that needs to be addressed? Allen (56:25.663) Mm-hmm. Allen (56:32.938) Well, first and foremost, always an amazing opportunity to be in community and to gain, and I appreciate your allyship, and I appreciate the platform to speak on it. And I hope it was one in which people feel like, yeah, that's some good content. Right? I hope I made someone's chores, someone's day, house cleaning, soccer daddying a little bit better, or soccer bombing, whatever. Um, but then, you know, honestly, you know, I would say that you, you know, you, you provide, I think an opportunity for people to be themselves. So I'd rather express the gratitude for just being able to have a great conversation, be myself, um, and just to sort of talk all the things that are important to my world and my space. And then just to try to figure out how, you know, we can, we can, we can meet again and, and continue to have meaningful dialogue about things for sure. Scot Cooper (57:33.507) Absolutely, absolutely. You're really, I have to agree with one thing you said towards the beginning, and that is that you're a good dude. That's what I've learned. I appreciate your time and hanging out. And absolutely, like I can't wait to have you on again and talk about what you have going on. And that's fantastic. And I learned a lot. Allen (57:42.859) I appreciate that. Allen (57:53.437) Appreciate you. Allen (57:59.138) And when I'm in the DMV again, I'll send you a note, but super thankful for the time and the conversation to always chat and connect for sure. Scot Cooper (58:02.807) You better. Yeah. Scot Cooper (58:09.599) Absolutely, I really appreciate it. Hold on one sec.

94. Steve Swanson, Head Coach University of Virginia Women's Soccer Hi I’m Scot Cooper and this is the Tales From the Trail Podcast by MatchPlay. In this episode, Justin Chezem, head coach of men’s soccer at Christopher Newport University and I welcome Steve Swanson, the long time head coach of the University of Virginia women’s soccer program. Steve discussed his time with the women’s national team, being a part of two World Cup wins, developing great players and teams at UVA, and how recruiting and college athletics is changing. Great visit from a top caliber coach and person! Thank you Coach Swanson! Summary The conversation covers various topics including past games, facility renovations, conference alignments, player development, recruiting, national team experiences, and the impact of the transfer portal and NIL. The conversation with Steve Swanson explores the changing landscape of recruiting in women's soccer. It discusses the various challenges and opportunities in recruiting, including the emergence of new player pools such as international players, transfers, and players with extra years of eligibility due to COVID. The conversation also highlights the importance of matching players to university values and the need for financial planning and timing in the recruiting process. Overall, the recruiting process is constantly evolving and requires adaptability and a deep understanding of the dynamics involved. Takeaways Facility renovations at UVA are underway, with a $70 million Olympic sports building and a 94,000 square foot football performance building being built. The women's game has changed over the years, with a focus on handling the ball under pressure and making quick decisions in tighter areas. When recruiting players, coaches look for intrinsic qualities such as motivation, love for the game, and competitiveness. Players who have a genuine love for the school they are being recruited by can bring a special value to the team. Coaching at the national team level requires adapting to different playing styles and the evolution of the game. The transfer portal and NIL are impacting college sports, but the full extent of their impact on Olympic sports is yet to be seen. Recruiting in women's soccer has evolved, with new player pools such as international players, transfers, and players with extra years of eligibility due to COVID. Matching players to university values is crucial in the recruiting process. Financial planning and timing play a significant role in recruiting, as coaches need to be prepared for potential opportunities. The recruiting process is constantly evolving and requires adaptability and a deep understanding of the dynamics involved. Chapters 00:00 Recalling a Game Against ODU 03:24 Facility Renovations at UVA 04:02 Uncertainty in Conference Alignments 07:16 The Importance of Developing Players 08:09 What Coaches Look for in Players 11:02 Adapting to Changes in the Women's Game 16:28 Recruiting Local Players 20:13 The Value of Players Who Love the School 27:10 Playing and Coaching at the National Team Level 31:20 Different Styles of International Soccer 40:45 Developing Players in the National Team Program 44:26 Impact of Transfer Portal and NIL 45:04 Changing Landscape of Recruiting 46:31 Recruiting Challenges and Opportunities 47:26 Matching Players to University Values 48:53 Financial Planning and Timing 49:18 Constantly Evolving Recruiting Process 49:47 Unpredictability of Recruiting 51:24 Enjoyment of Soccer Conversations Justin Chezem (00:01.816) Coach, we were just talking a little bit about here at CNU, we hosted a UVA game a long time ago with back when Aleko Eskandarian was playing a big name and it was such a cool environment for us. And then you were reminiscing about time we were supposed to have another game, you guys on the girls side versus ODU. And it fell through with a huge storm that rolled through. But I loved hearing what you were talking about, but how afterwards you guys jumped indoors and wanted to play. And so if you don't mind, chat it up with a little bit about that. steve swanson (00:31.264) Yeah, I can't remember what year it was. I just know it was before COVID, but we had a game against one of our spring games against ODU. It was our last spring game. Justin Chezem (00:31.621) Let's do it. steve swanson (00:40.382) And so we drove down, we left here probably mid afternoon and it rained the whole time. It rained from the minute we left Charlottesville all the way down to CNU. We got down there, it rained, it rained and it was thunderstorming as well. We sat there for maybe three or four hours to see if we could play this game. And we ended up, couldn't play it at all. We turned around. Probably was 9.45 at night, got back to Charlottesville at 12, 12.15. At the time we had University Hall, which was our basketball arena, and we played indoor there a lot. Since it was our last spring game, we couldn't make it up. It was the last day of the spring. We got out, the players wanted to play, and we ended up playing indoor for a couple hours. That was our last spring game that year. It was a... It was a good group. We had a good group. They're certainly motivated. And that's one thing I remember about that's that spring. And it brought up when you were talking to you from CNU, it brought that memory. So. Justin Chezem (01:52.156) Yeah, I think our field can withstand a lot, but six hours of pouring down. Yeah, I mean, six hours of pouring rain. And of course the lightning effect, that doesn't matter how much rain you get. The lightning of course holds everything back. But actually I'm very good buddies with Adam Perrin, your men's assistant. And we've known each other for a long time. Scott knows him too. We've worked together a bunch of camps. And he's asked me to come work a few UVA camps. And I'd only been maybe once as a kid. steve swanson (01:55.73) I know we were really excited to play on that field. I know that. steve swanson (02:09.707) Yep. Justin Chezem (02:21.588) And it's crazy, I've been a Virginia kid, but I haven't been to UVA much. And then, so I was driving up there to go work the camp. And I love seeing you, I think our facilities are awesome. But man, there is a little bit of a, whoa, when you pull up, it's just like, oh, all right, there's a different feel here. You're pulling up, you're like reminiscing on some names that are UVA names, you're like, ah, all right, well. And you just feel it, and it's a really cool experience. I enjoyed being up there, Adam, of course, is a good man. I love him. Anytime he wants me to come up and work at camp, he's gonna get a yes from me. That's a cool spot. steve swanson (02:56.786) Yeah, well, I think one of the great things about, there's a lot of great things about Virginia, but soccer wise, I think it's great to have a men and a women's team. I'm sure you know that down at CNU with Jamie and things like that, but it's always, it's great to share ideas, get creative together, talk about recruiting together, and we have a good relationship with Adam, George, and Matt over there on the men's side. And we're fortunate to have You know, we work together really well. We're kind of in the middle of a master plan where our facilities are getting renovated. They've been renovated for the last four years. So I think that factor should be even more so now when you come up, there's a $70 million Olympic sports building being built now. There's a 94,000 square foot football performance building. So those things have been in the works prior to COVID. COVID put us behind a little bit. So... I think at the end of all this in a year or so, I think our facilities would match any in the country and we're excited about that. Justin Chezem (04:02.992) Yeah, yeah, actually I am curious, what do you think with all the chaos going on with the conferences, what are you hearing? Where are you guys going? I keep hearing your name and UVA is going here, UVA is going there and it's just, it's just of course driven, I'm sure football and basketball-wide, but I mean, is there any insight you can give us on what you think the next five, 10 years are gonna look like? steve swanson (04:25.322) No, I think they've changed so rapidly in the last five years that anybody that would think they know what's happening is, you know, it's just a real, I wouldn't say unstable, but it certainly has changed dramatically in the last couple of years with things happening with the transfer portal and NIL and things like that. I think a lot of these... conferences are, you know, back in the 80s, they took away the NCAA's stranglehold on the television contracts. And so it wasn't just solely NCAA, it was the conferences had the rights to these. So the conferences then took those and of course tried to make the most revenue they could out of their deals. And we're kind of now, 30 years later, we're kind of the beneficiaries of all that. You know, their conferences are trying to stay afloat. You know, it doesn't in one sense to have two California teams and a Texas team join the ACC doesn't make sense for a lot of reasons. But I think for pure survival of a conference and not having what happened to the Pac 12 happen, you can sort of see it a little bit more. But it's just the It's just the relative confusion now that the NCAA is in and college athletics is in as a whole. So, you know, we as a conference made a decision several years ago when conference alignment started to happen to stay together. And, you know, I think Florida State is challenging that now. They're challenging the binding document that they put in about staying with the ACC. And if they don't, they're going to have to pay a pretty significant. financial penalty and so I don't know we're testing all that now and You know, I've heard a lot of different things as well, but I think what they undertook Five years ago or whenever that happened About staying together as a conference. I think that's going to be hard to get out of until I think it's 2037 or something like that throw But Florida State's challenging that we'll see steve swanson (06:48.642) But I think the big thing for all of us as coaches is how important it is to keep teaching and keep developing players and keep teaching the life lessons that go on. I'm a little old school in that regard that I think the reason I got into coaching was for the relationship piece and the developing players and those kinds of things. And I'm trying to stay true to that even now in a changing environment. Justin Chezem (07:16.892) Yeah, I mean, how true is that? I mean, it doesn't matter who you're playing or how long of a trip it is or whatever. It's still, you've got a bunch of awesome girls and you wanna develop them into great people moving forward, not just good soccer players, but you want them to be good moms, good wives, good workers in the world and good for society. And that'll never change. That's the beauty of the job. And I mean, kind of jumping into that, kind of jumping into recruiting now. You know, I don't like this question at all. And Scott and I kind of laugh about it. Coach Norris and I are good buddies and we talk about this all the time. We get the question, what do you look for in a player? And that's such a vague, broad question. And you know, we try to push kids into, hey, why don't you ask, what do you like in me? And how do you see me fitting into the program? Like obviously getting a little more precise, but. staying on topics, staying on with those girls that you're trying to build these relationships with and trying to turn them into awesome human beings. What are some of the commonalities that you're having with these girls that you're seeing at 10, 15, 20 years later when they have their own kids, they have their own families, they have their own jobs and careers, and you're like, man, these are the common traits in those girls, and you could see them here, even in the recruiting process, when they were 15 years old when I first started talking to them. I mean, what are some of those traits? And maybe you got some examples of girls that are like, yeah, this is... steve swanson (08:17.947) I'm going to take a minute to get this out of the way. So, I'm going to take a minute to get this out of the way. Justin Chezem (08:40.016) her timeline and how it went with her. steve swanson (08:55.07) What do you think about the way the players are playing? steve swanson (09:03.974) I think two of the most important qualities that we recruit for are not soccer related. They're more intrinsic. So how motivated are they? Do they love the game? Are they willing to suffer and go through adversity, which you know we have to have to play at this level? And are they competitive? Are they competitive? Those two things certainly at our level distinguish the women that we're recruiting. You know, there's different ways to evaluate that. I think, you know, these two things, in my opinion, I think we can take, I've worked with a lot lesser talented players that are really, really motivated and they've become great players. And to me, I think the unique aspect of college, which is different than club or high school soccer, is for a lot of these players, they, you know, they're traveling long distances to play, which I don't really like. I don't think that's a great thing, but. You know, in college you're here. You've got everything you want at your footstep here. You know, you've got the equipment, you've got the fields, you've got the coaches, you've got resources that you can use. And then it's, so really it comes down to your desire and what comes internally for you. How good do you want to be? And you know, that was the case for me when I was playing college. And I loved college athletics for that very reason. I didn't have to go anywhere. It was all right there in front of me. And I could do that in both senses. I could do that within the athletic realm and I could do that in the academic realm and squeeze as much out of the university as I could. So for me, those two things are really important. You know, I think we are, every team's a little different in how they play and what they value. And I think for us, you know, handling the ball under pressure, getting your head up, making good decisions, those are very important to us. So those are things when we look at players, I think those are things that we look for. I think the biggest change in the women's game that I've seen over the last 10 years is, there's probably 40% less space than there was 10 years ago. And so there's not as much space. You're gonna have to handle the ball well. You're gonna have to make quicker decisions in tighter areas. And so what players are able to do that. So those are some things, couple intrinsic. Justin Chezem (11:30.184) Sure. steve swanson (11:33.322) a couple in terms of controlling the ball, getting their head up, making good decisions that we look for. And then I think the other side of the recruiting process is I think nowadays you have to have something special. What do you have that's special? Everybody's a little different. And do you have something that you can bring to the table that's special, that's unique, that could be one of my better players? She was just exceptionally good at heading the ball. That was a special quality of hers and she adapted and adjusted her game in these other areas But I think those things are important for us for our level as well Justin Chezem (12:11.1) Yeah, it's such an interesting tidbit there, because Amherst and the Division III men's side has been a powerhouse for years. And we were watching the national title game last two years ago. Last year, two years ago, I forget which one. They've been in a few recently. And they had a kid who could flip throw it 60 yards. And the ball goes out of bounds on the attacking half of the field. And the game basically stops so they can set it up as if it's like a free kick. steve swanson (12:29.707) Yeah. Justin Chezem (12:38.808) And the kid doesn't matter. He was an outside back, I believe. And doesn't matter where on the field the throw in is. If it's on the attacking half, he would jog over there. I can't imagine what his ticker was on how many miles of just jogging to take throw ins, not even just the game itself. And then he would launch this throw in and sure enough, it's on a rope, 60 yards. And you're, if you're a goalie, you're like, I got to deal with this. 30, 40 times a game. I mean, you're begging your team to kick it out for a corner kick rather than kick it out for a throw in. I mean, it's just that dangerous. steve swanson (13:11.62) That's so interesting. We lost the 2014 national champion. We played Florida State in the final. It was at Florida Atlantic. And it was in Florida Atlantic's football stadium, which most football stadiums are a little bit smaller. And they had the same thing. And do you know, that ball was in play about 45 minutes out of a 90 minute game because they were doing just that. That's an Irish player. Justin Chezem (13:23.692) in here. steve swanson (13:38.954) Megan Campbell, you know, and I'm not taking any weight from Florida State. They're a good team, but it was just a different, whole different dynamic to the game. Because as you say, the ball's out in the, she's a left back, the ball's out in the right side. She's taken 30 seconds, 40 seconds to get over to throw the ball in the box. And that happened over and over again. So I can relate to that. Justin Chezem (14:00.668) Yeah, and God forbid you're down. Yeah, God forbid you're down a goal early. That 45 seconds to walk over there turns into a minute pretty quickly, and she's gonna adjust her socks a little bit, and especially late in the game, she's like, well, I haven't got my yellow card yet. I'll go ahead and take a yellow, install a little bit more. I mean, but it's true, sticking to the recruiting thing. If you have that talent, I'm assuming maybe you got a little film of the girl that was a really good header, or Coach Sopona, but Amherst, maybe he got video of this kid. steve swanson (14:07.671) Yes. Yes. steve swanson (14:16.334) Yeah. Justin Chezem (14:30.588) just launching a ball, but put it in your video. Put it in there, put it in there. Like, look, this is where I have a specialty here. I've got a wicked left foot. I could score from anywhere within 30 yards. Like, well, show me something like right away. Like put it in your film right away. Make sure I know about it. Make sure I, when I finally get to put eyes on you, I wanna see that special talent immediately. You could run a four, three, 40. I gotta see this as soon as I can on the field. And yeah, I agree with you. If you have something special, put it out there. Let us see it right away. steve swanson (15:08.405) Do you have any advice for the players who are playing for the team? steve swanson (15:22.934) you know, and how can you best impact the game. That's the great thing about soccer, such a neat game that all shapes and sizes can play and you can be effective. And so you have to learn that. You have to, you know, and the only way you can learn that is play, you know. Justin Chezem (15:38.8) All right. It's interesting talking about recruiting you, you're recruiting some of the best kids in the country, national pool, national team kids. But you also have in the state of Virginia, a love for UVA where I mean, I can't tell you how, how many girls write you saying, my dad went to UVA, my mom went to UVA, I love the school. I've got 20 hoodies in my closet with the UVA logo on it. So. Scot Cooper (16:02.792) Hmm Justin Chezem (16:03.472) that kid could be just as valued just because of what you talked about earlier, motivated, competitive, just a love for the school. If you don't mind, talk about how you recruit a Morgan Bryan versus just a local girl. I think you got a Leesburg kid, an Arlington kid that just loved the school. What does that look like for you? How do you decipher through that and find the kids that are going to help you win the national title? steve swanson (16:28.566) Well, it's, it, I'm not saying it's funny. I don't want anybody to feel sorry for Virginia because it's such a great school to recruit to. But the challenge really for us is, you know, I feel like, and you probably know this as well, you need depth to win national championships. The way the soccer season is set up in college, you have to have depth. And so you can't get by with 11 players. You have to have a good nucleus of players. uh... and the way our sports structure with scholarships you know you might have to have somebody who may be not getting a full scholarship or on smaller amounts of money and so that's where you have to really dig and find those players that uh... love the game want to get better have potential to get better uh... and can contribute in ways that uh... that uh... Justin Chezem (17:29.384) You're muted. Scot Cooper (17:30.47) Hey Steve, we lost your audio. steve swanson (17:38.01) It's really about looking at what I told you before, some of the things that we inherently look for in an athlete. Morgan Bryan was a unique player, a special player. A funny recruiting story with her. Morgan committed to another call. We recruited her very hard and she made a decision to go to another school in the fall of her senior year. Now I don't know why I did this. I've never done this before nor since, but I did not fill her scholarship. So you can imagine she might have committed to the other school in October. I did not fill her scholarship. I waited and I still to this day don't know why, but in February she decommitted and she opened the process up again and she committed to Virginia after that. I don't know what... have a full scholarship for though, I don't know if she would have come. And so that was just a completely random thing that happened. And it happens a lot. I think timing, as you well know, Justin, probably the timing in recruiting is so, you know, it's just that, it's kind of like marriage, you know, the timing's got to work out for you to find that person. It's the same thing in recruiting. Justin Chezem (18:57.829) I think that's what I thought. steve swanson (19:02.286) But we're fortunate. I think there are a lot of in-state kids that want to come to Virginia. And obviously, Virginia, there's a difference between in-state tuition and out-of-state tuition. And the costs are much, Thomas Jefferson, who built the University of Virginia, he wanted to educate all Virginians. And so it's a public school, and it costs half of what it costs for an out-of-state. That's what it costs for an in-state. It's a good deal for in-state students, and Virginia is a good soccer state. So we're fortunate in that regard, and we've benefited from a lot of very good players that have played in-state and come to Virginia and have done a great job for us, you know? Justin Chezem (19:46.288) Yeah, there's something to be said about a kid that just loves your place, wants to be there. Maybe they need a year and you got the benefit of a red shirt. Maybe, maybe you're like, you know what? This kid loves it. I got a superstar in her position anyways. Let's get her. Maybe it's, like you said, it's in state. So, you know, she's going to pay much, much less and you don't have to give her a big chunk. And then she's just going to grind for that year and just get after it and, and prove it. And then next thing you know, you got a kid that just loves your place. Has the 20 hoodies in her closet already and is now ready to go for your place. And that's just, we put a ton of value in that as well. When someone writes us in that the smaller D3 level, when you could tell like, oh wow, this kid loves our school. This kid loves it. And then when they get here, you could tell the difference. I mean, not saying the kid like, ah, you know, I guess I'll just go to UVA or I'll just go see you isn't also gonna give you that same effort. But there is something about the kid that just is, you could tell like, oh, I love. I love this school. I want to be here. I've wanted to for a while and I'm just, I'm giving you everything I've got for four or even five years if I'm redshirted or whatever comes along. I mean, there's just something to be said about that. steve swanson (20:50.804) Yeah. steve swanson (20:54.238) We had a kid from Roanoke, Kate Norbo. Now Kate was a state player, that's the highest level she went. She played a bunch of different sports. She played for the Roanoke Stars, but she wasn't a top 200 kid in the country, but Kate fit perfectly into what we were looking for from a midfielder. And she was a competitor, real competitor, very motivated. and she ended up starting for us in the national championship game. And, you know, it's a great story. Now, was she ready to compete right away? Uh, no, but she developed and, and she worked at her game and she fit in perfectly to our style and it was a great success story. So those things happen a lot. And, uh, I think that's one of the reasons why I love coaching so much is, you know, to get these players in here who maybe are under the radar. It took me a while. I was a three-sport athlete in high school. Didn't develop, you know, compete fully in soccer until I got to college. So I had a lot of time. I had to make up a lot of time, but I think my experience playing the other sports helped me a lot once I did fully focus on soccer. And I think those things are, that's what college is about. Can you guys give me one second, just a second. Can I, can I hold off one second, Scott? Yeah. Scot Cooper (22:22.086) I got a quick question for him when he gets back. Justin Chezem (22:23.804) Yeah, go ahead. I'm just, I was only gonna go portal or NIL next. steve swanson (22:28.732) Sorry about that. Scot Cooper (22:29.218) Yeah, we'll get that. Oh, no problem. Justin Chezem (22:30.333) No worries. steve swanson (22:33.242) My wife called me a couple times and I don't know if there's an emergency or nothing. I don't think I can get on off of this podcast so I didn't want to take it. Justin Chezem (22:37.254) enough. Scot Cooper (22:41.93) Do you want to call it from your landline? I can just edit it. Justin Chezem (22:43.068) Yeah, well. steve swanson (22:44.615) Nah, I'm good. My assistant will check. I think she's alright. Sorry about that. Scot Cooper (22:49.742) Okay. And you weren't even, are you the best athlete in your marriage? Julie Shackford told me that you're... steve swanson (22:56.902) No, my wife was way better. She played basketball at Michigan State. So we met. Jocelyn, you probably could relate to this, but I knew the women's basketball coach at Michigan State. And she told me she wanted us, the soccer team, to play the women's basketball team because she thought faster, quicker athletes, you know, would help their team. So we ended up playing them every Wednesday night. in the summer for the four weeks of camp. And these were absolute wars. I mean, it was the most competitive game, but I covered my wife for two years and we didn't say a word to each other. We just competed. So anyway, that's how I met my wife. And she's way better than I, you know. Scot Cooper (23:40.234) I'm gonna go to bed. Justin Chezem (23:40.54) That's awesome. Scot Cooper (23:42.687) Haha. Justin Chezem (23:43.58) That's awesome. Ha ha ha. Scot Cooper (23:47.226) Yeah, we could thank Julie Shackford for that little tidbit. She sent that to me and said to make sure to ask about your wife and your prowess. Go back to the story about the kid from Roanoke. What did you see in her that, obviously, I'm guessing since she didn't jump right on the field for you right away, that she wasn't the best technically. steve swanson (23:52.334) Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Scot Cooper (24:13.342) but you saw something in her that was special and stood out to you, kind of an intangible things that maybe you saw that led you to Recruiter. steve swanson (24:28.866) What was your favorite part of the game? steve swanson (24:46.558) uh... emily sonnet lost before nothing in the championship game of the national uh... club championships when i when i was watching her it was three nothing in the second half with thirty minutes to go and that he the player that was competing the most in that game was emily sonnet that's all i need to see so she's down three dot since you probably she's playing against the superior team there they're beating her that kid's competing and she's never quit. And that's one of the things that I saw in Kate when she played for Rono. But the other side was you felt you could see some of her skills. She had really good feet and she was a really smart player. She made good decisions. And so those are things that we felt we could work with. And then when you surround her now with... Morgan Bryan because she played in that same area era a Danielle Colaprico who's Eight year veteran in the pros now You know her play just you know it brought out She could she was a competitor and she played in a very similar way to those guys and her game elevated Playing alongside of those so and she was willing to you know She was a runner in high school as well, and she was a great engine for us. She could she could get end line to end line, not just box to box, but end line to end line. And she fought to win the ball back. So, I mean, these are things that are intangibles that you don't know, you're not sure you see it, but when she started to play for us, this came out, this was really apparent. So it was just getting her used to how fast the game was at the college level, which she adapted to really well, and then bringing the qualities that she had. uh... and matching those with the players that we had the program already and that was that that's been something that that's one of things i i'm sure justin you love about soccer but i love about soccer is uh... bringing a bunch of skill sets together to former uh... great court a great unit that uh... that have different dimensions but you know the object is to put the ball in the back of the net and one side keep it out the other end and if you get eleven players that are steve swanson (27:04.366) are really bought into those things, they can perform really well. Justin Chezem (27:10.18) I would doubt that there's a national championship ever in the history of national championships where there wasn't at least one story in their starting lineup where like, this kid was not supposed to be with us. I mean, I just, I would believe that if every coach that won a national title just told us how they recruited every kid, they would get to one of their starters and be like, well, interesting story. And you know, every year I go recruiting, I pick up a kid where I'm like, I honestly can't tell you exactly why I'm recruiting this kid, but I, there's just something about them. I just love it. Whatever it is, it could be on the field. It could be off, could just be like, I remember recruiting this kid from Richmond and it wasn't even something really, I mean, I really liked him. I was watching him, but I was sitting kind of close to the bench and he tackled somebody. It was a hard tackle and they call it like all the bench goes, Oh, there's another Noah smash. They call it the Noah smash. I'm just like, yeah, I gotta have this kid. I steve swanson (27:51.826) The bench. Justin Chezem (28:03.26) He's pretty good. I mean, you're right. I liked a lot of the qualities. He could definitely play in a scene. You like a hundred kids from Virginia could, but there was just something, just something about that tugged at my heartstrings. I just got to have this kid. And I'm sure coach, you've got a few of those every year, like one or two, maybe I, it just, there's more than just, oh, the kid's good enough to play for us. It's going to help us win. There's always more to the story. steve swanson (28:20.603) Well. steve swanson (28:25.35) Yeah, and I think that's one of the best things that you could tell potential prospects is I think it's really important that the coaches that are recruiting that prospect, there's something they like about that prospect. It might be that some coach, for whatever reason, doesn't appreciate the qualities that prospect has. I don't think, in my experience, that's not going to change. So find the coaches that do see something in you that's quite good. And those are the schools that, if you want to play, those are the schools that you should be focusing in on, even if it means you might have to adjust your thought process a little bit. For the longest time, Becky Sauerbrunn played for us. Becky, for three years, could not get into a national team camp. steve swanson (29:26.212) I don't think it was Becky's ability at all. It's just her qualities didn't jive with the coach at the time. And it wasn't, nobody was, you couldn't fault anybody there. I think there are certain things that Becky needed to get better at and she was committed to doing that. But it wasn't anything other than you have these qualities and I value these qualities. And so once they've got a coach in there that valued Becky's qualities, I think off she went, you know, and that happens so often. But I think players sometimes don't think they're a good player or try to change who they are when in actuality what their strengths are good, you know. You just have to find the right fit for you. And my experience says if a coach... doesn't see you as a fit, then you need to understand that and find a coach that does or keep exploring until you find coaches that value what you bring to the table as a recruit. Justin Chezem (30:29.768) That's 100% correct. I'm glad you brought up Becky. I wanted to shift a little bit, if you're ready, Scott, a little bit of the national team that you've experienced some good stories, I'm sure there. I'm actually good buddies with Allie Krieger. I grew up with her. Her brother, her dad was my coach. Her brother and I played club, high school, and college together. So I've known Allie since the mid-90s. And I mean, she was a superstar and fun. Oh yeah, absolutely. steve swanson (30:44.314) Okay. Yeah. steve swanson (30:53.921) great soccer family. Justin Chezem (30:57.672) Do you have maybe a fun story? I mean, I still remember watching her score in that game winning PK. Was it Brazil after Abby Wambach scored the header goal? I mean, what an epic game. I mean, what experience do you have? Not just with Allie, of course, but give us a little tidbits on your thoughts of being with the national team and what that was like. I mean, what a cool experience that must have been. steve swanson (31:20.422) Yeah, it was a really good experience. I joined the national team in 2014. And I was with them, the full team, that is. I was with the full team in, we were, it was the summer of 2014 before qualifiers. The qualifiers happened in the fall of 2014. And then the World Cup in 2015 in Canada, the Olympics in 2016, and then the... World Cup in 2019. So I was with them a good long time. Obviously Ali was a big part of those teams. I think Ali is an amazing player in the sense that she did it so well for so long. I think the game's changed a lot over time and I think one of the things that I've witnessed in my time. You know, the World Cup in 2015 was unique in that we had a good mix. There was a lot of older players who had been through some World Cups. The Abbey Wambachs, the Shannon Boxes, the Christie Rampones. You know, those players like Allie. And then a lot of new faces. The Morgan Bryans, the Julie Erts. You know. the newer players that were coming onto the scene, I think. Alex Morgan at that time was still relatively young. So that dynamic was interesting because you kind of had to mesh two different styles. There were the players that played for Pia back in the day and then Jill was bringing in a new kind of way, a new style of the national team. It was, again, just trying to adapt and adjust to the modern game. which was changing all the time. And I think the same things happened through 2019, different groups. So the national team is, I enjoyed that level so much because I think every country has a different style and it's based on their culture and it's so different. Sometimes, I don't know if you noticed this, but sometimes when you watch club soccer, steve swanson (33:45.186) You know, it starts off, maybe the club team wants to play a certain way, but then it kind of divulges into much of what you see in club soccer, which is not a lot of possession, a lot of back and forth. There's a lot of competition and athleticism, but it becomes more of a transition game. But in the international game, these teams are very committed to their style, no matter what, you know? And I love that because it's so different from one country to another. and they have to adjust based on the talent level that they have and the pool that they have. And so you see a Japan who incredibly technical, not a lot of players that are tall players or athletic players, but very skillful, play together really well, understand their role within the system, and you're going to have to really beat them at their game, you know? And so it's very interesting. Nigeria, different. Nigeria, a team that's very athletic, very transition oriented, not a lot of as much organization, although I feel that's changing now with their team. So it's really interesting and it's fun. It's fun to coach in that environment because the styles are so different. Justin Chezem (34:59.2) Yeah, and you're 100% correct. You go watch, you go recruiting, you go watch clubs. And I think you're right. I think that they all start a certain way, but most of the games look similar. You know, it's just the way it is. And some people ask, you know, what's it like when you get to college? And it's not anywhere near what you experience at the World Cup level, but there's a lot more like, hey, we need to prepare for what this school does. It's way different than the club game. steve swanson (35:23.355) Yes. Justin Chezem (35:26.816) in that regard and of course you saw it on the highest magnitude you could at the national team level. It's such a cool thing. And yeah, I mean, I'm just thinking, I ran into Marta actually at the airport at a convention. I mean, first of all, I didn't realize that she wasn't like, I don't know, I think Marta, I think of like a some six, five, just monster. She's not. And what a sweetheart she was, by the way. I mean, she didn't have to talk to me at all. And what a special player. And you had to play against her. I mean, how do you deal with her? steve swanson (35:43.454) Thank you. steve swanson (35:47.015) No. Justin Chezem (35:56.496) just like good luck, you know, maybe putting three girls on her. I mean, wow, she was special. steve swanson (36:03.513) You know, we went to Brazil in 2014 in December. And we had just lost the national championship game. And I flew from Florida to Brazil, met up with the national team, and we played a tournament there. And we absolutely got smoked by Brazil. It was kind of the end of the year for our players. But I think the combination of sort of a long season, plus we were in Brazil playing the US in their home stadium. And I'm telling you, the stadium was rocking and we just got smoked. And Marta ran riot. She was kind of in her prime then. But she's such a unique talent. Justin Chezem (36:44.542) I'm sorry. steve swanson (36:52.786) But I think it showcases her and the Brazil team, showcases kind of the evolution of women's soccer in our country, you know, you just can't. I remember in 2014, I'll give you this example. In 2014, we played five games in the qualifiers. We played Guatemala, El Salvador, Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Mexico. And we won all five games. But I remember... I was, I brought some of our match analysis to the national team at the time. And one of the things I was tracking was unforced turnovers. So, and what I thought was interesting about unforced turnovers, it didn't have anything to do with the other team. So for instance, if a player, if a player passed the ball out of bounds from 12 yards out, there was no pressure on her, that would have been an errant pass. That would have been one kind of an unforced turnover. If they tried to play a ball in behind a back line and it was not received or it didn't end up penetrating, that wouldn't be an unforced turnover because you're trying to encourage that as part of penetrative play. You want them to look for opportunities to play a ball in behind. If I played a ball to you, Justin, and it bounced off your kneecap and there's nobody around you, that could be a poor first touch. That's an unforced turnover. And so we were tracking these. in the qualifiers and you'd be surprised, my college team averaged less than 14 unforced turnovers a game. It doesn't matter, you know, if you're playing against Roger Federer in tennis and he hits you a ball right in your sweet spot in your forehead and you hit that back in the net, that's nothing Roger Federer, that's an unforced turnover, that's on you. And so we track those. in those qualifiers we were averaging over 40 unforced turnovers a game. Now you think about that, there's no way in the modern game that would, there's no way you could do that. The reason we were successful is because we could win the ball back very easily. We had superior athletes and it was, even if we lost the ball we could win it back. Justin Chezem (38:58.716) Whoa. steve swanson (39:18.194) But there's no way we could have been able to do that in the World Cup. So over the next year, we were tracking this and we kept giving the feedback. This was something we emphasized over and over again how important it was to value the ball. And in the World Cup, in the games, in the World Cup, we averaged almost 16. So that's a huge difference. And I think one of the reasons that we were successful in that World Cup. is if we would average 40 against teams like Germany and Japan, there's no way in the modern game with those teams, the quality of players that have, we would have won the ball back as easily and would have much, much more physical game. So I think that's just, those are just some of the ways that the game's changing and how we have to change and we have, but I still think we have to continue to change in order to maintain our place as the top country in the world in women's soccer. Scot Cooper (40:16.934) Yeah, talk a little bit about the difference in the players and the philosophy in bringing players into the group. I know that you were with some of the younger national team groups as well. So talk about, are you developing players there? I mean, you're not looking for finished products at U17, right? How are you? What's kind of the blend of? steve swanson (40:23.267) You know, just... Scot Cooper (40:45.45) polishing a team versus developing players to be long-term members of the group. steve swanson (40:52.49) Yeah. Well, at that time, I feel at that time there was, and rightfully so, you know, we're such a big country that, and you know, when I first started out with the youth national teams, we might've had three camps per year. So, you know, you want to try to bring in the players you feel have the most potential. Maybe they're not the best players at that particular point in time, but they have the potential to be the best players at the. you know, down the road. And so there's a big difference between looking at those players who are the best players at their age group and the players that have the best potential to be the best players down the road. And because those are the ones, those are the players you wanna invest in. Our country, the more camps we can have, the more you can evaluate, the better you can assess those players. So it was nice to see at the youth national team level a lot more structure. steve swanson (41:54.787) From the early 90s through to the 2000s, there were more camps, there were more resources put in the youth national teams. And I think that helped not only develop players, but also evaluate players that could be the next Mallory Swanson, the next Sophia Smith, the next Lindsay Horan, those kinds of things. And I think you need those camps where you can bring them in, assess them, but also then bring them back again and again so they can keep getting experience at the national team level. It's different, you know? I mean, I look at the under 20 national team that won in the 2012, that was the last youth national team that won a world championship was in 2012. You think about that now. So we took that team to Japan. Crystal Dunn was on that team. Julie Ertsch was on that team. Sam Uess was on that team. Morgan Bryan was on that team. That was a good contingent of players there that competed on that team and did well. And I think if you ask those players, they would tell you that experience really helped them. It's totally different. totally different club situation, totally different college situation than an international situation. It's just a different game, and it's a different tournament. You're not used to that. And so I think that those kind of experiences are invaluable for players, and how can we get those players into that? Now we're not... you know, we're not making the finals of World Championship, so they're not getting that experience as much anymore. And that's something we have to look at, and how can we get better at that? Because I think that's really helped us, you know, really helped us. So I think it's a challenge. It's gonna be a challenge for us now, since there's a lot more emphasis now in the world game internationally. They're more and more... steve swanson (44:10.682) Federations are putting way more resources into the women's game than they ever have and you can see what's happening as a result of that. And so we're going to have to keep on top of that, you know, and that's going to make a difference for us. Scot Cooper (44:26.978) I wanted to shift gears one more time. I know we're getting close to the end of the hour here, but talk about the transfer portal, NIL, how that's impacting a big program like UVA. How much are you using the portal? Is NIL trickling down to the Olympic sports at your level? sort of thing, just kind of give a broad... I guess, a summary of how you see that impacting now and then on down the road. steve swanson (45:04.986) Well, I would say, you know, not too long ago, I think we were recruiting high school, just high school club players. That was the bulk of our pool was high school club players. And I think it's a little different in the men's game because I think the international game for the men's game has grown at an earlier time than the women's game. The women's game now is catching up and I think the women's, there are more players at the international level. that can compete at the highest level of Division I now in our country. So that's another pool of players that you can look for now. The transfers now are another one. You can't not look at transfers now if you want to compete because there are so many good players now that are coming and that are looking to get into the transfer portal. So that's another element. Even your players... You know that your players have playing during COVID. I'm looking at recruiting players that have played for me that have an extra year of COVID eligibility. That's another pool of players that we can draw from to recruit that wasn't on the table. Now we can only do that one more year because those are the players that got affected by COVID is only one more year coming, but you know, there's, what I'm saying is there's way more of, there's way more, a pool of players. that you can look for in just club players in this day and age. And so it's changed things a lot. And I think it's going to change things dramatically as we go forward now. I think there are players decommitting because of NIL deals now in our sport. Mostly you saw that a year ago in football and basketball, but I think that's happening now in soccer and probably other sports as well. So these are real. recruiting issues that we have to take up and understand. And I think the big, and the other side is our pro games developing. So now there are more players in the women's side that are turning pro and foregoing college. And so, as a coach, you have to do your homework on the front end to figure out, okay, who's a really good match for your university? Who values education? steve swanson (47:26.494) who can obviously compete and make an impact in your program. And you could see that internationally. You could see that transfer portal-wise. You can see that club-wise, or you could see that even with players coming back and having an extra year that are on your team already. So it's made for, it's a difficult challenge because you have to be that much better of a financial planner. as a coach, a college coach, because you have to make your money, you have to look at your money and see where it's going and you might have to save some money potentially because you know there might be somebody in the transfer portal that you feel could impact your program and you want to be ready for that when the time comes. So there's a lot more, you know and again, you're going to have all these cards available to you and it's about playing them at the right time. I keep going back to that timing thing. That's such a... Justin Chezem (48:21.022) Right. Scot Cooper (48:22.621) Yeah. steve swanson (48:23.526) That's such an interesting dynamic to it. You know, in one month you might have money and then just in 30 days time you might not. And so it could be the difference between you getting a player and not getting a player. That's what I'm talking about with timing. Or you might not know about a player that could fill a position and you know, that one's not available at this point in time. So there's a lot of different elements to it and it makes it that much more, I think. I think it's changing. It's constantly in flux, I guess I would say. You have to be constantly on top of it, looking at your big board and sort of making sure that you're ready for some things that inevitably happen one way or the other. Scot Cooper (49:10.086) Yeah, that's an ever-changing landscape. So it's just something that, you know, obviously you guys are all paying attention to. Justin Chezem (49:11.516) Perfect. steve swanson (49:18.558) Well, I can give you an example. We recruited a player from Norway several years ago. She was a great player, and we were excited about her. She committed, and then COVID hit. And so we, as an ACC school, we were one of the few schools that started up again during that COVID fall. And I told her, I said, listen, We are not sure whether this is going to happen or not in the fall. You're playing full time in your country. Stay there, play there. We'll have you come in January. I thought that would be a good thing, you know? Keep her playing because we didn't know how many games we were going to play. Well, in November of that year, she got an offer from PSG and she turned pro. So we lost her, you know? So we started to recruit another player from overseas, committed her in December. Justin Chezem (50:11.048) Hehehehe steve swanson (50:17.334) and she ended up decommitting in the spring. So there we were, we were stuck without a forward. And I remember we had played in the semi-final of the national championship. Our NCAA tournament went to the spring that year. They didn't do it in the fall. So we lost in the semi-finals of the national championship. I came home the next day, I looked in the transfer, but I don't know why I did it. I just randomly looked in the transfer portal. And there was a kid who we were really excited about. Two days later, she committed to Virginia. And she was a starter for us, first round draft pick in the NDSL two years later. But again, really awkward, weird flow of the recruiting process. But we ended up with a kid that really helped us in the long run. And we got her in the transfer portal. Scot Cooper (51:09.058) fantastic. Well, I want to be respectful of your time. I know we're just at an hour. So Steve, I can't thank you enough. This has been fantastic. Thank you for coming on and being generous with your time. steve swanson (51:10.124) Yeah. steve swanson (51:24.582) Anytime. Let me know if you want to do this again. So I'm always, I always enjoy chatting soccer. So it's, it's fun. As Justin knows, we do a lot of things, uh, that are not soccer related, you know, uh, when you're a college coach. So it's always good to get, get together with good soccer people and talk soccer. So I appreciate it. Scot Cooper (51:28.226) Yeah. Justin Chezem (51:40.057) Oh yeah. Justin Chezem (51:45.137) Yes sir. Thank you very much Steve. Scot Cooper (51:46.036) Yeah, we'll definitely have you on again for sure. We really appreciate it. steve swanson (51:49.614) Okay, good to talk to you. Justin, good to meet you. I'll see you soon, I hope. Say hi to Jamie, okay. Yep, bye-bye. Justin Chezem (51:52.968) Thanks, Steve. Yeah, see you on the field trip. Absolutely. Scot Cooper (51:55.53) Thanks. Bye.

92. Will Smith, Founder of Lead EDU and Charter Oak Advisory Hi, I’m Scot Cooper and welcome to the Tales From the Trail podcast by MatchPlay. In this episode Chris Norris, the head coach of the College of William and Mary men’s soccer program and I welcome one of his former players, Will Smith. As you will hear, Will made the most of his opportunity as a student-athlete on the field, on campus, and abroad. Among many other highlights, he went on to co-found a residential youth soccer academy in Liberia called LEAD MFA (monroviafa.com). There’s more to the story obviously, thank you for listening to hear the rest. Thank you to Will and Coach Norris for being great guests. Summary Will Smith shares his journey as a college soccer player at William & Mary, discussing his recruitment process, the challenges he faced, and the impact of his leadership. He highlights the importance of self-belief, resilience, and personal growth throughout his career. Will also reflects on the role of other sports, such as golf, in shaping his mindset and skills. He discusses memorable moments, including defeating the number one ranked team and the lessons he learned from his experiences. Will concludes by sharing his research project in Liberia and the transition to life after college. Will Smith shares his journey of discovering the potential of soccer in Liberia and starting a leadership academy. He talks about his experiences playing with George Weah and the transformative power of soccer in the country. Will also discusses the challenges and successes of expanding the academy to Morocco. He then transitions to his current role at Charter Oak Advisory, where he helps design and implement impact programs for various organizations. Will concludes by discussing the possibility of future academies and his commitment to creating positive change. Takeaways Self-belief and resilience are crucial for success in college sports. Playing multiple sports can provide valuable skills and perspectives. Leadership styles should be personalized to meet the needs of individuals. Maintaining momentum and addressing challenges are key to achieving success. College sports can provide valuable lessons and skills for future endeavors. Soccer has the transformative potential to empower young people and create positive change in communities. Building strong relationships and partnerships with local individuals and organizations is crucial for success in international development work. Curiosity, resilience, and the ability to overcome adversity are valuable skills learned through sports that can be applied to other areas of life. Empowering others and giving them the opportunity to lead is essential for sustainable and impactful initiatives. Understanding the cultural context and adapting programs accordingly is key when working in different countries and communities. Chapters 00:00 Introduction and Background 02:02 Assessing Will's Potential as a Player 08:40 Choosing William & Mary and the College Soccer Experience 19:01 Developing Self-Belief and Leadership Skills 24:46 Highlights of Will's College Soccer Career 41:11 Research Project in Liberia and Transitioning to Life After College 46:00 Discovering the Potential of Soccer in Liberia 51:31 Starting the Leadership Academy in Liberia 58:21 Expanding to Morocco 01:14:42 Transitioning to Charter Oak Advisory 01:17:22 Future Plans and Expansion Chris Norris (00:02.895) Will was like most prospective student athletes out there. He contacted us because he had done some research and thought that William & Mary might be a good fit for him. He had the good fortune of having an older brother who attended William & Mary. And he had been to visit because of that. You know, his brother had a good experience as a student. Like for those reasons, Will thought that William and Mary might work for him. Um, it, Will's, uh, he's always been kind of, or at least from that age on, it was always a bit precocious. And so, you know, he came across as, as mature and, um, ready and, uh, impressive just as a human being. And, um, that certainly helped. sort of smooth the process for us and encourage us to get to know him a little bit better. T Will Smith (03:25.782) We 100% should. If you're ever in Williamsburg, Virginia, BBC, that's that. Um, but no, I can give, uh, I can give my recollection, Chris, thank you for all those kind words and it's fun to think back on this. Like I haven't honestly thought about it in a long time. So, um, my personal experience. So Chris mentioned, I mean, so I had my, the brother we're talking about is the names actually Chris is a little confusing, but my brother, um, Chris Norris (03:34.392) Hahaha Scot Cooper (03:35.294) That's right. Will Smith (03:55.15) had been at William & Mary and he'd gotten to know Chris. He'd also gotten to know Al Albert. And I'd gone down there just as like, he's seven years older than me. So I was like a 13, 14 year old kid and really enjoyed my time visiting him. And I always knew I wanted to go south. I grew up in Avon, Connecticut, just outside Hartford. And I'd lived kind of enough winters. I was ready to get into the bit of the warmer weather. And so William & Mary was high up my list right from the beginning. And then I was really fortunate to have another brother, three older brothers, another brother who had gone through this process for ice hockey. So, and he'd gone through a very different sort of process where he was in Sports Illustrated when he was 13. He was very well known as a really high quality hockey player and everybody was calling him. And he was just an amazing mentor for me through this process. He's four years older than me. And... He encouraged me early on to make a list and I, I get asked this question actually quite a bit, like by parents now today who are, who have kids who are thinking about trying to play different sports in college, like what, what sort of process should they go through? And, and this was hugely helpful for me. And I tell everybody to do this, which is to build three different lists of 10 different, of 10 schools for each list. One list being purely focused on academics. Where do you want to be from an academic perspective? One list purely focused on athletics, whatever sport it is that you're playing, where you want to be from a sport perspective. And then one list. And I think like people, or at least when I was doing it, I was like, this isn't as important, but I really think this is critical. One list from a social perspective, like what type of place do you want to be from a social perspective? And so I did that and William and Mary was in the top three of all three of those. Um, for me. So it was quickly one that I realized, okay, this is one that I should prioritize. I was really fortunate that my brother had known Chris and Al. And so I think he reached out to Al and said, Hey, you should pay attention to my younger brother and, um, Norris, I'm not sure. I think it was like, we had a showcase that I got to go to in North Carolina or in Florida with my club. And that was when you first saw me. And yeah, I was doing the outreach. So that was what was different from my brother's experience was like, I was trying to get seen. And as Chris said, I was small for my position. Will Smith (06:21.326) particularly athletic, like not, didn't have a bunch of speed and probably on paper wasn't an obvious candidate to play at like a top 25 division one level. But I had a lot of self belief. I felt like I could compete at that level. I wanted that challenge. Having seen my brother as a student athlete, I knew what I was getting myself into and he, he played hockey at Boston college. So the top that you could get in that, in that sport. And it really is like a job when you're playing at that level. And I'd seen that and I wanted that. I was, I knew that. And that's something that not everybody wants, right? There's some kids who are thinking about playing college soccer or any college sport, and then when they realize the rigor of it, maybe it's not right for them. And that's also okay. But I knew I was. I think like Chris said, I was kind of, maybe because I had three older brothers, I was like mature for my age and saw that this was something I wanted to do. And, uh, yeah. So was doing outreach to a ton of different schools. It wasn't just William and Mary. William and Mary was right at the top of my list. Um, I was also looking at schools that I felt were not as difficult to get into academically, maybe not as quality from a soccer perspective, and then certain, certain ones that were perhaps at the same level. even better from a soccer perspective, reaching out to schools like Duke and UNC and Wake Forest that historically have our perennial powerhouses in soccer, not getting answers from them. Wake Forest in particular, I really that was like the other one that I was really interested in never got an answer. And then we beat them freshman year and that felt really good. But, but yeah, it ultimately came down to Chris and the staff. Scot Cooper (08:02.939) Thanks for watching. Will Smith (08:11.086) were offered me a small scholarship in the beginning. And I decided that was where I wanted to be. So that's kind of the process that we went. I also went for a visit that was really important. Chris came and picked me up from the airport in Richmond. Every time I fly out of there, I think of that trip, Chris. And that was kind of the start of my William & Mary journey. And my William & Mary journey, 100% was the start of my professional journey. Scot Cooper (08:40.007) So when you say you talked about self belief, like where do you think that came from? Scot Cooper (08:46.982) Did you realize it at the time or you're just looking back, you understand what it was then? Will Smith (08:55.679) I think. So when you're one of four boys and you're the youngest and everybody has a different talent that they're really good at, you have to find a way to keep up. And so when I was little, I was like trying to be seen and trying to keep up with my older brothers. And so then when I would get onto the soccer field or onto the golf course, because I also played golf at William & Mary for two semesters, get onto the tennis court, whatever, like with people my age, I would have a confidence because I was like, I can... I've been competing with my older brother, who's this like incredible athlete. Like I feel like I can compete at this level. Um, so I think I, that was, it was sort of, I was fortunate to grow up in a family where that it was built into me through that. Um, but of course, at the same time, you all, like all of us live with self doubt all the time, right? So I can, I can give an example. If I can move into when I was a player at William and Mary, um, freshman year, I didn't play for the first four games. And since I was 10 years old, I'd been the captain of my teams and a key player. And it was really, really challenging for me. And I reached out again to my brother, the hockey player. So this is like, again, having access to a mentor and somebody who's been there and experienced it was so key for me. And it was such a privilege. And I was experiencing a lot of self doubt and just saying like, it's tough. There are 10 seniors. I think there were three center backs. who kind of were probably above me on the totem pole. And he said to me, and I think I've told you the story, Chris, said to me, you gotta start treating every single practice like it's a game and make it really difficult for them not to give you time. And so that's what I did. And there was a transition that happened really quickly, where I think he gave me time in the fifth game, and then I started from the sixth game on through the rest of my career. And... Will Smith (10:54.146) Just that guidance from my brother and that nudge and that also belief from an external perspective, like somebody else telling me it's possible, definitely helped bring that self-belief back and that courage to try. Scot Cooper (11:10.35) As you're going through your career, did you have other moments of self-doubt, you know, even though you were, you know, starting and, you know, what, how did you maintain the level that you had to maintain to, to hold onto that spot? Will Smith (11:22.03) Mm-hmm. Will Smith (11:25.686) Yeah. A couple of things are popping in mind. There's also another moment that happens right in that period that I'm talking about, which is, so Chris gave me time in the fifth game. It was like maybe 10, 15 minutes. And then before the sixth game of the season, I could be getting, maybe it was the game or I think I'm right about the timing. Um, I, Chris pulled the whole group together. So I was, I remember I was a freshman in a team with 10 seniors and I still, I was the same as I am today where I'm very curious and I'm constantly asking questions. And in that setting, um, you're, you get a lot of flack from the older guys when you're constantly asking questions out at training, um, around the group. And, but at the same time, what was my biggest strength as a player, I would argue was my ability to communicate and help organize the group, um, and which kind of translated into like a leadership function, but as a freshman on a team with 10 seniors, it was a little intimidating to speak up and, and play the way that I would normally play, which also then brought the best out of me physically. Like if I wasn't speaking on the field, I would be a little timid as a player too. And Chris brought the group together and said to the guys, this is before the sixth game, he said, Will is going to start at center back and he's going to help organize the group. And if anybody has a problem with that, they should come have a conversation with me. And it was before the pregame training, before that game, that just gave me this huge wave of confidence. You know? Um, I felt super empowered and I didn't think about this in the moment. Like I felt confident based on that. I was so nervous, but looking back on that, I think that was a huge empowering moment for me where once I got through the first game and performed well and we won the game. And, you know, I just like the confidence would build from there. And I was like, no, I'm meant to do this because that's what the head coach wants for me. So that was really important. The other thing you asked about, like, so you're starting and you're, and you're trying to maintain that self-belief over time. I was always really ambitious as well. Like when I was, when I finished my freshman year, I was like, I want to play in the MLS that was kind of my thinking that was a goal then. Um, which maybe if you look at it at the moment, like could have almost been laughable, you know, I was just like, Barely maintaining my space, but our team was very good freshman year. We went to the sweet 16. Um, Will Smith (13:44.798) And I think we're as high as like number 12 in the country or something, but I was like barely in that team to get to the MLS, you have to be a top player in one of those teams. So, um, but because that was my ambition. And again, because I had people close to me who were pursuing similar pursuits in their own career, in their own career paths. Um, I feel like I was always pushing. Um, and then there were other guys around me, Roche and Patel. I don't know if he's been on here yet, but Roche and one of my best friends and, um, eventually co-captain, we played four years together alongside each other. We would push each other because we were living together, um, and, and trying to achieve, you know, so I think. Always trying to achieve and then to answer your question on self-belief. Yeah. Sophomore, junior years, we weren't very good. I think sophomore year we were about 500 junior year. We were like five wins, 12 losses. And I was the captain junior year and we had that performance and it was, you know, that, that lack of belief starts to creep in and you think, am I capable of leading a team that's going to be high quality? Um, but yeah, I think. Chris and the coaching staff did a really good job of encouraging us, letting us know that we had the capability within us. And then we did a good job also of pushing each other to the point where senior year we were as high as number five in the country. We were probably one of the better teams that William & Mary's ever had, but then faltered towards the end. Scot Cooper (15:19.59) Norris, what do you remember about all this? Chris Norris (15:23.979) Yeah, I mean, that's very much how I remember it. I mean, I remember specifically, you know, Will didn't, Will got into the team largely for that one reason. We felt like we had a really good group. He's mentioned several times that it was senior-laden. We had graduated the conference player of the year, the year before. So we weren't... thinking that we were necessarily gonna be good enough to have the kind of year that we ultimately had. But that group, I mean, you know, you talk about the whole being greater than the sum of the parts. And probably for me in my time, that group epitomizes that cliche better than any other group that I've had. I mean, we just had so many guys step into really important roles and have great years. I mean, you know, years that were the best years of their career or just really impactful in terms of the role that they filled for the team. And, you know, Will had a really specific function in that group. We had one of the other guys who had one of those career years was Derek Buckley and was ultimately Will's partner at Centerback. And it was a tremendous partnership. because Derek is incredibly athletic and he was the guy that, you know, hit people and headed the ball and ran people down. And then Will was next to him kind of pulling the strings and organizing. And you know, the two other guys that Will referred to were both seen, that also played center back, were both seniors. And we ultimately moved one to right back. That was probably his more natural position anyway, but he had had. a great couple of years playing as another undersized center back for us, Mike D'Annuso. And then Nick Orosco was the other one and Nick was capable of playing in midfield. So I moved Nick deep into midfield. And sometimes you do things like that, it doesn't work. And in this case, it literally, everybody bought in and it came together incredibly well. Scot Cooper (17:38.61) Right, so Will went from this, I guess, not widely recruited, I guess is fair to say, player and then he turned into basically a four-year starter. Chris Norris (17:55.575) Well, I mean, he was the conference defender of the year, senior year. He captained the team to an NCAA tournament. And then as a freshman, he wasn't technically the captain, but he was the vocal organizer and leader, certainly in the back, and that team won the conference and like Will said, went to the Sweet 16. Scot Cooper (18:20.102) Yeah, I just wanted to get to like, you know, the mindset that you had, you know, delve into that a little more about, you know, you overcame, you know, through the words of your brother and Norris and Roche and all these other guys that were helping, you know, helping you along the way and how you, you know, grew as a person and your mindset changed and maybe not changed. But you know what I'm getting at there. Like How did it evolve from being a senior in high school to being a key contributor really early on in your career? And then just maintaining that. Will Smith (19:01.822) Yeah. I think one of the things I think about a lot today in my current work is, is leadership and like, is leadership developed or is it, do you have it from early on? And I think in my case, like I had a quality of leadership as a kid, like when I was 10 years old, I became the captain, like I said, and all the way through. But I also think it's learned over time. And I think that freshmen, I, again, I haven't reflected on that much, but I think it it's as I'm thinking about it right now, that freshman year playing with that group of guys who, you know, from Chris's perspective, it was like the whole being greater than the sum of the parts, but from my perspective coming in, I remember the first training session. I was like, this is all happening so fast. Every single pass I'm playing is getting picked off. Um, the, the level was just so much higher than what I'd been used to. And I had to then adapt to that and I had to learn from the people around me. So Chris mentioned Derek Buckley. Um, he, as soon as Chris gave me that opportunity to start alongside him, Derek started giving me little tips. So things like using your eyes when you have the ball, stop staring down where you're going to play the passes. And some of it was really simple. Others were a little more savvy, like goal kicks coming towards you. You've got a forward who's bigger than you give them a little nudge with your knee in the back of his leg. Ref's not going to see it and you're going to then be in control of that situation. And those little bits and pieces, those are leadership happening in micro forms, but that's what helped me build as a player. Um, and then as I progressed over the course of the four years, I would say, especially once I got into junior year and was given the opportunity to get in the team and kind of that formal leadership role, it became, I kind of became obsessed with. I want to improve as a player and the way that I can do that is also helping to improve the people around me and helping to empower the people around me. So on the one hand, and Roshan, I talked about this a lot too, because senior year we were co-captains. He was the guy who was a little more, he was quieter on the field, not so vocal. I was very vocal on the field helping to organize the group as we've talked about. But he was really good at going to guys individually who were struggling and having a conversation with them and showing empathy. Will Smith (21:24.79) Um, helping them through their challenge. And I was trying to learn from that too. And, and, and pulling from the experience of when I was a freshman and Derek was a senior and he was giving me those little bits and pieces and Mike D'Annuso would do that as well, Alan Coger, a lot of the guys who were seniors that year in at-baco, um, and so I think like you build based on yes, a mentality and a, and, um, a desire and a self belief, but you need a lot of help along the way. And I was really fortunate to have that group when I was a freshman and then to continue learning from there, from my peers. Um, and I would say that that's something I think it's a bit like cultural, like Chris did a good job of encouraging that within the team. Um, and it's something now that in my current work, like I'm constantly thinking about that with the people with whom I work, the partners we have, um, how do you constantly help other people get better? and bringing in people who are better than you so that you can empower them and you can grow as an individual as well. Scot Cooper (22:29.286) Right. Chris, do you have anything to add to that? Just kind of maybe your strategies of bringing that out in Will. I mean, I'm sure you probably saw it, you know, but how did you kind of pull that out of him to give him the confidence as a young guy with a group full of seniors? Chris Norris (22:51.119) I mean, I think it was as simple as making the statement that Will mentioned to the group that, hey, this is what we're doing. And look, if you do that, at that time, if we did that, if we stuck Will in there, and I mean, I was very clear that the reason that Will was getting into the team is that we needed somebody to be vocal. We didn't really, all those guys, for as good as they were as players, were not particularly vocal in terms of organizing. during the game. And I really felt, or the staff felt at the time, that this group had such potential and that we really were just missing that one piece. We just needed a guy to be back there and kind of pull it together vocally and thought that Will could do it, even though he was a freshman, as long as people supported it. And that was really the primary focus, you know, was just getting the other guys to be okay with that and recognize that, hey man, you know, We're all here trying to win and pull in the same direction. And you just, I'm telling you that this freshman can help us get there if you just listen to what he's saying. And the guys, you know, they were great. They put their egos aside for anyone that had an ego and they just realized that, hey, we want to succeed and you know, whether it's this freshman who's going to be have this kind of role. which you typically find in older players or not, like we're okay with that. We're just gonna get on with it and hopefully he's good enough to do what, you know, the staff is asking and ultimately it worked out that way. So. Scot Cooper (24:32.978) Yeah. Scot Cooper (24:37.31) What other highlights do you want to hit in your career before we move on to stuff after school? Norris, anything to stick out to you? Will Smith (24:43.4) Hmm. Chris Norris (24:46.955) Well, I think there's a couple of interesting things that. Chris Norris (24:53.391) I, we haven't necessarily, you know, Will and I have talked a lot over the years and I don't know that we've necessarily explored these two things that much. I know one of them we have sort of, but I think what is, was really helpful in addition to like Will's family dynamic, the fact that he played golf and knew what it was like to sort of be on his own and have to like, you know, as a, an individual sport participant. And I remember this from when I wrestled. It's like. There's nowhere to turn, you know, you don't you can't rely on other people you have to be on all the time or you're gonna lose basically, you know, and I think golf is such a taxing sport demanding sport mentally that probably really furthered wills ability to lead in a team sport. And look, not everybody is necessarily going to have that opportunity, but I do I do think that it. In an age now where people specialize so much earlier, it does sort of beg the question, like how much other experience is too much and how little is too little? I think kids should try other things, they should experience other sports and other dynamics, especially that kind of contrast where you're going from an individual sport to a team sport. I think that was really helpful and useful for Will. Will Smith (26:18.51) Can I Chris, can I jump on that? Cause it's interesting that I've actually, I've never really thought about it from a mental perspective, but 100% it made me more resilient. I found playing in team sport environments so much easier. Like, like you said, golf is a really, really tough game mentally. And it's probably the reason I didn't succeed to the extent that I hoped in golf was that it was, I found it so difficult to be on my battling through the adversity that happens in just 18 holes. And on the flip side then when I would go into the team environment, it was like, man, I've got these other 10 guys around me who are there to support me and I'm there to support them and it just, it felt like I was, you know, I wasn't carrying the entire load. And so that I agree that probably made me more resilient as well in team, in like tough team sport environments. I still felt like I could get through that because I had that mental experience in other sports. The other thing I would say, what I've always thought about, this is like really simple, um, physical attributes that come from playing other sports, but. When I wanted to hit a cut on the golf course, like a left to right shot as a right-handed player, I had to swing in a certain way to make the ball spin in turn left to right. And when I would get on the field, like this was happening when I was in middle school, maybe, and I was learning that in golf and I wanted to start hitting like a back spinning long ball and in soccer, it was the exact same thing in my mind. And so it became really simple. If I wanted to, um, if I was taking a free kick and I was trying to bend it over the wall, it was a similar process in my mind to trying to hit like a hook around a tree. And so that's the stuff that I've actually thought about a lot is like playing those different sports, um, gave me tools in my mind about like, and like, I could see what I was trying to achieve. Whereas if I was just learning that on the soccer field, it might've been, you know, more difficult. Um, but I've never thought of it. So from a physical perspective, I've thought about that a lot. And I think it's really important that kids here, I agree with you, Chris, like that they're pursuing multiple sports and, um, they're able to, to kind of cross train and learn. Will Smith (28:31.494) from one sport over to the other. And then certainly, yeah, that dynamic of team versus individual sport is a really interesting one that I think gave me more resilience. Chris Norris (28:41.687) Yeah, I mean the other thing that I was going to mention was... So Will's sophomore year, we had a great season as freshman year. Sophomore year, I think we were like, we ended up maybe a game over 500, something like that. But we played a really tough schedule and we had graduated those really influential seniors, 10 of them. We brought in a good freshman class, but they were young and it was a young group overall. So that year, probably the staff's expectations were a little bit lower. We feel like we did pretty well. We certainly hoped to build on that year, and Will's junior year was not good. There were a lot of things happening. Will, we did one of these with Josh West a while back, and he admitted to being not entirely focused at that point in his career, and I don't think he was alone in that group. But in any event, I think Will's a guy who has so much self belief that he, you know, much like me, felt like he would always be able to find the button to push. And neither he nor the staff or me specifically were able to, you know, we pushed a lot of buttons that year and we never found the right one, you know, and so that was a really disappointing year. But that may be, you know, one of Will's. biggest growth periods I'm guessing is, you know, trying to figure out how to lead when seemingly nothing you do is working. Will Smith (30:23.658) Yeah, I agree with that 100%. I also think like one of the takeaways I had from that season now I'm thinking about it was momentum was so critical, especially in this shortened college soccer season that we have. So you're playing every three or four days. And if you have like two moments in a row in two games where something negative happens, and you end up maybe getting to draw on a loss, like three days later, you're on the field again. And that's with you mentally. And so one of the things that I personally tried to bring in senior year, I'd also had the experience of, I, I went to Liberia the summer before my senior year for the entire, um, the entire summer. And we can talk about like that started my, my professional journey. Um, but I think I'd gotten a lot of perspective as well from that trip. And, and, um, up until then, I think like the college soccer season had been like so paramount in my, my mind, and it was like the end all be all. and coming into that senior season with one, that perspective of, okay, momentum is critical. And if we have a bad moment, we need to address it right off the bat because there's only three days until the next game. Um, and I'm not talking like immediately after the game, you got to let those emotions simmer, but the next day having a conversation with the group and sometimes having to do that as a player and not having the coaches around is really important. Um, but then also having the perspective that I'd had from going on. doing that three month bit of work that I'd done in Liberia, I think, like also shifted my mindset to this is an absolute privilege that we have to be in this position and let's do everything we can to soak it up and enjoy it and achieve. So going into that senior year, I think I had like a bit of a shifted mindset personally as well, which probably helped in my leadership style and brought out like positivity and encouragement and empowerment for the guys around me. Scot Cooper (32:20.23) Yeah, let's pick on Josh West a minute. I mean, he told the story. So no, but in all seriousness, like he mentioned you and Roshan, you kind of like took him under your guy's wings and brought him along. And what was your thought process there as a leader? You knew that he had some talent probably and that you needed him in a way. And- Will Smith (32:24.039) I'm sorry. Scot Cooper (32:49.95) So how were you, like an immature way, obviously you weren't immature at that point, but would be like, come on dude, I don't think you handled it in the, you didn't deride him or anything like that, you just kinda, you nurtured him in a way. So what gave you the wherewithal to do that? Did you learn it from other guys in your path? Will Smith (32:57.271) Yeah. Will Smith (33:08.982) Yeah. Will Smith (33:16.462) I think, yeah, I love that guy. I haven't talked to Josh in so long and I need to. We knew that whole class, the class below us, was super talented. Chris has already mentioned that. So much talent around us. And eventually, I think that talent shone through, especially that my senior year. And in some cases it was right off the bat. Michael Tiemann became my center back partner right when he came in and we had this awesome partnership for three years. Um, I think one of the things that I learned over the course of probably that junior year in particular was that. There's no one form of leadership works for every single person that you need to personalize the experience in some way, you got to understand who you're talking to and what their background is and what they care about and what they're struggling with or. um, why they're having success, whatever situation it might be in. So again, I think Roshan was really good at that. Uh, he really understands people quickly. And, um, I was learning on the fly and, uh, and then you have the, like, weirdly when you're in college age matters, right? Because maybe it's just that hierarchy of freshmen, sophomore, junior, senior, but having a conversation with a Josh West versus having a conversation with a Chris Perez, who was the year above me and then became my year. was different because Chris was older than me. And so I had to navigate that conversation differently than the one with Josh. And I think, I don't know if I would characterize it as taking Josh under our wing, but we knew that he was hugely important for us as a player. Like he could be our best player. I really believed that at the time. And in many ways at times he showcased that. But probably just needed some encouragement and he wasn't somebody who needed to be kind of kicked up the butt. There are some people like I think I responded well to if Chris, Norris never really yelled, but if he yelled at me in a way, it fired me up and I would respond well to that. And other people might cave in. And I think Chris also is really good at figuring out who responds to what. Josh was not somebody who needed to be yelled at. If he got yelled at, he would cave in. And Will Smith (35:33.194) And maybe, you know, the voices in his head would start going and then it wasn't going to be, um, the result that you ultimately are looking to achieve, which is getting the best out of the person. So I think we just had a couple of conversations with him about, you know, what, what he was struggling with, what he could, where he could improve. And, um, and also like built up confidence, you know, people need to hear what their qualities are as well. Um, and I think these, again, like I think about this all the time because This we're talking right now in the context of a college soccer teammate, but this is the exact same thinking and process that you go through when you're talking about an employee or a colleague. Or a partner in life or a family member, you know you got to understand that person understand where they're coming from what their strengths are what their weaknesses are. How you can build up their strengths put them in positions to leverage those how you can address weaknesses by providing support around those and I think like that. my time in college and being a leader on the soccer team helped me build those skills in a way that was really important for me and hopefully for most of the guys that interacted with it, it supported them as well. Scot Cooper (36:41.798) I mean, do you look back in your profession now and say, you know, that was a lesson I learned playing sports? Yeah. Will Smith (36:49.086) 100%. I actually often say that like 50% of what I feel I know today came from sports. And part of that when I say I know is like how to learn as well and how to keep to maintain that mindset of curiosity and always trying to get better. I think that comes from having been an athlete. Scot Cooper (37:09.022) Well, so your athletic career in college started to wind down a little bit. Unless you guys want to talk about more Glory Day stuff. I don't know. Will Smith (37:22.292) We got to mention the, uh, being the number one team in the country twice in eight days. That was a highlight. Senior year we, we went, uh, what was it? It was Creighton and then. Chris Norris (37:30.179) Yeah. Chris Norris (37:34.571) Yeah, we played Creighton at the old Dominion tournament and the week leading into that game, they had beaten someone and or somebody had lost. And so they moved into the number one spot and, uh, you can, you, you can talk about the soccer I was on the sideline. So Will Smith (37:52.996) What was it? We won three, two in overtime, wasn't it? Chris Norris (37:55.935) Yeah, came from behind to equalize and then, you know, got this is that was another like that year was very different. The team and the dynamic was very different from your freshman year. And one of the things about that team was that they're like we didn't play that many players. You know, it was it was a pretty. Set I mean probably the most consistent thing between those two teams is that we were really healthy We didn't incur a lot of injuries and fortunately, you know for a school like us That's got to be part of the equation if we're going to have a good season in most cases, um But I remember the cretin game because at the end of it, you know We had guys pop up and I think albaston scored the goal to tie it to send it to overtime And then the game winner, which was a great goal was ben coffee coming off the bench, you know it Early in the season that old Dominion tournament was hot and the games were demanding and we had to go, you know, I think a little bit deeper into the bench than we might have been a lot of other games that year. And, you know, Ben Coffey gets an opportunity and plays a great ball across and Jeff Bombell, who's a sophomore at that time and probably also, you know, a guy who's trying to break into the team scores the game winner and not a guy who scored many goals in his career. That's my favorite memory of that particular game was not just beat number one, but having a couple guys have some kind of career moments for those guys. Will Smith (39:29.654) Yeah, and I would also say Chris, like, so going back to the point of momentum, so you win that game and then we went to number 24 Elon and, and won away three days later or four days later. And then three days later, we were back in North Carolina to play UNC at UNC. And they were then the new number one. And I just remember getting there and like the whole group had this sense of belief, like we were on this ride of momentum and We felt like we could achieve it and we probably like, you know, looking back on it, we probably had no business winning that game. I don't know. We had like three or four shots and they had a whole lot. If I remember, I just remember being probably more exhausted than any ever game I've ever played. Cause we were chasing the ball so much. But we, yeah, we squeaked out a one, nothing win. And, um, and I think again, that just comes down to like, what's the mindset of the group? Scot Cooper (40:15.43) You were busy. Will Smith (40:26.286) going into that moment and and how do you then ride a momentum wave like that and if it's going the other way, how do you halt it? Those were things that we were always thinking about. But yeah, that was I mean, that was probably that's one of my best memories looking back on William & Mary soccer when we won away at UNC. Scot Cooper (40:46.915) and beating Wake early in history. Will Smith (40:49.952) That was a great moment as well. Yeah. Scot Cooper (40:54.214) Well cool, you guys want to move on to after you graduate? So you mentioned your trip to Liberia. What was that all about? And that obviously, you know, can move us into the next chapter, so to speak. Will Smith (41:11.95) Yeah, I think I was really lucky in my experience at William & Mary in that the soccer was crucial, huge part of my experience. The academics were also a huge part of my experience and set me on on the pathway. So I was a political science major and I thought I wanted to go work on Capitol Hill after school. Went and did an internship on Capitol Hill the summer before my junior year and realized I didn't want to go work on Capitol Hill after that. came back to William & Mary and wasn't really sure what I was going to do. And I saw this course called Politics in Africa, and it was taught by a professor named Phil Ressler. And I just went for it. I didn't really have any ideas. I was just like, let's give this a go. Let's try something new. And I walked into that class, probably with all of the archaic stereotypical perspectives that typically exist for a young white American guy who grew up in Connecticut and doesn't know anything about the African continent. And immediately they were just upended and he started telling stories and, um, in, in the very first class and his perspective and his experiences that were completely reshaping what my perspective was of this continent. And I was immediately hooked. And, um, it was one of those experiences where, you know, folks who have been to university, like you're not necessarily always doing all of the reading, all of the viewing, everything that's required for every course. And in this case, I couldn't get enough of it. And I was reading everything. I was really getting stuck in and halfway through, we did a week on the history between the U S and Liberia, which is a very deep and complex history, very intertwined, and I couldn't believe that I knew nothing about this country. And so I went to a professor wrestler's office hours, and I would also bring this back to like being curious and applying that off the soccer field. And I said to him like, How do I know nothing about this country's history is so intertwined with ours? I want to learn more. And he kind of randomly said, why don't you start by mapping out all the foreign investment projects in Liberia? And so I did that and it led ultimately to this research project where the next summer I went to Liberia, um, through scholar through multiple scholarships from the government department, the Charles center. I mean, it was really an incredible experience for an undergrad to get this sort of these research dollars to go and do this work. Will Smith (43:34.086) And I went to Liberia for three months to do this research for an honors thesis. And I also had applied to do an internship in the U S embassy. Um, the idea of being, I could do my research on the ground. It was very specific, but it was a randomized controlled trial that, um, assess the impact of handheld solar lights on Liberian fishermen. We don't have to get into the details, but that's what the research was. And I was going to be, I knew I was going to be with all these fishermen on the ground, uh, half the day. And I thought, well, if I can get into the embassy and see the flip side and, and get into meetings with ministers of commerce and ministers of, um, you know, foreign affairs, whatever it might be, then I would get both perspectives of this sort of like new interest area that I had. And so that's what I went to do. I, I went to do the internship, went to do the research and obviously I was getting ready for my final season. And, uh, I don't know that Chris was like thrilled that his One of his returning starters was like going to Liberia for three months and with no clear plan for how he was going to train or where he was going to play and all that, but I just kind of, I just went and said, I'm going to figure it out. And so I got there and I was there for 12 weeks and the research and the internship were fantastic. And, um, you know, I could talk about that for days, but I also was trying to stay fit, obviously. And through this kind of crazy turn of events, well, I'll give you a bit of the story. So through my research, I was working really closely with a guy named Shaq Sharif and his brother was like a semi-pro player in Liberia. And so I told him, I'm a college player. I need to try and stay fit. Do you know anywhere I can play? And he said, let me tell my brother. He connected us. His brother started picking me up every Saturday morning at 7am and bringing me to these games that were other semi-pro first division players in Liberia who were just getting together. having a kickabout and with a bunch of the community around. And so first of all, everyone was really confused. Like who is this 21 year old kid who's showing up from the United States? And I had to kind of just like put my head down and start playing and was going to those every Saturday morning. That was the only game time that I was getting and time with the ball. And in the third one, there was a guy on the pitch who was playing center mid, I was playing center back. And we just had this connection right off the bat. Will Smith (46:00.214) Um, in Liberia, especially at the time, there was so much individual talent, like incredible, um, the things that people would do with the ball were just like, it was shocking to me, but there was so little coordination and organization. And as somebody, as we've talked about who liked to organize everybody on the pitch, I found it really frustrating when my center back partner was spending half the match playing striker. And so this guy who was playing center mid really had a clear understanding of the game and. And we didn't speak the whole game, but right at the end, he came to me and said, let me get your number. I'll call you if I have more opportunities to play. I was looking to play more. So I gave him my phone number. Um, and five days later, he calls me and says, do you want to play with George way as team against the Liberian national team right now? And if you don't know George way, he's the only African ever named the FIFA world player of the year, and he's currently Liberia's president. Um, uh, and so I went and obviously I'd grown up. knew who George Weah was, was very excited to go play with them, play against the national team. And it was their tune up for their World Cup qualifier against Senegal. Liberia is a country with about 5 million people. And it's a place where when you get access to one person who has access elsewhere, you can very quickly meet folks who are in like upper echelons of society. So I just kind of very quickly was with all of these guys, including George Weah, and went and played in the match and he came to me afterwards. I could run with them. You know, I was fit. And so he said, if you ever, like, we, we basically need more guys. You can keep coming back every week and training with my group. So all of a sudden I was playing with like George where Christopher Ray played for arsenal, James Devo played for Monaco, all these amazing footballers who were retired, but we're trying to keep playing. And, um, at the time George way was the peace ambassador in the country. And that was his official title. Liberia had a 14 year civil conflict that went from. 1989, 2003. And this was 2013. So it's 10 years on from the end of the civil conflict. And in his capacity as peace ambassador, he decided let's celebrate our 10 years of peace by holding a match called the Liberian peace and reconciliation match. Um, so he invited all of the greatest African players of all time, obviously had connectivity and all of them to come to Liberia and play in this match and celebrate their peace. Will Smith (48:22.73) So Samuel Eto, JJ O'Coach, Roger Mila, Patrick Mboma, I mean, like the legends of the game. He invited Drogba, but he didn't come, unfortunately. And so this is all happening. I mean, I'm talking about like week six of my time in Liberia, all this happening very quickly. And yeah, he invited me to play, which I think was an act of diplomacy, I always say, more than anything to have like the young white American on the field. I didn't belong out there with those guys from a talent perspective. But, uh, I got to play in this match in front of 35,000 people in the national stadium, president of the country. They're, um, all these guys I'd grown up worshiping played for the biggest clubs in the world, and that experience showed me the transformative potential of soccer in the country, the passion and energy young people have for it. And it started my whole journey. I, I subsequently discovered a bunch around. gender inequity and the underperforming education system. And while I was there and I returned to William and Mary with all these takeaways around the massive potential of soccer as an institution in the country, the underperforming education system, gender inequity. And I had ideas about what you could do with that. But I was a kid who'd been studying this stuff for less than a year. And I was really focused on my senior season as well. I was still thinking maybe I could try to play pro. So I was kind of navigating my different opportunities and pursuits. And again, with that kind of curiosity in mind, my professor, Phil Ressler suggested I read as much as I could about Liberia and, uh, read a book by a South African scholar named Johnny Steinberg, which is called little Liberia the book and decided I wanted to study under Johnny to better understand the experience that I'd had in Liberia. And so when I was completing, we were going through our freshman, my senior season. I was applying, Johnny was at the African Studies Center at Oxford University and I was applying to do a master's in African Studies there to better my understanding of Liberia's history and politics and then potentially go and do something with these takeaways that I'd had. And that was really the start of a journey where I finished at William & Mary, immediately went to do a master's in African Studies under Johnny. When I got there, it was the height of Ebola. Liberia was one of the countries most heavily impacted. And Will Smith (50:42.174) this kind of whole sequence of events happened, you know, all everything that I've just described that you couldn't have predicted. And it led to me sitting across the table from Johnny and saying, well, I've got this whole network of Liberian soccer players because of this crazy set of experiences that happened in the aftermath of Ebola, there'll be an opportunity to contribute to the rebuilding process. What could we do? And that was when we said, well, what about. a leadership academy that uses soccer as an incentive for kids to improve in the classroom and break down gender barriers and empower the future leaders of the country who can help solve challenges like Ebola in the future. That was really like kind of the step-by-step sequence of events that happened. And that led to me a year later, October 2015, moving to Liberia and living there for the next five years as my home base and building this academy. Scot Cooper (51:31.71) All right, incredible story, obviously. I mean, it's completely unique and just incredible. And so there's a lot to ask about that whole sequence of events. Scot Cooper (51:51.59) I don't even know where to start. Talk about, get into the Academy that you guys, that you started and if I miss, if there's something more you wanna talk about from that whole experience, please do. But I mean, I just, there's, it's incredible. So talk about how you came to start that, how you brought everyone together, you're organizing, so. Will Smith (52:04.799) Yeah. Will Smith (52:17.546) Yeah. I'll tell you about, I'll give kind of the details of the, the Academy's trajectory and then the trajectory of the organization. And I think maybe I can also think about, um, what, just to make sure that this applies to the previous conversation that we had, like what were the things that maybe I learned as a, as an athlete, as a college soccer player that I tapped into that led to kind of this journey that I went on. Um, so We started with 27 students, 16 boys, 11 girls in one classroom on one soccer field in central Monrovia. We had less than a hundred thousand dollars. We had like no money to do this, but I moved to Liberia and we got started. And the way it started was, um, the kids would be with us from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. Um, they would have, uh, their football training in the morning because the academic class wasn't available. We were renting class space and renting. soccer field, we didn't have our own physical space in the beginning. So they would have soccer training in the morning, um, and then have lunch and a life skills lesson, and then they'd come over to the academic area and we'd have, uh, classes in the afternoon. It was a registered school right from the beginning run entirely by Liberians aside from me. And that was something that was really important to me was that it would be locally led because I would never understand the context in the way that Liberians would, and it was really important that, um, the kids were hearing. from people and learning from people who look and sound like them. And we started really small and not a lot of people gave us a chance to keep going. Nothing like this had ever existed in Liberia, the combination of high quality education and elite soccer training. There are elite schools, there were kind of startup soccer clubs, but there was never that combination of a true full-scale academy. And at the end of the first year, President Sirleaf came to visit and she's an iconic woman. She was the first democratically elected female president in African history. And when she came to visit, it sparked this wave of momentum. I think we had over 300 children apply the next year. We grew from 27 to 47 students. And then William and Mary Ties, Jill Ellis, Al Albert introduced me to Jill right around that time. And Jill was like, dude, I wanna come. Will Smith (54:41.098) Let's do this. So she came to Liberia along with Ashlyn Harris, the former goalkeeper of the U S women's national team in December, 2016, at the start of our second year. And the momentum really grew from there. And, uh, to fast forward, uh, we became residential in September, 2018, rented facilities, and then we eventually bought 10 acres of land and have built the first phase of our campus and the kids moved in there in January, 2021, and, uh, over the course of. You know, the nearly nine years that the organization's been running, we've had more than 20,000 children apply from all over the country. Um, there are currently 161 full-time student athletes. There's a 50 gender equity target, um, in a country that historically referred to as the sport, as a lot of people refer to it as manball. So it's gendered by name. So it was a really big challenge to get girls into the program. And, um, And give them the same opportunities that boys had, but that's something that we've been really lucky to, to pursue and succeed in. And yeah, today the kids live on campus. They have three meals a day. They have full-time academic classes. They have life skills lessons. They have football training every day. Um, and the whole concept is that, and we started by the way, we started with the fourth grade. Today we have grades four through 12. So the kids who started that first year actually graduating this year, which is a crazy concept for me. Um, But the whole concept is that we're not trying to produce professional soccer players. We're trying to produce really great people who will go on to lead in society as doctors, as engineers, as business women, as politicians, whatever it is that they want to pursue. And soccer has really been the hook that has encouraged so many people to apply. And then when they come in, we're giving them this really high quality education so that they can identify things that they're passionate about. And at the same time, obviously we have some kids who are really talented soccer players. So one of the girls actually, uh, blessing Kia, she just became the first one to get a full scholarship to a university show that she's going to Connecticut college in the fall, um, to play soccer and run track, which is pretty cool. So that's the Liberia story. And the other piece of it, which I'll tell really quickly is Will Smith (56:57.834) A few years into it, a couple of philanthropists came to me. We had a quantitative impact evaluation in place with professors from William and Mary and Oxford. So Phil Restler, who I mentioned, became the person who was actually overseeing the evaluation of the program and making sure that we were doing everything that we were trying to do to eventually produce a generation of ethical, empathetic, and entrepreneurial leaders. And the results were strong right from the beginning of the evaluation. So a couple of philanthropists came to me and said, can we take what you're doing in Liberia and do it elsewhere? And so we created a U S based organization, which is called lead edu, um, which would support the organization in Liberia lead Monrovia football Academy, but also seek to replicate the model in other places. And so in 2019, um, at the same time that I was running the one in Liberia lead MFA, I started making several trips to Morocco where one of our key supporters was from and who said he wanted to back it. And, um, our thought process was very different context. Uh, in every way. And if the model could work there, then it could potentially work anywhere. Like the same model that works in Liberia. If it could go to Morocco, then we could bring it anywhere. And we started building and we identified these two really bright young social entrepreneurs, Moroccan social entrepreneurs, who could take it on. And so we created in 2019, Lead Morocco, which is a very similar organization to the one in Liberia. And across the two, there's a total of 282 full-time student athletes now. So that's their three organizations. Um, today I don't have a day-to-day role at any of them. I, I handed off the one in Liberia in 2021 to a really bright young Liberian woman, Sonatraya Isisa. And it's run entirely by Liberians. The one in Morocco is run entirely by Moroccans. And then, uh, we've got our U S based organization. Um, and I just, I sit on the board of all three and still I'm very involved, but don't have that day-to-day role. Um, so that's kind of the quick version of the story of those three orgs. And I think if I just quickly tie it to things that I learned as an athlete and things that I learned in, in university at William and Mary, I always bring it up, but that curiosity was so pivotal. Um, like even the story that I told of getting to play in the game with George Wea and then coming back to William and Mary, I could have just gotten back and said, okay, that was an amazing experience. Will Smith (59:20.81) I'm going to come back to my life here and carry on, but I, that curiosity remained and I just wanted to learn more. And it led to me reading that book by the professor or how I would eventually go study under and, and that those types of moments keep happening along the journey. So I think being really curious, I think I've talked a lot about leading by empowering, um, and I learned that as an athlete and that's something that I've really tried to practice as a professional in my career. So. the stories of Sona taking over lead MFA and Fatima Zara and Sufyan leading in lead Morocco and the team here in the US taking the lead. Like those are all conscious decisions that I made in organizations that I helped start to pass on because I felt like the people around me could carry it on and do a better job and why not empower them to do that? So there's a lot of different lessons. I think that directly apply to what you learn as a player. And you don't really know, like, you know, I was 18, 19, 20, 21. I was just a kid trying to compete and be as good as be the best version of myself as I could be on the field. But I was learning all of these lessons that kind of by osmosis that then would really apply in the future. Um, so it's maybe just something to reflect on for, for college soccer players or college athletes who are hearing this too, is like. What are the lessons that you're learning as you go here? How can you apply them in other parts of your life? Scot Cooper (01:00:53.862) Yeah, go back to, you know, you had the idea for the academy and, you know, obviously you had to do a ton of legwork and, you know, I'm sure everyone was like, this is a great idea, but, you know, who did you tap into? Who were some of the key players? And then what, like, where did you get to the point where you're like, okay, this is going to happen and I'm not taking no for an answer kind of moment. Will Smith (01:01:12.727) Yeah. Will Smith (01:01:21.678) Hmm. So go back to October of 2014. This is right when I, my master's in nine months. It was very quick. So I was just, I just arrived in Oxford and I had the kind of initial concept of Ebola was raging. I was hearing all the stories from the guys with whom I'd done my research and, and played soccer with the previous summer in Liberia. I built these, these networks and people would say, especially at the time, people were like, why don't you do something like this in Hartford, like close to where you're from in Connecticut? And the reality was that I had these like actual friendships and relationships in Liberia that I didn't have anywhere else. And so I was kind of witnessing that. And there was one particular moment that involved a particular community in Monrovia where it felt like there was a really, really poor leadership decision that was made that led to uh, an impromptu protest and led to a 15 year old boy being shot and killed by, um, by the military. And it just like kind of set me off into it. And I'd done my research in that community. So I really understood that specific community to the extent that you could in a few months, but certainly wouldn't have made the decision to. Kind of box them in with the military there in quarantine fashion. So I think like witnessing all of that got my brain turning around. Okay. What, what? What could we potentially do based on the relationships that we'd build? And when I say we, I think also about the guy who I eventually co-founded lead MFA with, who was the guy had played in that pickup game, who introduced me to George, where he turned out to be a former national team player in Liberia and, um, and that's where the concept came of let's use soccer as an incentive mechanism, let's use it as a hook and, um, let's use that to then help improve academic performance and break down gender barriers and, and empower future leaders. And so like, It was still an outlandish concept, I think, to people in my close community. But what I did was I started socializing it immediately. I was talking to, I probably talked to 150 different people over the course of three, four months. I think everybody I could speak to at university or within the master's course, friends, family members, advisors, you know, my professors. Will Smith (01:03:43.446) Um, I was asking them what they thought making tweaks and, and adjustments. And I think also one of the, like, one of the pieces of that, that I didn't really mean, but then became a reality was once you've talked to so many people about it, you feel like, okay, I've got to, I've got to live up to what I'm, what I'm talking about here. So like, I've got to, I've got to act. And so I felt a bit of a sense of responsibility to push it forward. And, uh, when it really became real, was when we got our first bit of funding. So I think it was in February or March, 2015, I was introduced to the chair of Saracens, the rugby club in London. And they had a foundation that supported rugby and soccer-based initiatives around the world. And he introduced me to their head of their foundation and said, if you can convince him, we'll back you. And I made three bus trips from Oxford to London to meet with the head of the foundation. And, uh, the last one at Allianz park, their stadium, they committed to get $45,000. And at that time as a, I was 20, I just turned 23. That was a lot of money. So I walked out of the, out of the office and I got, I fist pumped. I was so excited. And then I had this sobering moment where I was like, Oh my gosh, I cannot screw this up now. You know? Um, and I think that was kind of the like point of no return and. You're giving people your word and you really want to maintain that. And, uh, and then that only grows, you know, you start, you get, like we went in, I gave a talk at my high school. I came to William Mary gave a talk. I went to DC, did an event, went to New York, did an event with friends. And we scraped together the a hundred thousand dollars when I moved to Liberia. Um, right after which I moved to Liberia and, and then you have kids in your stead. You know, we had 27 students who were relying and believing in us in our ability to build an institution. And at that point, it's not just them, it's their families. It's, it's much bigger than the initial concept that you have. So you really feel like you can't, you can't let them down and you're going to do everything possible to make it work. And, um, so it's kind of like the early. Will Smith (01:06:01.938) stage. And I think a lot of it, again, like I would bring back, overcoming adversity, being resilient, recognizing that challenges will come to you and how do you manage them and getting back to balance in your own mind mentally, things that I learned through sport were really relevant, especially in that first year. Scot Cooper (01:06:22.942) because I'm sure you didn't just say, I'm gonna start a school, and then all of a sudden there's a school. There's a lot more nos than yeses probably for a while. And I was thinking, how did you get kids to apply? How did you get parents to trust you guys? What was that process? Yeah. Will Smith (01:06:29.663) Absolutely. Will Smith (01:06:42.698) Yeah, absolutely critical that I started this with Liberians, right? Like I would have had no idea how to start. So, um, again, different pieces of the puzzle kind of came together in a way that you couldn't have predicted, but there was a guy named Jenkins von Gain, who was the political specialist at U S embassy, Monrovia. And, uh, he had kind of like taken me under his wing when I was an intern, you know, a year and a half, two years before. So of course, when I started thinking about this, I reached out to Jenkins and said, what do you think? And. So as we were building, he then was the perfect person to say, Jenkins, here's what we're thinking. Can you introduce me to this person? Can you introduce me to that person? And he just had this Rolodex of everybody in the country. Um, so there were two artificial turf pitches in Monrovia at the time. And one of them was owned, uh, by Rob Sirleaf, the son of the president. And I had no idea how I could approach Rob to have a conversation about, could we, you know, put our new academy. on his pitch on a daily basis. But Jenkins introduced me to him and went to the meeting with me. And, you know, that started a relationship where Rob, we use their pitch for the first three years of the Academy. So I think it was just like having and then in terms of us about recruitment, a common form of marketing and advertising in Liberia, at least at the time, was to go around in a car with a massive speaker on top of the car and a like a microphone and make announcements. And so we did that. I was in the car making announcements, we're driving through the streets and we leveraged like the guys, the Liberians with whom I was starting this, they got their friends involved and people wanted to see this happen. So we were passing out flyers and Monrovia is not, the central Monrovia is not all that big. You can probably walk it in 25 minutes in any direction. So we literally went down every street, handing out flyers and... There were about 250 kids who applied in the first year, which shows you that there was a real need for this, right? That people wanted it. And then, you know, you start building momentum. The president comes to visit, there's press around it, and that's how it just kind of slowly grew. Scot Cooper (01:08:59.662) And were you able to rely back on some of those friendships you made from the match you played in? Will Smith (01:09:01.645) Thank you. Will Smith (01:09:06.258) Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, so again, my co founder of the organization was the guy who had introduced me to George way and helped along the way we spoke to George way. So at the time he became senator, I think it was in 20. It was in 2015. Yeah. And then he was elected president 2017. So prior to him becoming senator, we had a conversation with him and he was very kind. So do you have my backing? And then when he became president, you know, we had At one point, 14 of our girls came to the U S and played at the USA cup. Minnesota United paid for it. It was this very random thing. And they went and they actually won the tournament, which we never went a million years would have thought would happen because they'd never played girls their age. And so when they returned, he publicly congratulated them. There was kind of a little parade for them. And it normalized the participation of girls in soccer and the sport and the country and the library football association credit, you 17 women's national team for the first time. So there were a lot of different, really interesting things that led to real systemic change. And that was because in part, we had the support of some of those folks from right at the beginning. Um, so absolutely. I think it was also like mapping. Once it got, once we were clear on what we wanted to do and what we wanted to achieve and what types of programs we would have in order to execute against that, we had to map out, okay, where, what types of partners do we need and where do we have access and how can we get there? And, um, yeah, I, it, a lot of it was persistence and kind of hustle. which I think is the case in any entrepreneurial endeavor. And then certainly some luck along the way as well. Scot Cooper (01:10:38.738) So you created a second Academy in Morocco and, you know, what have been some of the challenges? It's a little bit different culture than in Liberia. You know, in that gender equity is kind of where I'm thinking, you know, what were the challenges there to make that happen, to keep that part of the vision? Will Smith (01:10:47.926) Very different, yeah. Will Smith (01:10:58.91) Yeah, Morocco is such a, it's such an interesting place. It's I, Morocco is, I would recommend to everybody go to both Liberia and Morocco. Morocco is a beautiful country, incredible people, amazing food. Um, and it's a really a country on the rise and it's not just what you see. I'm not just saying that because they went to the semi-final of the world cup in 2022, they really, it's, um, it's a country that is just full of potential. And is already starting to see out that potential. I mean, you go to Rabat, you feel like you're in a truly global major city. It's amazing. So very different from Liberia in a lot of ways. Yeah. And I mean, from an income perspective, religious perspective, so Liberia is about 85% Christian, 15% Muslim. Morocco is a majority Muslim country. And so there are different pieces that were Very different, but I think what we were really good at was empowering people locally who understood those contextual differences and could apply components of the model that made sense for that context and then make adjustments where needed. And so I would also bring this back to like understanding people and where people's strengths are and weaknesses are and speaking to those strengths. I think that's been something that's been really important for me personally when identifying folks with whom I wanna work. And so Sufyan and Fatima Zahra who run have run lead Morocco since the beginning with the support of there's the president, Majid Suleymani and then Imadiz Amran was the original kind of backer of this. Um, they've just been really critical in taking the model and applying it to that completely different context and understanding where to press buttons and where not to. So an example of this would be, um, the stadium in which we operate in Morocco. We operate in rented facilities still. hopefully soon we'll be building a campus. To that point, Majid, who's president, would say that there had never been women sitting in the stands to watch training or watch a game. And because Fatima Zahra was so smart and so talented at understanding the different dynamics locally, she and Sufiyana eventually convinced the mothers of the kids who were at Lead Morocco to come in and see them train. And then they started coming every day. Will Smith (01:13:18.686) And so it just was like this kind of transformation of, um, of culture and opportunity for the kids, because then, especially for the girls who were on the pitch, that made them feel like it was, um, it was something that they were meant to do. And I think also, you know, Morocco has, has undergone serious change over a short period of time to the extent that now their women's national team also performed exceptionally in the 2023 world cup and, um, and that shifted. So, yeah, I think. challenges, very different types of challenges compared to in Liberia. Easier to, for example, raise money locally, there's more industry and, uh, bigger corporates there. Uh, but equally like different dynamics that we've had to adapt to. And, um, again, I think like, if for anybody thinking about doing work internationally, probably the most important lesson that I've had is. is the lesson that you have to work with people who come from those contexts, who understand them, because you can bring your ideas and, and models and things that have worked in other places. But at the end of the day, you're never going to understand the place in the way that the folks with whom you're partnering do. Scot Cooper (01:14:32.606) So now you've transitioned away, not away, but you're not running the day-to-day of those places. And so we'll tune out. Will Smith (01:14:39.233) Yeah. Will Smith (01:14:42.634) Yeah. So, uh, about two and a half years ago off the back of doing this work, basically the, the kind of backstory is through the work with lead, the three different organizations, there were different, there were different professional athletes who started to support our work and they started coming to me and saying, how'd you do what you did with lead? I want to do something like that in my community. And I'm not really sure how to start. And I was feeling a bit of a pull back home and a desire to do more, um, locally. And so. Uh, I just started organically thinking about how could potentially support these athletes and, um, and then the pandemic hits. So this is actually, those conversations started in September, 2019 pandemic hit. And then George Floyd was murdered. And when George Floyd was murdered, one of those athletes, Alina Beard is a former WNBA player. She called me and was like, I want to start now. Um, I have the backing of the Andre Agassi foundation. Can you help? And so I gathered a group of friends, including Sam Pressler. who's a former, another William Mary alum, and Shonda Cooper is another William Mary alum. And we got together and basically incubated her foundation for her called the 318 Foundation, and leveraged a lot of the lessons that we had from being in the field on the ground, doing our own nonprofit work and applied them to these folks with real platforms and voices. And really enjoyed that work and decided then to build a company off the back of that. So it's called Charter Oak Advisory. And it's a strategic advisory firm essentially designs, implements, and evaluates impact programs for companies, for families, for high profile individuals, for other nonprofits. And the idea is to drive as much social change as possible through folks with real platforms and voices. And then for businesses also help them realize that this type of work helps to improve their core business outcomes over time. So we've been working with groups like StubHub. Black players for change, which is every single black player in major league soccer. So still a lot of connectivity into the soccer world. Um, Gotham FC, the professional women's soccer team, just helping them leverage their core capabilities to drive change in their communities and also support their core outcomes. So that's what I'm doing today. Um, and again, still have tons of connectivity with the organizations in Liberia and Morocco and here. Uh, and I'd say, yeah, just kind of transitioning into a space where I can Will Smith (01:17:08.874) be home a little bit more. Got married last year, so spend more time with my wife and let's still try to create as much positive change in the world as possible. Scot Cooper (01:17:22.708) Will there be more academies to come? Is that part of the game plan? Will Smith (01:17:27.146) We are figuring that out right now. It's a question of funding. If we have the funding, it's coming. Where our parameters are essentially, we'll go somewhere if we have access to the financial resources to make it happen and the right relationships to make it happen. Cause everything I've just described, especially in Liberia, the whole story I've told you, it's so reliant on having access. But yeah, I'd say it's possible. Scot Cooper (01:17:54.91) It's kind of tough to duplicate the first one, huh? Yeah. Will Smith (01:17:57.254) Yeah, it is. It is. I mean, you don't have that specific set of experiences, right? So it's a little bit more starting from scratch, depending on the situation. But there's a there's definitely some opportunities. So we'll see. Scot Cooper (01:18:13.598) Cool. What did I miss? Scot Cooper (01:18:20.582) Nothing. Alright, Norris, you got anything else? Chris Norris (01:18:24.884) Now just Chris Norris (01:18:28.515) And we're very proud to claim Will. And we don't take any credit for it, but we're happy that he represents us extremely well. Scot Cooper (01:18:39.954) Yeah. I think it all goes back to him understanding what buttons to push with Josh West, really. I mean, it's probably where it all began. Chris Norris (01:18:51.855) Those were hard lessons learned. Will Smith (01:18:54.121) All comes back to Josh West. Scot Cooper (01:18:55.966) Yeah. Cool. Well, I really appreciate it. Thank you for so much time. It's a real pleasure to have you on here and hear that story. And I mean, it's inspiring and kids need to look up to what you've done for sure. Chris Norris (01:18:56.079) I'm going to go to bed. Will Smith (01:19:14.774) Thanks, Scott. Thanks for having me on, I appreciate it. Scot Cooper (01:19:16.486) Yep. Yeah. Hold on one sec.

90. Ryan Martin Head Coach of Loudoun United of the USL Hi, I’m Scot Cooper and welcome to the Tales From the Trail podcast by MatchPlay. In this episode Justin Chezem, head coach of Christopher Newport University men’s soccer and I welcome Ryan Martin, the head coach of USL side, Loudoun United. Ryan has worked with great soccer minds and that developed his coaching style. He discusses lessons he learned from his influences, how he evaluates players and the path from college to professional soccer. His perspective is valuable for anyone looking to advance to the next level. Thank you Coach Martin! https://www.loudoununitedfc.com/technical/ Summary Ryan discusses his background in soccer, including his playing career and transition into coaching. He shares his experiences at different coaching positions, including Wake Forest University and DC United. Ryan also talks about how he creates the roster for Loudoun United and the importance of the college landscape in developing professional players. He discusses the challenges and potential benefits of a year-round college soccer calendar. Lastly, Ryan reflects on playing for his father and the lessons he learned from him, including the importance of prioritizing the person over the player. The conversation covers the impact of coaching, attributes of youth players, lessons from mentors, evaluating college programs, and investing in oneself. Takeaways Coaching is about making a difference in a player's life and helping them grow as a person and player. Successful youth players have a strong work ethic, love for the game, and resilience in the face of adversity. Mentors play a crucial role in shaping a coach's approach and style, emphasizing attention to detail and player development. When evaluating college programs, players should consider the team's style of play, the coach's approach to player development, and how they fit into the program's culture. Investing in oneself as a player and person is essential for long-term success, regardless of the chosen path. Chapters 00:00 Introduction and Background 07:28 Different Coaching Experiences 14:57 Creating the Loudoun United Roster 20:59 The College Calendar and its Impact on Professional Soccer 30:17 Playing for Ryan's Father 34:52 Lessons Learned from Ryan's Father 42:08 The Impact of Coaching 45:00 Attributes of Youth Players 48:25 Lessons from Mentors 53:17 Evaluating College Programs 54:30 Investing in Yourself Ryan (00:02.122) Perfect. Yeah, well, Scott, Justin, appreciate you guys having me on and yeah, look forward to spending some time with you. You know, I guess, you know, my background just to, I've kind of had a lot of different hats I've worn over the last couple of years in particular, but I grew up in Columbus, Ohio and basically ended up playing for my father at Ohio Westin University in Columbus, Ohio or just north of Columbus, Ohio and you know, who's now the all time witness soccer. coach in the history of college soccer, which is pretty impressive, obviously. I don't think I'll ever catch him for sure or many people. But so I spent four years playing for him and then I had a good experience. I went to Salt Lake City, played there kind of in the Reserve League for a year, went to Iceland, played there for a little bit, in Germany for a little bit. Really trying to more extend my career as long as I could until Justin Chezem (00:37.476) chance. Ryan (00:56.33) jumping into what I really wanted to do, which was coaching. And I think that was something I always wanted to do, obviously growing up with my dad and growing up on a soccer field. I knew from an early age, in particular that's what I wanted to do. So even when I was in Salt Lake or overseas, I was always writing down the sessions and the way people. dealt with players, especially when I spent the year in Salt Lake. It was interesting because you had Eddie Popes and Jeff Cunningham and Jason Crisis and some big personalities. And it was interesting to see how the staff dealt with that. After that, I jumped into I went to Wake Forest University in 2007, and I started as the volunteer assistant coach there, which I've. that they've done away with since then. I think you can now pay volunteers at the division one level and they're like a third assistant now. But at that point you signed for $0 and you make money on camp and you do youth sessions in the evening. And you know, you try to get your way in there, which, which you know, I did. So I spent 2007 to 2015 at Wake Forest University. And my first year we won the national championship. So I thought Justin Chezem (01:51.569) Mm-hmm. Ryan (02:13.942) I was like, wow, coaching is easy. You know, you go in for a year and you win the championship. This must happen every year. And, you know, it was very fortunate to work for Jay Binovich there, who's now at University of Pittsburgh. And, you know, I think we went to three final fours and we had 15 or 20 guys drafted in the MLS. And, you know, I recruited, you know, probably the most famous kid to come out of college, Jack Harrison, you know, from high school to Wake. And then. Um, you know, I left before he got to wake. I went, when, when Jay Vitovich went to Portland, um, he wanted to take a jump, um, to see what the next level was like. And he went to Portland and took that leap of faith and, and tried to get into the MLS. And, you know, for one reason or another, it didn't work out. And he went back to college. You know, I want a different direction and went to the Columbus crew with, uh, a really tremendous staff at the time. Um, And when I was there, I knew the staff was good. I didn't understand how maybe good it would be. It was Nico Esivez, who's now the head coach of Dallas, to Josh Wolf, who's in Austin, Pat Onstad, who's obviously doing great things there. Asher Mendelson is with Pat in Houston. And then you got Greg with the national team and a really impressive staff he put together. And it was really good learning environment. I spent... Three months there, it was a lot shorter than I thought it would be. I got a call from John Harks, the former national team player. And I recruited his son Ian to Wake Forest and coach him at Wake Forest. And he went on to win the Matt Kerman Trophy. So John and his wife Cindy and I became very close and he calls me out of the blue. And he says, would you like to start a professional soccer team with me in Cincinnati? And at that point, nobody had any idea what- was about to be brewing in the Queen City. And so John and I went in there, put a team together from scratch. At that point, we were kicked off in the USL championship and we finished third in the league in our first and only year. And it was an incredible experience. I was his assistant, him and I put the team together from scratch. And then we made a decent little run there. But the crazy thing was we had crowds of Ryan (04:31.846) 20,000 and pouring rain and then we played Crystal Palace in a friendly match and we sold out a 36,000 seat stadium to watch a USL game, which was at that point just unheard of. So for us it was a tremendous experience and then after a year there were some politics involved and John went one way and I ended up getting offered the Academy Director position at DC United. in 2017, which I took. And at the same time, I coached as well, because for me, I couldn't stop coaching because that was really my true passion. When you start getting into the Academy Director role, there's a lot of politics, a lot of different administrative tasks, recruitment tasks, which are great, but my passion's always been coaching. Um, and, and we, you know, had some pretty good success, had a lot of kids go to different top universities and, and had a lot of kids go the homegrown route, including, you know, Kevin Parade is who's recently named the, uh, you know, U S soccer's young player of the year, that Griffin Yow, who's, um, you know, in Belgium and Brian KO and Ted Cudi Pietro, and, you know, even like an Adam Lundegard who hasn't gone pro yet was the captain for Clemson and you know, winning the national championship this past season. So I had some tremendous players come through there. And then in 2019, I just finished my UA for B license. And I got a call to take over Loudon United, which was, and basically until this year, the second team for DC United. So it was really a continuation of what I was trying to start in the academy of helping players develop and grow and get to. where they want to go, but in that professional realm of between, um, you know, an Academy level and a DC United, you know, MLS level, which is a big jump for kids to, uh, to, to jump in. And then, you know, that brings me four years later and, uh, still allowed in here and, uh, still trying to learn, get better. I've taken my UEFA since then I'm currently in my U S soccer pro license and, you know, still trying to help players get to where they want to go. And. Ryan (06:47.234) trying to continue to grow on my journey as well. Justin Chezem (06:52.016) Man, that's a... Scot Cooper (06:53.327) I'm sorry. Ryan (06:53.378) So that was a long winded answer. So that probably ended the whole show right there, right? Yeah. Great talking. Scot Cooper (06:57.306) Yeah, we're done now. All right, thanks, Ryan. Yeah. Justin Chezem (07:02.795) a lot of directions here. You know, I mean, what did you enjoy the most? I mean, you've been a college player, college athlete, win the pros and scout and now you're a head coach. I mean, I would imagine having control is going to be the exciting one. That's, that's, I've loved being a head coach the most, but you've been in a lot of different places. What has been like, oh man, I really enjoyed my time there and kind of like, what was the, what's the rationale there? Why, why did you enjoy that the most? Ryan (07:28.158) Yeah, I don't think there's been really one that I've enjoyed the most. I think they've all brought different parts to my growth and where I am. I think when you're an assistant coach, whether that was at Cincinnati or Wake Forest, it's great because you don't have the pressure that you do as a head coach. You're not the one criticized for making the wrong decision or bringing in the wrong player or different things there, but you get to run training sessions and you are a little bit more free to really focus on the soccer side and, and be that part. When I think, when I look at, you know, being the head coach here is great, but there are also, you know, hurdles here because you're navigating as a second team, you're always navigating between DC United and the academy. And, you know, what does the first team manager want? And if he takes, uh, you know, calls him on a Friday night at 8 PM and he says, I want Ted Cudi, PHO or Jackson Hopkins or whoever they take them, you know, and there's nothing you can do about it except for adapt and, and try to, you know, do the best you can. And it comes with, you know, at the end of the day, fans, the league, you know, most people don't care because it's, you know, did you win, did you lose? And. It's the reality of the business. But I do enjoy having more control. I do enjoy different parts. So then the playing part, I always love the game, which is, I think, why we collectively on this call and people listening are involved in the game at any level. You love the game for what it is, no matter how great you are or how far you go. It's the common theme between a Christian Pulisic and You know, a guy, you know, playing at, you know, Christopher Newport, Ohio Wesleyan, they love it, right. And it's, uh, you know, one gets paid a little bit more and has a little more pressure, but the reality is the same that there is a love for it, you know? So I don't think I can look at one. Justin Chezem (09:18.963) Sure. Ryan (09:21.442) one particular moment and say, you know, that was the greatest job or whatever. And then I also take, you know, I have three really big mentors that I learned from as well, you know, my, the first being my father and, you know, I don't think, you know, he's obviously just written a book, but I think he could write a lot more in terms of what he's given to the game and to individual players. And, you know, he was on the forefront of, you know, really for coaching. for coaches on the forefront of the mental side of the game and mental performance and goal setting. He's been doing that since the 80s, a lot of people nowadays and he's done a really good job of valuing the person over the player, which is a really good message there. Then when I went with Jay Vitovich at Wake, it's Scot Cooper (09:53.905) Okay. Ryan (10:07.638) It was like a masterclass of training soccer and putting together a game identity and a philosophy and implementing it into the field. And, you know, he was honestly the best I've seen to this day, including pro coaches on the field, you know, and, you know, then John Harkes is, you know, very different where he's the big personality and he's a tremendous man, manager and people. And. He can get another 10 to 20% out of people just from a conversation. And his optimism and his ability to influence a team to really run through all form. And that was probably the first time I learned really what a man manager is. And when people use that term, John was a key one. And obviously, he comes from a line of Bruce and... Bruce Arena and that kind of group, which is known for man management, but you don't really know it until you see it and you're like, ah, that, that makes sense. So that's, um, yeah, I've learned so much and grateful for the different stops and, uh, you know, it has led me here and I'm excited to see, you know, where this year goes in my career and my journey. And, you know, if I can learn as much as I have since 2007 in the next 16 years, you know, that's Puts me at 56, I'm still 20 years younger than my dad, so then he's still going, so it gives me some hope. Justin Chezem (11:29.353) You'll still only have half the wins he has. Ryan (11:32.366) I don't know if I'll even get there, but yeah. Justin Chezem (11:33.959) Goodness, I told someone the other day, I think Steve ended up with close to 300. I was like, I don't think I'm, like, your record's safe. I'm not making it that long, don't worry. I'm thinking about you, your first week at Columbus Crew with that amazing staff that you were talking about. And I mean, you go to your first meeting, you're probably like, I'll just take notes, guys. You know, you're just, I'm not gonna say anything unless you call on me. I mean, with those many guys, I mean, what'd you pick up there? What was like? Ryan (11:43.534) I'm going to go ahead and close the video. Justin Chezem (12:01.979) Like, wow, what was the theme of just all those great guys ended up being head coaches at the highest level? I mean, what did you pick up there that you could give to people? Ryan (12:09.798) Yeah, I think I think and I didn't really list Greg and that group as one because I was only there for three months. You know, I honestly, you know, I would have loved and been really happy staying there for six years with that group. I mean, it was really a good group. And my role when I was with them was basically overseeing the U-23 team and helping scout for the draft and preparing that. And then I was going to help in the academy and do some different roles there. But I think when I looked at that staff, I think one was I was really impressed by how Greg a staff in terms of specific roles, responsibilities. And I think he did a really good job with that in terms of the players as well. The players knew and the staff knew, here's my role, here's my responsibility. If it doesn't go right, does it go wrong? If it goes wrong, well, I was told what it was and his expectations and his standards never really slipped to what he was doing. I think when you're in the day to day in a professional soccer team, there's so much going on between individual egos and negotiations and scouting players and then that doesn't even include on the field preparing for Red Bull So I think when you're managing all that stuff, I think he did a tremendous job Delegating and really using the staff to the best of his ability in terms of allowing a Josh wolf or Nico to Teach and implement and put their stamp in their game model together You know was really good and his game model and the way he wanted to play at that time, the way he could articulate it and simplify it to players was really, really impressive. And when I look back at that, it was, you know, the attention to detail, the simplicity in which he talked and could relay it was... was really, really impressive. And I think it was just a good group of humans too. You know, when I still talk to most of them or text here and there, it's like they're just good people. And I think that's why they're doing so well in their careers. They truly are good people and they believe in doing something one way. And most of them, you know, have succeeded in some level in playing a certain philosophy and a team that wants to play. And they all kind of have that in them in different... Ryan (14:27.85) kind of capacities. Justin Chezem (14:29.459) Yeah, that's great. I wanna shift gears a little bit and talk about Loudon. This podcast originally started as a, we wanted to really help kids for recruiting process and finding a good home and that's definitely morphed. I mean, you're not a college coach, we're talking about the pro environment here. So kind of it's kind of twofold. How are you creating your Loudon roster? How you create, like, how does that look? Where does that come from? I'm sure there's. ties to DC or everything that you've gone in the past. And then what's the college landscape look like for you? Are you getting kids from school? Are they a couple of years removed? Are they going through a different pro bracket and then coming to you? Are they drafted and then they play for you before going to MLS? And how does it all tie together, starting with your roster and then mixing in the college landscape with that? Ryan (15:18.342) Yeah, I think it's important and I tell players this, especially when I was in the academy, there really is no one pathway to being a pro. You know, everybody wants to be a pro and I think people have different... journeys to get there. Some might be you skip college and you go to an MLS team and you go right away. Others might be, I always use Ian Harks for example, you go for four years and then you go pro after and you have a degree from Wake Forest and then he goes to Europe and he's still playing in the MLS. I think when you still look at the quality of kids and players in college, it's still a really, really high level what they're doing, you know, our makeup of our team this year. So, so in the past, it's been more of, you know, what, what does, you know, Wayne Rooney or Ben Olson or her non, you know, what, who do they want to send to us? And then we kind of build it around it or who are the top Academy kids and kind of plug holes around it. This year, we've tried to put together really 21 to 22 professional players and then try to really help integrate two or three Academy kids, um, in terms of what we're looking to do. Our makeup is. Mostly, I'd say mostly the kids have spent some time in college in this current roster, because I think it's important the maturity level of, you know, helps the maturity and the growth of what they're doing. Some of the players we got through like, you know, when I was doing, helping do the draft with like DC United. a lot of times we'd be iron players for Loudon. So whether that was like an Aiden Rocha who came from Georgetown or Alex Nagy, University of Vermont. These are guys, Sophie and Jafal, these are guys that we identified as really top college kids that, okay, maybe make DC, maybe not. Ryan (17:12.638) maybe grow into something down the road and can become something, you know, and so that's why we still have an Alex Nagy. And then, you know, I've used quite a few of my connections in terms of, you know, people I trust in terms of how do I evaluate who the person is first before you look to get, um, you know, a player. I think it's so important when you look at, um, building a culture and environment. is who is the person and how do they fit and what are their ambitions? You know, so when I look at like our makeup of our team, I think we've got three young guys from Stanford. And, you know, so obviously I talked to Jeremy Gunn on that. I've got two guys from University of Pittsburgh and, you know, so Jay's obviously, you know, giving me information on who these people are. We've got, you know, guys who spend time at FIU, University of Pennsylvania, you know, UConn, St. John's. Notre Dame, we've kind of circled the wagon of guys that have had experience, have had experience in the pros, have maybe had something that didn't work out and had to fight a little bit of adversity and try to find their way in. But the first thing we always look for is who are they as a person? What are their ambitions? What do they wanna do in the game? And how can we help them get there? And then from there it becomes- Okay, can we fit them into the roster budget wise, etc. But I'd say 80 to 90% of our current roster has some type of college experience. Justin Chezem (18:45.075) Okay. Yeah, that's always curious for us. I mean, obviously we're division three, so the pro angle isn't discussed as much, but a lot of the division one kids and a lot of kids that I even recruit talk about pro soccer and what that looks like. And we have sent kids abroad to play in Australia and Sweden, and so I'm just curious how that looks for you guys. It looks like yours is more going through the draft and going through kids on that route. Do you have tryouts? I mean, that sounds funny to ask that type of question. Like, do you have anything like that? Ryan (19:14.974) Yeah, we do. We ran one about a week ago. We basically had, you know, talking to different agents, talking to different coaches. We had probably, we had two days. We had one day that was 80 kids that it was wide open to anybody that wanted to join. And then we had a second day where we basically vetted probably 20 to 25 guys that we knew through coaches or agents. And then we added five from the open tryout, you know, but in the, in the combine or the second day, we probably had. Probably 60 to 70% were college. We had guys that are top division three all Americans to Ohio Westing's goalie came down. We'll take a look at anybody because you really never know where they come from. I remember when we were at Cincinnati, John and I signed one of my dad's players, Evan Lee, who's still playing at Greenville. And I think he's their captain and MVP and doing quite well. So- You just never know where players come from and you never know what their situation is. And to say someone plays at Ohio Wesleyan or Christopher Newport and we're not gonna take a look is wrong because the reality is there are so many players everywhere and it's important to never close the door on what a player can become. Justin Chezem (20:32.947) It's interesting what you said about there's so many pathways. You look at the other sports, there's pretty much, it seems like there's one route, you know, like the NFL, you got to go to college, go to the draft. And I'm sure that there are guys that you can pick up off the street that have made it, but most of the guys go through the exact same pathway. But in soccer, you're right. I feel like you're, you can find a kid anywhere. I mean, it's just that type of sport. It's shifting gears a little bit here. The college calendar. You know, what are your thoughts with that? Because there's a big discussion for a while there of making it year round. Um, it's going to help kids become more professional. I think that was the main goal. You know, obviously coaches wanted to coach more. It's such a rat race. We had a big discussion yesterday on the podcast about how the college game, the season itself is like three months and it's go, go. You got to win immediately. Yeah. Oh, here, here's your guys in 14 days. You're going to play a game. That's going to possibly make or break you making the NCAA tournament. It's how wild and just insane it can be versus your model, the professional model where it can go 12 months, 11 months. You could space it out. You could actually really create a pro environment. So if you don't mind, kind of chat about what that college calendar looks like versus yours and kind of the hope there and how it might help. I mean, is there anything you've seen there? Ryan (21:50.602) Yeah, I'm a big proponent of doing it. The year round calendar, I think, especially coming from Michael Wake Forest, who's, you know, you look budgetary wise, is, you know, stadium wise infrastructure. It has more than a lot of USL championship teams, you know, in terms of budgets, money, resources. You know, I talked to these guys and some of these players, they charter planes to games, right? It's like you go from Winston-Salem to South Bend on a charter flight and you're living like a MLS player. You're living like a top end guy where at USL you're still going around. So I think college soccer is missing the boat. in terms of being a really, really relevant, even more relevant piece of the infrastructure of American soccer. I think when you look at the, the stadiums, when you look at the fan bases, when you look at, you know, when I, when I watched like an MLS next pro game, for example, and you know, it's, you know, a younger league and they're trying to build that, but the fans for a lot of these teams are five. 600 people, a thousand people, and you know, you go to a UVA on a Friday night against Duke and you know, you're getting six, seven thousand people, you know, it's, you know, and you go to College Park right here and you know, it's, you know, Sash has his, you know, little fan club behind the goal and they're yelling at the goalkeeper. I mean, those atmospheres you can't replicate in some of these, these like reserve leagues and whatnot. So I think college soccer has a really huge opportunity, but I also think If they don't take it sooner than later, they'll miss the opportunity because you have the MLS Next Pro coming, you have USL expanding, you have USL League One. And I think it's important where if they could do it, it could be a really even better like... Ryan (23:39.838) if they did it the right way where it's year round and you don't have many midweek games and you're able to really develop players and train and you don't risk injury and you don't have spring where you have five games, six if you have an international team, it becomes a really viable option for MLS teams to put players in college. It really does. You know, you can't replicate that, you know, in some of these leagues. And I think it would help everybody. And I just remember, like I think we talked about before, was pre-season 10 days or 12 days. And it's scary. I mean, there is a risk for injury and there is a risk of struggling in school academically. And to be honest with you, we found at Wake Forest and even myself at Ohio West, and I struggled more in the spring with academics than I did in the fall because it was less structured, you know, it's, um, you know, you know, you have more free time and you're kind of like, well, what do I do now? And you're like, well, you know, it's, um, you know, when you're on a schedule and you're doing things over and over, I think it's a really important time for growth for, for people and for players. So, uh, I'm hoping it goes through. I don't think it will, but I'm hopeful it does. I think there's a lot of really big positives that could come from it. That would be, I'm pushing people every time I talk to college coaches for sure. Scot Cooper (24:57.51) Thank you. Justin Chezem (25:04.539) Yeah, of course you've got how many variables and how many unknowns. I mean, like look at the country in general, uh, I guess sort of changing a little bit now, but the mindset's always been, well, you got to get a degree. And so, all right, well, these kids got to go get a degree, but then they got to pay for it. So now you're paying to be a professional player. So you got some oddities there. I know that you have the scholarship option at the highest levels, of course, but it's not for everybody. And, uh, you know, no sport does year round. And what's the NCAA going to do basically is the question mark here. And so it just seems like because even if you had all the right answers, you're asking this big entity, the NCAA to say, yeah, let's do this that we've never done for anybody ever before. And let's completely change our model. And I just, they haven't done that in anything else. I just can't imagine that. And then you got the unknowns with all the conference realignments, the big question marks going on with NIL and the amount of money being spewed into the, especially the big dogs, the footballs, the basketballs and So I agree with you 100%. I think that maybe the last opportunity is coming because it just seems like something's going to happen with this NIL bubble, with all the conference realignment, with the big Alabamers and the Dukes and the basketballs and the footballs. It just kind of totally separate. I mean, how different are those programs and Ohio Wesleyan and CNU soccer and we're under the same umbrella? I mean, how wild is that? And so it just seems like something's gonna happen soon. Ryan (26:27.716) It's massive. Justin Chezem (26:31.299) And maybe the window then shows up for us to say, all right, well, now all these division one kids somehow are getting full rides. Let's partner up with some professional thing going on at the same time for the top 50 schools or, you know, something, something might happen soon. It just seems like we're all looking around in the college world. Like, all right, there's no way we could stay the exact path. We're all going right now. It's just seems too volatile on something. Something's going to happen. And, uh, I think you're right. I think for soccer, there has to be. you know, a few clear paths to get there. I mean, there's definitely anyway, which is great, but I think that the college landscape could be way better to help out professional soccer like it does in football, like it does in baseball, like it does in basketball. I think you're right. I think that there's some boat that we're missing to make soccer much more of a viable option for Pathway to the Pros. Ryan (27:22.798) No, a hundred percent. And I think, I think it's going to be interesting, like you said, to see where it plays out, especially when you get like a, you know, a Stanford in the ACC or something, right? It's like. how is that going to work where you're traveling cross country and doing some different things there and yeah, and it's yeah, there is a huge opportunity and I'm hopeful that the NCAA will help and kind of push it in the right direction because it would be a really good landing spot for so many people and the number one complaint I always hear is I used to be in these surveys and stuff that players would do and coaches would do and the number one complaint of like kids always wanting to go pro. early is well the spring right or the summer you know we're limited what we can do and the number one thing about okay coaches well you're spring and in your summer you're limited what you can do and it's hard and the one I always even said was like an easy one to fix would be like So I'll use the kid, Adam Lundegard from Clemson. He played for me before he went to Clemson. He played actual matches for Loudon United. Then he went to Clemson and because he's enrolled in Clemson, like if I wanted him to come and play and Mike Noonan want him to come and play five games in the summer, he no longer can and keep his eligibility. So it's like such a strange one where here he is. Like, imagine if you went to Clemson and you play your 25 games in the fall, you play your six in the spring, but then you get 10 games over the summer in a USL one or USL championship team or MLS next pro team. Like you just added 10 massive opportunities for these kids without even moving the schedule, but for some reason, um, Ryan (29:05.782) For some reason that has never crossed the plate as well. And I'm like, well, that could be an easy one to change in theory. Justin Chezem (29:14.052) Right. No, I agree. Scot Cooper (29:15.13) Yeah. I mean, my son did an internship over the summer and got paid for it as a, as a division one athlete. I mean, what's the difference really? I mean, still getting paid as a college student. Yeah. Right. Ryan (29:23.754) Yeah, and I'm not even talking paying the kids. The kids would play for free. If you can give them 10 games and cover their expenses, it's like, why can he play 15 games for me before Clemson? But once he enrolls, he can no longer even play in any games. But he can train every day. And you're like, well, that doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Scot Cooper (29:45.538) Absolutely. Cheese, you got more? Okay, Ryan, I wanna go back to playing for your dad. And what that was like, how you guys turned it on, turned it off, dad versus coach and that sort of thing. I know it was a little while ago, but I'm sure you have some fond memories of growing up and then playing with for him in college. Justin Chezem (29:50.23) Go ahead. Scot Cooper (30:15.77) you know, maybe some good stories of getting benched or getting yelled at or, you know, that sort of thing. Ryan (30:17.335) Yeah, for- Ryan (30:23.532) Yeah, there's a lot of those. I mean, I think it was one of those ones where, you know, first of all, when I was looking through the processes and different things and different schools and opportunities, you know, when I grew up, Ohio Western was really all I wanted to do. But obviously, you know, when you step on a campus and your dad's the coach and different things, it does... make things different. And so when I asked, you know, at the time, like Todd Yagley was playing for the crew and Jerry's a friend of my father's and, you know, so I had a chance to speak with Jerry and Todd for a little bit before really making the decision. And, you know, both of them were like, you know, it's the best decision we ever made. Was it the easiest? No, but it was the best decision, you know, that we ever did. And when I look back on it, I think the same thing. It wasn't always easy. Um, and I think it's really difficult when 18 years old at the time or 19 and you're wondering why you're you know, you're the coach your dad is harder on you than he is on other people or he's benching you for something that the other guy next you's done five times and you know turn the ball over once and you're off and you're like trying But as hard as an 18 year old to really process it so I don't think I fully but fully understood it probably until I was like 21 or junior senior then I was like ah it makes sense of why he was being harder on me and then it makes even more sense now when I'm reflecting on the whole thing. I'm like, yeah, I was like, that's leadership, you know, 201 at that point. But I didn't understand it because I was too young and naive and too trying to figure out myself and how to get involved. But yeah, he was definitely harder on me, which I appreciate now. You know, at the time was difficult, you know, for me, you know, we had some tremendous moments like my senior year, we went 22 and oh, and, you know, I think we didn't end up making really a run in the tournament, but we went 22 and 0 and we ended up at that point, he's won so many games, I can't remember. I think it was his 500th win was like our 22nd win. So we had to go perfect in order for me to be a part of one of his 100 wins or whatever. And then me when I look back, that was a really special moment to celebrate that, to win a conference championship and do it all together on the same night was great. We- Ryan (32:37.454) You know, he's a big proponent of taking the teams to Germany and doing some different things there. So when I reflect, you know, that was, and I think when you asked 90% of Ohio Westian players that the, like the Germany trip is always like one of their top ones there and then, and then I think just the, the sense of family and community that, that he put together, I remember I went to the, I was in, I was in Sarasota recruiting at the Academy showcase in 2012 when he won the NAS Championship. in San Antonio and, uh, you know, we were waiting to see if he won the semis and, you know, uh, and Jay Vitovich, who was a coach at Pitt was also a Wu alum and some different things there. So once he won the, uh, you know, and you know, obviously division three, you don't get the day off in between it's back to back. So he wins the game and we immediately booked tickets to fly out there. But not only did we, we fly out there, but, but there was like 200, 250 didn't have a kid playing, didn't have a, they had skin in the game, which was the jersey, which was incredible. So I think when I look back at that, that was like my first real like, aha, like this is a culture. Like this is like a true environment of like, you know, and at that point it was, I was four years into my coaching career. So I was, you know, and I was probably a second assistant at that point. And then I'm like, Oh, well, here he is. You know, at that point, I think he's 46 years into it or something. So at that point you would call it, you know, 34. I mean, when you have that many people come back and to, you know, San Antonio, which is not an easy place to come to. And, and, and all of a sudden it's. Justin Chezem (34:17.63) Thank you. Ryan (34:18.79) all together. It was unlike anything I've ever seen in terms of how to build. This is what a culture is. So to this day, it's still something I'm very proud of that I played for them. I'm very fortunate. I scored a lot of some goals and had a decent career. But I think the biggest one was a lot of what I've taken in my journey to coaching and then some of the great milestones, the trip to Germany, and then the aha of what culture and environment is moment. was something that will stick with me to this day. Scot Cooper (34:52.718) Yeah. Justin Chezem (34:52.807) I know we've joked around a little bit about how many wins he's had. And I mean, how do you ever pass that? I think it's 762 now. And just to put that in perspective, if you win 20 games a season, you played college soccer. I mean, how many did you win your national championship year at Wake? Around 20, probably. Right, but that was to win the national title. Ryan (35:09.602) Yeah. Ryan (35:13.552) 2022 2022. Yeah, somewhere. Justin Chezem (35:17.615) I mean, that's just how hard it is. You get 20 games total and it's soccer. It's hard to win. And you would need 38 of those seasons of 20 wins and you're still a little short of 762. I mean, it's just a bizarre way to think about it. I mean, I'm five years into my career and I'm like, man, I think I have to be like 140 before I pass them probably. I mean, that's just, it's unreal. Ryan (35:42.262) It's incredible and like I said, the fact that I get these calls after a loss or something and I'm like, hey, am I too old to connect with these guys? I'm like, well, yeah, this is your second loss, you're 15 and two, I go, I think you're doing all right. Scot Cooper (36:00.154) Yeah. Ryan (36:02.282) And then my wife and I taught him how to use Instagram. So now he's on top of the world. Now he's gonna coach for another 10 years. Justin Chezem (36:10.059) Oh man, man that's incredible. Yeah, one of my favorite things about your dad is when he came out here to play us one year, they had just won, was it 2011? What was the year they won the second national title? 2000. Scot Cooper (36:13.478) Great. Bye. Ryan (36:23.114) It was either 11 or 12. I can't remember which one it was. Justin Chezem (36:26.759) Well, we were their opening game the next year. We'd scheduled it earlier in the season, then they won the national title and we finished in the Elite Eight. And so we were like, oh, man, we're opening with the number one team in the country right here at home. And it was a huge crowd. What an awesome environment. We were so pumped. He doesn't travel with the team. Brandon travels with the team. He flies in separately, rolls in, brings out his conductor chair. And I'm like, oh, okay. Ryan (36:32.242) Yeah. That's right. Yeah. Ryan (36:47.464) Yeah. Ryan (36:52.354) Oh yeah. Scot Cooper (36:54.13) Thank you. Justin Chezem (36:54.755) I've got a ways to go as an assistant coach here. That is, that's where I need to get to conductor chair and the golf card on campus. I mean, I haven't made it yet. No, not even close. Ryan (37:04.438) Yeah, I think my mom even got his name embroidered in the back now. So he's, yeah, I couldn't pull it off. I'm like, I think you can only pull it off when you win that much. So yeah, it's funny. There's a lot of people that like give some jokes and Chris Brown when I was at, when I went up to a camp with him, there's John Moody at the time was at Berkshire. Justin Chezem (37:08.239) God, that's impressive. That's impressive. Scot Cooper (37:10.78) but Justin Chezem (37:13.683) the Ryan (37:27.494) We did a camp and Xander Jones who played for my dad was at Salisbury at the point up in the Northeast, but we're all having dinner one night. And Chris Brown goes, he goes, I can't believe he goes the first game, same story. First game he pulls out. He goes, he didn't even pull it out. He goes, he had four freshmen set up this conduct on the sideline and then he gets in and like everybody looks at him. Like he's, uh, he's like the, the king. And I'm like, well, he's bought a lot of games and you know, yes. Yeah. You can't say. Justin Chezem (37:53.132) Yeah. Well, what are you going to say to him? What are you going to say to him? You're doing it wrong? You know, like, like you can't. It's impressive. Yeah. That's good stuff. Ryan (37:58.226) Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Scot Cooper (38:04.822) Go back to the lesson, like you pointed out a few mentors and the lesson that you learned from your dad was, you know, player over or person over player. And talk about what that means to you and you know how he exemplified that and how you're kind of using that now. Ryan (38:22.366) Yeah, I think so. So he again, and they've renovated like his office and stuff. Obviously he's been there longer than most of the school. But like when I was there and in the past, he used to have his office and then like a big conference room in the middle. And basically it would be an area where the soccer players would go in between classes and hang out and catch up and this and that. But he would always be really good about grabbing a player and having a 10 minute chat or five minute chat and catching up on life. And I think that's important when, having worked in the university and having been 18 many years ago and that type of thing is the players are always going through something. Whether that's something at home or a breakup with a girlfriend or a bad grade on a test or the expectations of parents or whatever it might be. And he was always very good about finding what was going on in somebody's mind. through his own lens and what he's been through to help and try to help, not motivate, but to help. ease the player or give them guidance of where they can, you know, deal with different pains and traumas and different things that have happened or something silly and, and try to refocus and reframe. So I think, you know, that was always really big in terms of, of his culture and how he created it and bringing players in. I think the other one is, you know, he always did a really good job of, of setting goals with players and sitting down with them and, and trying to help them map it out and, you know, really get to the bottom of, you know, season long goals, but more. importantly, like the ones that that, you know, I always thought were better than the season long goals were like the game goals and setting up, you know, how are you going to be successful today? And were you successful? Were you not successful? How can you, you know, do that? And I think it's important where, you know, what are the values, you know, what are the different people and what they want to do? And I think he gives a lot of ownership to the players. Ryan (40:25.154) And some we found out are not ready for it and others are, but I think that's part of the learning lesson and the growth of why you have 250 people coming to San Antonio, Texas in a game. It's like they do have a sense of ownership and pride of what they're doing and whether that's cleaning up trash around the now J. Martin Soccer Complex or doing laundry. Like the players to this day still do laundry for the team and they clean up the locker room different crews that do it and it's a, you know, all for one mentality. And I think, you know, he's always looked at who the person is and then, you know, why are they struggling? And there'd be some games where he would play a guy probably longer than he should have, but Then he'd come back and he'd be like, well, you know, he's going through this. His mom, you know, is sick or whatever it is. And he's trying to, you know, give, benefit it out that way. Or he's trying to do different things to support and, um, you know, give the person or give him an extra bit of feedback on the field or grab them aside. So like those types of things were always, um, really unique about who he is and I think how he got the most out of each person and player and still has a relationship with most of them. Even guys that, to be honest with you, like this can sound crazy that he cut or guys that only played a year or guys that played two, like on it, they still call or they still have like there's a guy in Leesburg actually that like saw on the grocery store at Wegmans the other day and I think he played two years and he's like, I still follow Ohio Western soccer and I follow your career, I follow your dad's career. And I'm like, I go, that's strange, but I go, that's great. I mean, it really is different. Scot Cooper (42:14.918) Yeah, it speaks to the impact, huh? That you're, that, yeah. Go ahead, cheese. I see you chomping there. You're on mute, by the way. Ryan (42:25.818) Yeah, the old the old the old zoo COVID day is mute. Justin Chezem (42:28.419) Yeah, my guys are running back and forth. They're about to go to weightlifting, so it got pretty noisy in here. I totally spaced. No, I had nothing. I was writing notes. You know, like that's why one of my early questions was, what did you learn over there? And here I am listening to you talk about your dad. I'm like, oh, yeah, this is what Jay was doing. This is how I get my golf cart, you know? So, no, I mean, what you talk about is that's why we do what we do. Right. I mean, not many of us are getting rich doing. Ryan (42:34.112) I'm sorry. Justin Chezem (42:57.595) what we do, we just we love the impact. We love being around these kids and at all the levels. I mean, we've all coached a little bit of club, a little bit of college and it's I coached high school a little bit. You've you're now dealing with young kids in the pro levels. I mean, it's just there's more to it than just the game. And you know, we if you don't relate to them that way, it's going to be it doesn't make it as fun. It's just a job at that point. And so, you know, I it's cool to think about, you know, yeah, all the wins, all the fun stuff that your dad did. But same time, it's like that guy. When he goes, he's gonna probably have 10,000 people at this. If you enroll, they're all gonna be ex players. Like, oh man, just telling cool stories. And that's just really, that to me is all of the success. That's the true measure of his success. Ryan (43:41.567) No. And I think, you know, when you look back, you know, division three, division one, professional, and it's like, there's so many good coaches out there and good people out there that are doing a good job. And, um, you know, and I think you hit it on the head there. It's like, it always comes down to what is your why and why are you doing what you're doing? And I think that, you know, if you, in my estimation, the people that I've mentioned in terms of my mentors or people that I really value what they do, it really comes down to, you know, making a difference in a kid or a person's life be honest with them, help them improve and it's the love of the game. And I think if you can accomplish those and when I walk into work every day, okay, can I be honest? Can I help this kid grow as a person or player and have fun today? That's the reality and whether that's Ohio Wesleyan or Greg at the national team or me at Loudon or Nico at FC Dallas, it really is the same. And I think it's, we all have different headaches that we all deal with. Your headaches are different than mine and my dad's are different than his, that are different than Jay Vitovich's and John Hark's. But reality is if we stick to those principles as coaches, there's never really a truly bad day. Scot Cooper (45:00.206) Yep, that's very true. Talk a little bit about like shifting gears a little bit to a youth player, looking to go play in college, but has the ultimate goal of playing pro. And what are some of the common attributes and habits that those kids have that are able to go from playing at a club team their junior year through college and then... to come into play for you or beyond. Ryan (45:30.682) Yeah, I think when you first look at it, I think it comes down to, before anything, it comes down to really how hard they wanna work and how much they love what they do. And I think most people that I found that are successful going either from college to the pros or directly from, it's like, do they really love the game? And at that point, it means, are you willing to be resilient and stand up and go again when you're bench? Does it mean when your number's not called? that you work extra hard that week. When you get negative feedback or something that you don't want to hear. And because most of these kids across their whole life have always been told how good they are. You know, when you're told, hey, your passing was poor, your way to your final pass was really bad. We've got to improve this. Here's some things we can do. Are you willing to really work on it, listen to it and execute it? So I think when I look at kids and I always used to when I was at Wake Forest, would always go look at the warmups. And it was almost a lot more important than it would be. for the game because you can see what do they do when nobody's really looking. What is their interaction with their teammates? What is their interaction with the trainer? What are their interactions? And I try to do the same here now when I look at a pro player. I'd like to go to trainings if I can because for me, what are their habits? And I think when I look at players that have really either made it through college or gone to college and will make it afterwards, it really is that the common desire to succeed and to deal with adversity and setbacks. probably the biggest key traits that I can always take away for kids trying to make it. And I think it's important where kids have to also understand is there are late developers and there are guys that are more ready at 14 that don't make it at 18. And there are more guys that don't make it till they're 24. When you look at the best example is Ryan (47:28.854) the US goalkeeper, right? It's like, you know, I think he gave up like 16 goals in, uh, you know, a high school game and then he played a fair field and, you know, now he's in the premier league and say what you want about it, you know, but, um, you know, Matt Turner's a prime example of it. It's like, that really is a, a player that has not succeeded. Justin Chezem (47:38.387) Thank you. Ryan (47:49.75) given up 16 goals in one game, wasn't recruited, and he ended up making it. I think you even look at basketball where Steph Curry, when he was down in North Carolina, I showed it to my players the other day about what his potential and it's like. Well, you know, he was underrated in almost every aspect of what he actually does well at this point in his career, that no one would have believed he would have made it. And he went through Davidson, which is not really obviously a basketball hotbed, but he ends up being one of the best players ever to play. Justin Chezem (48:22.483) Mm-hmm. That's good, that's good. Scot Cooper (48:25.966) Yep. The other thing I was going to ask was about your other two guys that you listed as mentors and kind of the same question that I asked about your dad and the lesson that you learned that you took away from each of those guys, Jay Vitovich. I think you talked about building team identity and how important that is. And then relating it back to how does a kid... evaluate a college program, you know, how does that fit in culture wise and how do you evaluate that? So kind of a two-part, like go back to the message that you learned and how you see that being played out in a program when a kid's looking at a college program. Ryan (49:13.094) Yeah. So, so I think, you know, when I look at like a Jay Vidovich, for example, I think on the field in terms of, you know, his style play and the way he wants to, you know, attack, dominate games and, and be a proactive team. I think when I look back at the attention to detail and training, especially on an individual level was far above anything I've seen, honestly, to this day in the pro world, when I go overseas, et cetera. You know, and I, and I, when I look back at my notes that I took when I was with him, it really is, it's like, here is the attention to detail necessary to break down. a team, an individual, a unit, and here's how you can really try to help them improve. And I think when you look at his track record of player development, first and foremost, obviously winning, he's been tremendously successful. But player development, I don't think there's a better coach that's put more players in the professional game than he has. And when you look at some of the guys, we had a kid called Sam Fink who played for St. Louis FC for seven years. He was honestly a walk on player and just talked about similar to, you know, he just loved the game. He was a junkie and, you know, would listen to everything you say, eat it up and became a pro player. And at one point, I think it was last year, he was us open cup player of the tournament, you know, for the lower divisions and they went on a great run, you know, so, so for him, it's like, I still have notes and notes and notes of, okay, here's, you know, what you're looking for a team that presses a team that doesn't, how do you build out? What does your structure look like? So he was meticulous in that. And I'd get text at 4 AM and it'd be like a blog post of Bielsa trying to get in behind a back three that doesn't like to press or doesn't like to build. So it'd be a little bit more direct and he's working on how to spring in behind. So he was just a different way of thinking that really stretched you. And he would never give you the answers which helped me as a coach. It frustrated me at the time, but he'd always be, well, what do you think first? And then you'd have to answer. Ryan (51:17.584) and it'd be a critique. It was always like, you always felt like you were being tested, which wasn't dissimilar to what Greg was like as well. When I did my job interview with Greg, he brought me into his room, like this office, him and Asher were sitting there and he goes, how does the Columbus Crew press? And he goes, we're playing Red Bull, draw the press up on the board. And then, okay, we're playing so and so on the weekend, give me three exercises that you think will work and why, and what is the purpose of why you're trying to do it? And I was like. Wow, this is different. So I think those two guys had a lot of that type of stuff in terms of similarities. And I think when you ask about kids looking at different colleges, I think so you got the NIL and different things that make it more difficult. But I think the best part about college coaches in this or college players and college systems in this current landscape is YouTube. Scot Cooper (51:51.346) Thanks for watching. Ryan (52:14.386) internet video, you can watch how a team plays in a matter of seconds. I can Google Christopher Newport, 2023 goals on YouTube. And I bet I would find 12 videos or 50, not just from each goal. I'm sure you scored more than 12 goals, but, but I, you, you can go and see it in minutes and you can say, well, I like the way they play here. I don't like the way they play there. And I think it's important to always ask. Justin Chezem (52:19.239) Mm-hmm. Justin Chezem (52:24.795) Hmm. Justin Chezem (52:29.839) Hehehehe Ryan (52:40.254) Where do you see me and how will I fit in? And most importantly, it's like, you know, I think players can ask coaches, where do you, you know, how do you see me developing? How do you see me growing? And how can I become a better player under you? And then I think it becomes an open conversation for the player and the coach of, well, how do you receive criticism? How do you accept criticism and use it to develop? And I think that's probably a healthy way of looking at it. And I think the more you can have interactions with the coach and have a conversation, I think helps players understand what the next four years will be like. Scot Cooper (53:17.846) cool. Yeah, that's a great answer. I know it's been about an hour, so I want to be respectful of your time. I know that you have other stuff to do today. So anything else to add, Ryan, before we get you out of here? Ryan (53:33.027) No I- I would encourage players to, regardless of where they are right now, is to really invest in themselves as players and people. And when one door shuts, there's always other doors open as long as you're willing to work and become better for it. And I think that's where I'm probably at this moment, I think one of the biggest proponents of college soccer in the professional game. And my belief of what the college system can do for a person and a player. And I think it's important that- You know, players don't say just because I'm going to college, I'm done or pro or just because I'm, you know, I went pro and it didn't work in my first club. It's so important where how do you handle adversity? How do you how do you how do you become resilient and always bet on yourself? So I just say, you know, for young players and people out there invest in themselves and bet on yourself. And I think it will go a long way to shape your career. Scot Cooper (54:30.499) Thank you. Justin Chezem (54:30.587) Hey, Ryan, what are you guys doing opening weekend in March? We're up there for the Loudon showcase. I was hoping I could, if you guys are around, I was hoping I could swing by and spend some time with you guys in the office, kind of see how you guys do business. Ryan (54:37.128) Awesome. Ryan (54:44.254) Yeah, always open. March 16th is our home opener. Justin Chezem (54:48.483) else you'll be home you think early March. I'm go pass. Ryan (54:52.395) We'll be home early March. We're in San Antonio on the 9th, home on the 16th. Justin Chezem (54:56.699) Fantastic. All right, I'll reach out leading up to that. So I can come back. Ryan (54:58.89) Yeah, shoot me a text, always more than welcome to have you in and whatever I can do to help. And yeah, please let me know. Justin Chezem (55:04.827) Yeah, love it. Thank you. Ryan (55:07.901) Awesome. Scot Cooper (55:08.722) Ryan, I can't thank you enough and hopefully get you on here again, but best of luck to you this upcoming season and sorting all that out with the short lead up to the first preseason match. Ryan (55:22.226) Yeah, yeah. Now, well, like I said, it's always a learning environment and all you can do is, you know, see where you are on day one and hopefully you're better by March 9th. That's the hope. But no, Scott and Justin, appreciate it, guys. Scot Cooper (55:32.586) That's right. Justin Chezem (55:35.867) Yeah, sir. Thank you. Appreciate it. Good seeing you. Scot Cooper (55:36.398) Thank you so much. All right. Take care. Ryan (55:38.204) Thank you. Justin Chezem (55:43.079) He's good, man.

89. Nacho Lerech CSA Becas Hi I’m Scot Cooper and welcome to the Tales From the Trail Podcast by MatchPlay. In this episode I welcome Nacho Lerech of CSA Becas International. Nacho discusses his journey from Argentina playing for a large club, Boca Juniors, to finding his way to college in the United States. He finished at the University of Vermont and began working for CSA Becas where he helps international students find a home at universities in the U.S. in addition to continuing his playing career in Europe. Nacho was a pleasure to have on the podcast, his enthusiasm for what he’s doing is contagious! Summary Ignacio Lerech, a representative from College of Sports of America Becas Internacional https://csabecasinternacional.com/#!/-inicio/, discusses the company's role in connecting student athletes with universities in the United States. He explains the process of finding the right school and the factors that students consider, such as sports, academics, and location. Ignacio also highlights the opportunities available to student athletes after college, including professional sports and work visas. He shares his personal experience playing youth soccer in Argentina and transitioning to the US. Ignacio emphasizes the benefits of college sports, including the high level of competition and the support provided by universities. Takeaways College of Sports of America connects student athletes with universities in the US, helping them find the right school and navigate the application process. Factors such as sports, academics, and location are considered when choosing a school. After college, student athletes have opportunities to pursue professional sports or work in their field of study. Playing youth soccer in Argentina is highly competitive, and transitioning to the US can be a valuable experience for personal and athletic growth. College sports in the US offer a high level of competition, excellent facilities, and support for student athletes. Chapters 00:00 Introduction and Company Overview 02:21 Process of Connecting Athletes with Universities 04:20 Factors in Choosing the Right School 06:17 Divisions and Leagues for International Students 07:44 Support for Student Athletes Throughout College 09:28 Motivation for International Students to Pursue College Sports in the US 16:52 Pathways After College for Student Athletes 20:36 Playing Youth Soccer in Argentina 26:37 Transitioning to the US and Adapting to a New Environment 34:24 Connecting with College of Sports of America 39:40 Benefits of College Sports in the US Ignacio Lerech (00:01.693) That's good then. Scot Cooper (00:02.944) Yeah, yeah. All right, so let's run this back, right? We did this once, and for whatever reason, my old self couldn't figure out, couldn't get the technology right. So, you know, whatever. No, you said that. So yeah, thank you for redoing this. I appreciate it. And super valuable for Ignacio Lerech (00:07.786) Let's do it again. Ignacio Lerech (00:15.534) I didn't say that, you're saying that, I didn't say that. Ignacio Lerech (00:25.566) I'm great. So is it. Scot Cooper (00:32.868) you know, over speed. So yeah, Nacho, tell me what the company that you work for is and what it does in general. And then we can jump into some specific questions too. Ignacio Lerech (00:44.379) So the company is called College of Sports of America. It's a company that was founded in the United States in California and then it started opening different franchises all over the world. I mean offices all over the world like South America, Central America, Europe. Pretty much what we do is we are the bridge that connects the athlete with the universities in the United States. We work with different sports. Of course it depends really like... the country, you know, like that we work like, according to the amount of kids that we're gonna be sending off some specific sport, let's say for example, in Argentina, we don't really play baseball a lot, or softball, those kinds of sports, so we don't really send kids like, from baseball stuff, we mostly like work on soccer. So yeah, that's pretty much what we do, we like connect all the athletes, like especially soccer with the university in the United States, and we like help them with the process of. Scot Cooper (01:27.772) Mm-hmm. Scot Cooper (01:35.899) Thank you. Ignacio Lerech (01:40.002) finding schools, scholarships, all that mission process, visas, all the process that involves getting the kid to the United States. We work with the men on the women's side, both sides. The women's side is expanding a lot in Argentina, like the soccer. It became pro like three or four years ago, I think, and it's expanding a lot. Like the level became really good. Scot Cooper (01:53.552) Mm-hmm. Ignacio Lerech (02:08.722) really good but mostly we work with guys. And yeah, like you know our team has a really good soccer level. And yeah, we help them with the process until they get to school. Scot Cooper (02:21.988) Right. So what's your process to like develop relationships with colleges and how are you making those connections for kids? How are you choosing which school is the best fit for kids to? Ignacio Lerech (02:37.378) I mean, the process of how we work is we, so once we have the kid profile, we put it on a software that is like a specific, like it's a software from the company. With that software, we send it to all the universities that are affiliated to the company, and they're like, like a lot. Then we start receiving offers from the kid, like from the schools that are going to have the kid. specific scholarships that they're willing to give. And yeah, and then we show them in real time, like every time that there is an interest or an offer or something for the kid, I would tell them, hey, you got the interest of this school, hey, you got the interest of this school. Then with all those offers, or with all those interests, I see that with the kid and his family, and we, I mean, it's kind of like my part of the job, analyze all of them. like each specific school like in terms of like location number of students like the they play like rank coaching stuff like do like a whole like kind of power core presentation of each of them And then the kid pretty much with his family or her family like they decide they tell me yes This one we have the interest this one. No this one we do this one though So with all the one that they have interest we set up a call with the coaches stuff. And yeah, that will like, after we set up the call with the coaches stuff, then it's up to the family. Of course, we give them our advice and what we think is a bet for them. But they decide like which schools they want to go. Scot Cooper (04:20.955) Right, and so like, what is kind of the priority? How are you prioritizing, you know, sports, academics, location, you know, social? Like, how are the kids, are you helping them with that or is it up to them? Ignacio Lerech (04:35.186) It's so, so it really depends on the person. Like we work in a very personalized way. So like it really depends on the person. Some person prioritize more the level that they're gonna be playing. Some other person prioritize more the scholarship that they're getting. I'm talking about like South America and the specific, like it's not like a super wealthy. regions are like, like sometimes they decide, yeah, I know maybe school is not the best, but it's the one that they're giving the best scholarship. So like I will go there first. The good thing about the company is that our services last for all the years that they're going to be in college. So for any, any like for anything that they need, like could be transfer, it could be talking us with the coaches stuff could be help them with like any, whatever, like could be for whatever. So we have a lot of kids that start like, I don't know, like in a junior college and they transfer to a Division I. We have now like, it's going to a Division I school. We have plenty of kids that start in one place for any specific reason. And then they, maybe it could be English, could be for any reason. And then after that, like they transfer to like a better institution that gives them this quality that they look and the level and the competition that they're looking for, you know. Scot Cooper (05:57.18) Right, yeah, yeah. So is there a certain division that you're finding that kids typically from other countries are kind of getting into? Or is it all pretty diverse across the divisions? Ignacio Lerech (06:17.898) It's diverse, so we try to work with some specific players' profiles. We know that they play in a good division and we know that they can play. We work with some kids that maybe are looking for good teams as well, but mostly we work with high-profit players. Usually they go to either Division 1, Division 2. NAAs or maybe like for some specific reason maybe a really good level of English or very like low budget like or no budget at all like maybe they start like in a junior college and then they transfer to a Division one or Division two or an NAA so like But yeah, mostly we work with those leagues. We do work in three schools as well I mean that we know the programs pretty well like and they like and it's a good place maybe like for some kids, but mostly we work with those Scot Cooper (07:16.93) Yeah, so as I've had more and more conversations, I've talked to some coaches who, they'll bring in internationals, and then if they don't work out, then they kind of part ways with them. So it's good to know that you keep working with kids, student athletes as they're progressing through their careers, Scot Cooper (07:44.796) huge part of college sports now that, you know, yeah. Ignacio Lerech (07:49.423) And that's something that we tell them before. They don't, I mean, in Argentina it's like a different, I'm saying Argentina, like South America, I'm saying Argentina always because I put myself like as an example. of like the process that I lived, but like in general, South America, Central America, Europe, have more like a mentality of like go to a place and stay there. We'll see like going to a place and going to somewhere else or like something like that, you know, we like, you know, our mentality is not really that. But yeah, I tell them all the time, like, hey, like, this is like a point to start. Doesn't mean that you're going to finish here. It's just like, you're going to start, you're going to start here. And maybe you stay here Ignacio Lerech (08:32.83) Whatever, like, yeah, could be any risk, like there's a chance of him or her wanting to transfer and we're going to be there for you to help you in that process of transferring. Maybe he or she like the school or could be like thousands of reasons, you know, like of education, maybe they are not happy with education, they're not happy with the team, they're not happy with the coaching stuff, you know, like being an athlete, both a lot of parts, you know, just like. Not just the school, also the soccer part, like specifically the coaches and stuff like that. So it's not just the system that they play, or it could be like, there are like a thousand different factors that could determine how a kid wanted to transfer. We want to make sure that they know that they can count on us, of course, during the process, but after they're there, while they're there, they can count on us to transfer as well. Scot Cooper (09:28.952) Right. So let's just say that, you know, I'm from Uruguay and, you know, I don't know, I feel like for long, you know. No, but like, you know, my English isn't great. And, you know, but I'm a decent student and I'm a good player, you know, good strong center back or whatever. And like, Ignacio Lerech (09:35.542) You're looking at what you know about. Let's put it. Ha ha! Ignacio Lerech (09:41.369) Eugh Ehh Scot Cooper (09:58.532) But my English is an issue at this point. So how do you work with that to find spots for that profile, so to speak? Ignacio Lerech (10:07.401) Okay, so mainly what we do as soon as the kids start, we do like a test to orient us like the level of the kid's English, like the English level of the kid. So with that score, then we're like, okay. do we need to work or he or she is going to be good for the Duolingo or Tofler that they need to take. And if the English is not good enough, we'll help them with the preparation, like to take the Tofler or Duolingo. If still the English is not good enough, there are plenty of schools that have to accept you with no English or even with a really low score. Mainly there are like a like junior colleges that work with it like this system that they accept you were pretty much like very low like English sports Yeah, that's why I also believe they for some for the people that don't speak English real Well, like maybe like a junior college would be like a great sports to start like race spot to start because classes are a little bit easier and You know like they don't require a lot of things for admissions like this Like, you know, like once they're insert like in the university and they get like, like the routine of like the university and off like during the season, after the season, everything then like, like they want to transfer, they want to do something else. Like the English is not really a problem to be honest. Like we always find solutions to, to either through a preparation, like a hard preparation or it could be just like, but okay, let's start here in college. And then we, we transfer somewhere else. Scot Cooper (11:42.668) Yeah. So as your experience, you grew up in Argentina, what was your experience in finding a spot in the US? Did you use a service or did you do it independently? Ignacio Lerech (11:56.686) So I, I mean, I did use the service, but it was not the best, the one I used. So that's why I started working for CSA because I knew that it was a really, really big organization, really good way of how they work. And their philosophy, our philosophy, matched with the same life philosophy that I have, that is like looking in a long term for the kid. but long term as well, and help them throughout the process and help them with everything they need that they have. I arrived there with a little bit uncertain, I didn't know some stuff that I would have liked to know. And that's the main thing that we do, and for me it's like a priority. Try to tell them, sometimes it can be massive information, but I would rather have all the information in the table and then pick. with that information that like omit information. I don't like that. That's not the way of how we operate. That's not the way of how I operate as a person. So I would just tell them, hey, this is how it works. This is the leagues. This is like how it's gonna be. Like this is the hardest semester divided. Like, so like the kid arrives with like all the information possible. Of course, he or she find out more stuff. Like, you know, each school is like, like a. They have their own world, they have different ways of processing stuff, doing stuff. But I like the person to arrive and know where they are, know how it works, know everything. We help them with pretty much everything. If they want to, for example, like internationalists are allowed to work inside the campus, that's like legally, like F1 visa that we receive allows them to work inside the campus 20 hours per week. We help them like, okay, this is what you have to do. This is where you have to apply. This is like in order to like get a job. This is what you have to do in order to get a social security number. This is what you have to do in order to get a bank account. This is what you have to do to get a driver license. We are kind of like parents like in the process of like everything, you know? But yeah, we love what we do and I love what I do. It's like transmitting a little bit of my experience to the kids that are like, you know, to make their life like as easy as possible. Like... Ignacio Lerech (14:18.235) And then I want them to accomplish their dreams. That's what makes me the happiest. Scot Cooper (14:25.412) Yeah. So what do you think is like the typical motivation for kids wanting to come to the U.S. to go to college, to play soccer? What drives them in that direction? Ignacio Lerech (14:40.222) It's a really good question. So after many years of research that I did while I started working in the company, before going there, I found that the only system that allows you to pursue a soccer career and an academic career is in the United States. That are both in the same place and they are both connected. We also work with some universities in Spain and around the world as well. Ignacio Lerech (15:11.626) The difficult part is to combine both. When I was in Argentina, for example, I was training with the first team. And it was impossible to match classes with games, with trainings, with all that part. It was really hard. If I had to travel in the middle of the week and I had a game and I had to miss class or I had to meet a test or I had to miss something, the professor is like, meh, I'm sorry. It's not like nothing that we can do. Scot Cooper (15:26.982) Mm-hmm. Ignacio Lerech (15:40.054) And I was playing at a really good level. So imagine if you actually played in a low level. So that was what drove me and motivated me to say, hey, and I also feel like in the United States, they really help the athletes. They really want the athlete to keep doing their sports. I feel like sometimes in other countries, they are like, you have to choose. Either one or the other one. They're not helping you to actually like. develop yourself in a double way. They are forced to stop doing one. And that's what I love about the American system. The fact that you guys, and the fact of giving them scholarships means so much for, it's like an investment, of course, that the university is doing. It's kind of giving them so many years of a lot of dedication, hard work, discipline, of like, okay, this is your reward. So many years. Okay, this is your scholarship. It can be 100%, it can be 90%, it can be 85%, whatever. But this is all your years of, that you gave to the sport of discipline, this is your reward, you know? And so that system is unique in the world. Scot Cooper (16:52.676) Now, once a kid goes, I see a kid, but I mean, they're adults by then. It's just, it kind of just helps, I don't know. I don't know why I keep using that word, but once they're done with college and they graduate hopefully, and they're done with their career, what's the path to stay in the United States, to work or do a lot of... student athletes go back to their countries, you know, what's the, what are the paths that are available to them? other than going professional. Yeah. Ignacio Lerech (17:33.485) So after you finish your college career, either you go pro, could be a way, like you go pro Ignacio Lerech (17:48.31) like Europe, Australia, like, you know, now the markets are like crazy. And like, and you know, like there are scouts from all over the world watching the college, like that kid from Syracuse was bought for Lacer City, like straight from Syracuse to go to Lacer City. And like, then they took him along to the Belgium league. That, that is telling us like how, how many scouts are watching like the college soccer, so like becoming a pro is like a, is a really big chances. If not, they have the opportunity to do, it's called OPT, which allow you to stay in the United States in something that is related to major. And the numbers OPT is determined by what you studied. If it's something related to math, it's around three years. If it's something more related to business and stuff like that, it's like one or two years. I would say one more. And after that, then you do the OPT. after the OPT you have that then is either the company that you were working for if you worked really well and you deserve it, they're going to sponsor you and they're going to give you a work visa, if not then like you have to look for a job in another part. The good thing is the United States degree opens you the door to the world because the universities are very prestige. like more and more national companies like are looking for people like this, you know, like people that left their houses, went to another country, had an experience, speaks another language, you know, those things, play sports because you know, like playing sports gives you that, that like, like work in teams and work ethics and like discipline and all that. And that's like the kind of like profiles that companies are looking. So, so yeah, like. Our kids that graduated, if they didn't go pro, they're working for Nike or companies, really good organizations around the world. So, yeah, it could go anywhere. My best friend didn't go with the company, but my best friend is working now for Cartier in Switzerland. He's an Italian guy. So with a degree from the United States, you can go wherever you want, to be honest. Scot Cooper (20:14.844) Cool. Let's get into your story. So start off in Argentina. Tell us about what it's like playing youth soccer there. And there's a few famous players that have come from there. So it's a pretty prestigious development system there. So tell us what's going on down there in Argentina. Ignacio Lerech (20:36.874) Yeah, so I mean, as you know, like soccer is like the number one thing for everyone. It's like people just leave soccer, like, breathe soccer. It's like, soccer is life, you know, like you see, like once you land in Argentina, like, I don't know if you ever had the chance to go, if not, like, you're invited, we can go together. It's like, you're gonna see, like, soccer everywhere, you know, in the streets, in the walls, like, paints, like, people playing, like, in the street soccer, parks. It's like... Soccer like the country should be called soccer instead of instead of Argentina It's like crazy. Yeah, like I said, I guess every young kid I start playing soccer Like my dad then like I start playing then I went to I was born when I started so then a Team so you know, what is how I see something that you call you play kind of futsal like growing up Yeah, so you get like to me and like you play like small size and all that Scot Cooper (21:10.83) Okay. Ignacio Lerech (21:36.386) So yeah, kind of like the Boca Academy for futsal, that is called Club Parque, like found me and they took me there. When I was good, now I'm not that good anymore, but I used to be good. Yeah, so they took me there. I played there for two or three years. And then after that, you transition to like an 11 and 11 field. And so I started doing like, I started playing for the Boca Tournament Academy. Scot Cooper (21:50.564) Yeah. Ignacio Lerech (22:04.586) And I played for the Boca Juniors Academy for like five years. And it was crazy. Like, I mean, the day that like they called, they told me that I was going to go because of course, like there are so many kids trying and like there's like thousands of kids like in Argentina, South America, even around the world, Asian people, African people go to try there. And that day was like amazing. Like my, because my family, like they're all Boca Juniors fan. Like my grandfather was a Boca Juniors fan. My dad is a Scot Cooper (22:18.512) Bye. Ignacio Lerech (22:34.102) Boca jr. fan, my two brothers, Boca jr. uncles, Kassin, everyone. Yeah, so it was like, it was crazy like having like a kid that was playing the academy, you know, like, yeah, then I started playing for the academy. Then my family for some reasons, they decided to move to another state in the north, it's called Tucumán. So I moved there, I played one year for like a local team there. And then I was young, so I didn't really have the chance to stay in one of the cities playing for Boca. That's why like... I could have stayed with my grandpa, which was one of the options. Now I kind of regret it, but like in the moment, I thought it was the right choice to go with my parents. Even though they gave me like the opportunity like to do what I wanted to do, like they were always very open-minded, that's handsome, gave me like the, you know, gave me the keys to open any door that I wanted, you know, and I always, I have a big gratitude for my parents for that. Then after a year, I... I went to play to Rosario Central, I went in a trial there, and I went to play to Rosario Central, that is like the, Rosario where Messi is from, that is in Santa Fe, I played there for like one year. I live in the residency for players, it was very far from my parents. Yeah, it was a really cool experience, I was like 15 years old, and I learned a lot, like in a lot of ways, like you're yourself, like how to live by yourself, like how to like have time. money, had to just live by yourself. You know, like in a really young ages, you know, like helps you a lot like for the rest of your life, I feel like, you know. Of course, there are like happy moments, sad moments, sad moments that you feel lonely, sad moments that you just wanna say, you know, whatever. Like I would just like give up, but those are like little moments that make it stronger. Like those are the little moments that I see now. working and like even like so playing that like you know like gives me that like extra you know like and I feel that advantage that I have towards other people you know so like I appreciate like doing that like in the past then I went to then I went back to Tucumán because the local team became I mean it was pro in the moment but they start competing in the national league so I went back there and I Ignacio Lerech (24:58.654) all the years until I went to the first team, Esco Asletico Tucuman. I trained with the first team a couple of times. And yeah, like I was like signed or signed, like the first contract, signed or signed the first contract. And then like, after I finished high school, the truth is like after I finished high school, my mom told me like, you have one year that you can gap year, do whatever you want, train as much as you want, do all like the possible things. to become a pro, if you don't, then next year you will start college. So after I did that gap year, then the next year I started college and it was impossible. I couldn't match those things. I was like, I was this close to like leave soccer or just tell my mom to like, you know what, I'm leaving the house because I'm going to just play soccer. So it was like, either one or both. So yeah, so I found this opportunity of going to the States and then... Then soccer took me to the TDA NA states. Scot Cooper (25:59.34) Yeah. And so what was that like, what was that experience like coming from? I mean, you'd already left home when you were younger to go live in residency with a team and like, you were basically a pro, you know, so, you know, what was it like, you know, coming to the US, leaving your country and, you know, just being, I mean, you're, you have the personality that I'm sure you were fine, but like, what was that like? to make that transition and try to adapt to a different game, really, in the US. Ignacio Lerech (26:37.055) Yeah, no, I mean, it's hard. But I also feel like the United States is so used to receiving international. The schools in South are so used to receiving international. So they do such a great job to make them feel like they are with them. Of course, the company makes a good job in that, but it's also the university that is part of providing them anything that they need. So yeah, I mean, of course, sometimes you feel lonely. Of course, sometimes you need anything. you know, like university is always like with you, you know, and giving you like your hand and like, this is like the way, you know? So the hardest part was like the first semester, the English probably, like I didn't have really good English, so the communication was hard, like the understanding was hard, like, you know, like with the, I mean, coaches or something, they want to tell you something, someone has to translate it to you, so that you actually get it. So like that part, like it was like the hardest in the beginning, but like. after the first semester I was totally fine. It was just the first semester of adapting myself to a new place, to a new environment, to a new people, to a new language, to a new culture. Inside the United States you also have different cultures as well, according to North, South, West, East. So it's like adapting yourself also to where you're going to. But I love the experience, man. The reason why I do this work, I mean, I'm working for this organization is because I love the experience, I enjoy it so much, and I try to tell the kids to do it. Because when I was in Argentina, it's really hard in terms of your mind, to imagine stuff there, it sounds like it's impossible. And then it's not hard, to be honest. The process is not hard. I mean, pretty much the company does everything. And it's not that crazy to go there. So part of my job is to motivate the kids to do it. Believe me, it's a good experience, and you're gonna love it. And yeah, 100% of the kids that go with us, they graduate. 100% of the kids that they go with us receive scholarships. 100% of the kids, happy life. Ignacio Lerech (28:53.138) During college and after college like we are happy for that We are happy that we do a great job And we happy that they can live a lot of kids work for their for the company as well like Doing the same thing that I do like just tell their experience. They share what they did like what they had so like And yeah, like it's hard in the beginning, but like it's like everything You know like after you get used to like a new place. You don't want to live You know like in the moment I was like a lot of country day like I signed my my professional contract in the space I left but it was a really nice place. I adjust myself to the culture very well, I adjust myself to American people, international in Germany which you share from all over the world. But I adjust myself very well, but not just myself. Every kid that goes there, they adjust very well to the United States. Scot Cooper (29:44.22) So did you study English before you left Argentina? Ignacio Lerech (29:49.202) Barely, I mean I did like study but like you know how it is when you're like in I mean before high school, during high school like Imagine myself I was like the you know like very problematic like in school I would never study I was like you know so yeah I mean did I study? What? Scot Cooper (30:11.533) You got in trouble for talking, didn't you? When the teacher... Ignacio Lerech (30:13.878) I'm talking, responding, all over, fighting, like all the, anything that you can imagine. But yeah, no. I mean, technically I took classes and yes, but like, did I learn English? No. Scot Cooper (30:16.173) I'm sorry. Scot Cooper (30:23.533) Yeah. Ignacio Lerech (30:32.846) Thanks for watching. Scot Cooper (30:33.27) So how did you pick it up so quickly? I mean, I don't know how quickly you picked it up. You speak very well now. I mean, what was that like for you? You know, obviously you kind of had to do it to get by. Ignacio Lerech (30:46.774) Yeah, I mean, when I got there, I was a little bit like... The first thing when you learn a new language, it really depends on personality. Like, your first personality. But the first thing you want to do mistakes, you want to speak very fast, you're scared of making mistakes, you know? Because you would think the other person would think you're like... sorry for the word, but dumb, or like... You know? I don't want to look like that, you know. So you want to embarrass yourself or put yourself in that situation. But after that first semester, I was like, you know what? Like these people, like, I mean, it would be the same thing if I see someone trying Spanish and speaking. I would feel so proud of that person for trying to learn a new language. I would never think that a person is, I don't know, whatever, for like, that's the thing. Yeah, no, I just, you make me laugh, but like, yeah. I mean, I love people that try to like learn a new language Scot Cooper (31:35.512) Even if they say El Muerto instead of El Muerto. Yeah. Ignacio Lerech (31:45.546) go abroad, make a new experience. I have so much, so much respect for those people. So yeah, I said after my first semester, I said, you know what, if someone wants to laugh or how I speak, they can laugh all they want. And after I lost that fear, I started learning much more, I started practicing more, I started hanging out more with people. I feel the best way to practice, to be honest, is by just speaking and being around with people. That's, I feel, is the easiest way. So... after like, the moment that I actually like learned the most it was with my first American girlfriend that I had. So because I spoke a lot of English all the time, texting, speaking, like going for dinner, it's like stuff like that. The first times were like hard, but then after like eventually like, you know, like eventually I learned it. But yeah, after that, I keep making mistakes, of course, but I try to learn a little bit every day. New words, new way to say stuff. I lost that fear of making mistakes. And that helped me too for like next languages that I like, they learn as well. Like that helped me too. Scot Cooper (32:59.852) Yeah, so you live in Italy now. Are you learning Italian, I'm assuming? Ignacio Lerech (33:04.966) I learned Italian. Italian was easier because Italian is similar to Spanish, so it was easier. But living there in the United States, since I live with some Brazilians and I'm sure team with some Brazilians, I learned Portuguese as well. So yeah, once you get there, it opens you so many doors and so many... I mean, that... the fact that you share different culture with so many people, it's amazing. That's for me the best part of the experience. Of course, you can go pro. or you can have a degree, of course, but the contact that you're gonna have, the friends that you're gonna make, those things for me are invaluable, in my opinion, because in them, of course, about connecting and making connections. That's how I see the world, at least. As many connections that you have in different countries makes you, gives you more opportunities and opens you more doors. Scot Cooper (34:01.08) Yeah. There's something I was gonna, oh, so your company, it doesn't just do South America and you guys serve Europe and other parts of the world, correct? So like, how does a student athlete connect with you guys? Just through the website or? Ignacio Lerech (34:24.955) So yeah, usually how they connect is through social media. CSA Vegas International is social media, CSA Vegas International. That's how it's social media. That's actually how they connect. They feel like, I don't know how to say, formulary is the word, like the form that they have in the caption of social media. Scot Cooper (34:44.396) Oh, form. Yeah. Scot Cooper (34:50.972) Mm-hmm. Ignacio Lerech (34:53.214) Now, after so many years, of course, we run marketing campaigns as well. But after so many years also, we have people that recommend us, like a friend that heard about us, or someone that traveled with us, that said, hey, I have this person that asked about the process. So most of the people that arrive to us is through recommendations as well. That also makes us really happy, because it means that we're doing a really good job. for the people that we are sending. Again, that's pretty much how we do it. Then we analyze a little bit of the profiles and we move forward if the profile is good. Scot Cooper (35:35.788) Cool. All right, I just, yeah, I'm here. Can you see me and hear me? Yeah, I think it was still recording, but I hit something under the desk and did who knows what happened, my big feet. I think we got everything on that. So what am I missing? What haven't I asked you about what you guys do and all that good stuff? Ignacio Lerech (35:38.626) Hello? Yeah, I lost you for a sec. Ignacio Lerech (36:03.374) I feel like you do a great job. You could work in the New York Times or something like that as a journalist. Scot Cooper (36:13.571) Well, you know, maybe it was when we redid it, you know. Ignacio Lerech (36:16.998) You did a great job. I feel like you asked me about everything. Yeah, like for me, it's about that. It's about making the kids happy and making their family happy and giving them opportunities. Mostly they want to leave their countries and they want to pursue something else in their lives. And going to college, I feel like it's a way to give you a... Scot Cooper (36:20.009) Yeah. Ignacio Lerech (36:45.086) Like a second opportunity in terms of, oh my God, sorry. Give you like a double opportunity in terms of in doing like an academic career while you do a soccer career. So like the fact that you can do both disciplines at the same time and with the same level, because of course you're getting like a really high education and a really good like soccer, you know. Of course, coming from Argentina, like, I didn't really know the soccer, the level, the leagues, the divisions, especially the level. That was the thing that concerned me the most. I didn't know how good it was going to be. I felt like college in America was like playing with my friends. And then you go there and you find the level is really high. You have people from all over the world. They're playing in really good academies. Like, Alfredo, he's the person I connect to. He plays for the Bente's Academy. that is in the next days. Giorgio is one of the guys that I met this summer too. He played for Atalanta. Then I had a friend that played with me, that played for Real Madrid. I played against people that played for Bayern Munich. You found people from all over the world and they're playing really good academies, they're playing at a really high level and that is making the league so competitive. And I feel like for the next years, if it's going this evolution, I feel like every year is gonna be more and more competitive and they are gonna be better and better players playing in college. And yeah, and I feel it's a really good place to go there, develop, grow as a person and as a player. Since of course, like the school is bringing, like it's providing you everything, you know, like the facilities are, I mean, coming from Europe, like I feel still the same, but coming from Argentina, like for us, like it's like crazy, like the facilities, you know, and like, like crazy. And I feel like Europeans think the same way, that the American facilities are crazy too. But for Argentina, we have a... I mean, not even pro teams have the facilities. Like, first division teams don't even have the facilities that I had, like at UVM, for example. Like the gyms, like the locker rooms, stuff like that. Like, not even first division teams. So, yeah, the facilities are crazy. We, like... When I was at UVM, all the games were through ESPN or other platforms. Ignacio Lerech (39:05.162) And then we were filming, analyzing the opponents, analyzing us, using stats, using wide scouts. Yeah, like food, hotels, traveling, like going to. Scot Cooper (39:23.072) Still there, Nacho? Okay, I got you. Okay. Ignacio Lerech (39:25.968) Going to five-star hotels, it was amazing. They were treating us more as pros. It's a really good step prior to becoming a pro. It really prepares you for that level. Scot Cooper (39:40.596) Yeah. Well, cool. That was great. I really appreciate it. Yeah, yeah. Oh yeah, you did a great job. What's that? Ignacio Lerech (39:47.566) That was good. You did a good job. I hope you recorded it. I hope you record it this time. Scot Cooper (39:56.24) It did, it did. I think I know what went wrong now that I'm looking at this. So I'm going to hit stop, but don't hang up yet, okay? So I'm going to just hit stop and then... Ignacio Lerech (40:00.546) Yeah, okay. Okay.

88. 4 Men's College soccer coaches Brett Teach Mt. St. Mary's, Michael Callahan George Mason University, Lucas Paulini Virginia Commonwealth University, and Justin Chezem Christopher Newport University Hi I’m Scot Cooper and welcome to the Tales From the Trail podcast by MatchPlay. In this episode Justin Chezem of Christopher Newport University men’s soccer and I welcome Brett Teach, head coach of Mount St. Mary’s University men’s soccer, Michael Callahan, men’s soccer assistant coach at George Mason University, and Lucas Paulini, assistant at Virginia Commonwealth University men’s soccer. They were kind enough to all come on the podcast together to share their thoughts on recruiting, college soccer, and reflect on their time together at VCU. There’s a ton of useful information as is always the case when coaches are given the opportunity to chat about what they do. Summary The conversation covers topics such as the potential of the program, transitioning to new roles, recruiting challenges, managing the current roster, building a strong culture, progress and development, recruiting strategies, creating a winning environment, coaching experience and background, transitioning to college soccer, managing player development, retaining players and communication, roster size and spring training, and player development and roles. The conversation explores the importance of asking impressive questions as a recruit, understanding the program's style of play, the player's role and improvement, the significance of first impressions, and the value of ID camps. Takeaways Recruits should ask questions that demonstrate their knowledge of the program and show genuine interest. Understanding the program's style of play is crucial for recruits to determine if it aligns with their own playing style. Recruits should inquire about how the program can help them improve as players and reach their full potential. First impressions, including questions and social media presence, can greatly impact a recruit's chances of being recruited. ID camps can be valuable for recruits to showcase their skills and get a feel for the program's environment, but it's important to prioritize club games and choose camps wisely. Chapters 00:00 Introduction and Roles 00:52 Potential of the Program 02:36 Transitioning to New Roles 03:35 Recruiting Challenges 04:04 Managing the Current Roster 06:31 Taking Over a New Program 08:42 Building a Strong Culture 12:24 Progress and Development 18:44 Recruiting Strategies 20:45 Creating a Winning Environment 25:17 Coaching Experience and Background 27:11 Coaching in the Development Academy 28:46 Transitioning to College Soccer 33:21 Managing Player Development 40:24 Retaining Players and Communication 43:48 Roster Size and Spring Training 50:56 Player Development and Roles 55:53 Impressive Questions from Recruits 59:15 Understanding the Program's Style of Play 01:02:14 Understanding the Player's Role and Improvement 01:05:14 The Importance of First Impressions 01:06:20 The Value of ID Camps Michael Callahan (00:05.179) Yeah. Oh, yeah. Yeah. He's here. Yeah. Hitting the ground running, getting after it. You guys probably saw I took on a role with VDA as well. So, um... Michael Callahan (00:20.635) Yeah, I haven't talked to him about it yet, but I guess the official title is like director of coach education, I think. So yeah, not exactly sure what it entails, but no, I'm with you. I gotta find myself one of those jobs too. Michael Callahan (00:46.143) Yeah. Michael Callahan (00:52.775) Yeah, no, I think he can really get it going. It's like, it's the same as we felt when we took over here a year and a half ago, is that it's just a program with a lot of potential. So I think he's got the same mindset about it, you know, that even though it's been down for a couple of years now, just a lot, you know, has a lot to offer. And I mean, Aaron, he's done well everywhere he's gone. So I think he'll get it going. Michael Callahan (01:25.483) We did, we worked side by side. At that point, Richmond United Boys and Girls were operating pretty independently. So, I mean, really like other than the name, we weren't working that closely together. It was starting to get a little more collaborative around the time that actually we both left. I mean, we were just starting to do a little bit more together, you know, really trying to. to bridge the gap between the boys and the girls program. But, you know, and then the other thing I worked with Aaron on a little bit was the under 23s because that was, he always managed that program for both the boys and the girls. So when I was coaching for the under 23s for the last two years, we were, you know, in some capacity working together, but never really like on the field, you know, side by side, anything like that. Brett Teach (02:36.35) depends on how you count it. Um, I took the job back right after Thanksgiving. Um, but I didn't start officially until the 1st of January. So, um, obviously I started working right away, but had to finish up the obligations with VCU and, you know, both on recruiting side and just, you know, you've been somewhere 14 years, there are things that you've kind of handled that you have to help others get ready for. Lucas, Lucas can talk a little bit about that too, cause he's kind of probably inheriting more of what I used to do. So yeah, but things are good. We've, you know, obviously done a lot of recruiting. So that's kind of been our number one thing is trying to get, you know, like I said, it's kind of in three phases for us. You have the portal and mid-year transfers. You have the 24s and you got to really start and get going with 25. So it's kind of been an interesting, you know, really almost three separate ways to recruit because we've brought seven in a mid-year. we'll bring another 10 to 12 in the fall. And then obviously we got to start 25 recruiting already. So it's kind of a unique situation based on the portal. And then also just where we were here, we needed reinforcements. Brett Teach (04:04.518) I really didn't let anybody go yet. I just told them, look, you didn't choose to play for me. I wasn't able to recruit any of you. So I just think it's a wait and see approach. Let's work together this spring and see what it looks like. There were some guys that went into portal, mainly grad transfer types. So one of another experience for last year. But yeah, we just basically, we had about 20, three years still returning, 22 returning, that had eligibility left. And so we're all just going into the spring kind of with an open mind, see what happens. Then we added seven, I brought two from VCU with me, guys that wanted to go into Portal. And so it worked out that they came with me. And then most of the other guys are not Portal guys, they're guys that were either available or doing a gap year or whatever. So... The other four or five guys were guys that we kind of just found. One we were looking at a VCU and we just didn't need to position and Lucas of all people he's on the call but Lucas kind of set me up with the kid as an Argentinian kid. So that's how we got him and so, it's just again, three silos. We got to get the immediate kids right away and then we got to start filling in with guys for the future. So that's kind of what we've done for the last, really since the day I took the job. We couldn't announce it for a week because my old boss was out of town. He wanted to be there when we told the players and he wanted to make sure to connect with the recruits and all that kind of stuff. So we just had to make sure that we did that the right way. Brett Teach (06:31.57) Well, I'll take the first bit and then Callie, you have it. I've done it seven times. So I've taken over seven different programs in my career. So, uh, it's a little, you know, I have a little bit, you know, in every case, a little bit different, but every program I've taken over was in a situation where the season prior was disappointing for whatever reason. And the coach moved on. Um, and so I think the immediacy of it for me is always about, you know, I hate to put some buzzword now there by culture, but it really is the truth. You've got to start to create what you want to look like. You know, what you want the daily habits to be. What do you want the style play to be? What do you want your typical student athlete to look like? And I don't mean necessarily, even talent wise, just what do you want? You know, and so you got to have a blueprint in mind. And so you begin right away with the blueprint and you begin to start amassing information on people, both recruits. and guys that are there. And like I told everybody, every recruit I've spoken to, I said, look, you'll never have a better opportunity to earn time because it's a complete blank slate with me. And you earn what you get. There's never been a better time to earn financial aid because again, I didn't recruit a single player outside of the two that are coming with VCU. I didn't recruit a single player on this roster. Every player that was here already was here. So I didn't go watch it and evaluate, you didn't get to know you, didn't meet your families. And so no matter what's happened, good or bad in the past, doesn't matter. So that's kind of how you begin. And then I like to just make it such a tough environment that they start to kind of gel together and maybe don't like me at first, I don't really care about that. What I'm more concerned about is, is they understand what it's like to fight together and to battle and to compete. Cause that's the first thing you have to do to be good. You have to be able to fight for each other. And then comes, you know, can you work defensively to do some things? And finally, are you good enough on the ball? And so that was kind of what I would put in as my two sons. Michael Callahan (08:42.707) Yeah, our one difference from Brad, what you're talking about at the front end about coming in for the spring season, you know, is that we were coming in, you know, in July and August. And so we really had no time to start bringing in new players, no time to evaluate the... the full picture, you know, before we were in the, you know, in the championship season. So that created some challenges in itself. But what I would say the same was like, we met with every player and you know, every player kind of heard the same message, you know, that you have an opportunity here to prove yourself. Again, similar to Brad, your experience with coming into teams that had not been. performing that well, ours was the same. You know, I'd been a team that hadn't won, I think more than two games for three years or something. And so, you know, there was a lot of, I think there was a lot of excitement to it that, hey, we can really start building on this, start improving on this. And then, yeah, the biggest thing for us was from day one was trying to raise the standards of, you know, what... what we are expecting from the players on a daily basis, you know, even from the most simple things of, you know, showing up on time, wearing the right thing, you know, just trying to really build a professional environment that, you know, guys, that top guys really want to be a part of. And then, you know, as every college coach knows, as I've learned now for two years, the fall is a grind. And so we were... we were in this grind, we had this really interesting challenge of being in the grind with a team that, that we hadn't recruited, you know, and so that was, yeah, there was some, some challenges within that, you know, players that maybe had expectations that were set from the previous staff. For, for them from, you know, maybe it's playing time, maybe it's something, something else, but yeah, that was, that was definitely Michael Callahan (11:03.215) one of the bigger challenges was going right into the fall season in a situation like that. But, you know, again, like we had some amazing guys, you know, who we felt really, really stepped up in a tough spot, you know, and really started to show or started, you know, as Brett, you described, like started to paint the picture of what we wanted a George Mason player to look like, you know, and those guys now, you know, those guys that are still with us from from that first year are some of the most rock solid from a culture standpoint, from what we're looking for from the team on a daily basis. Michael Callahan (12:24.574) Yeah. Michael Callahan (12:40.169) Yeah. Michael Callahan (12:46.419) Yeah, I think, I mean, it's funny because we just had our first spring practice of this season. And the difference between this practice and 12 months ago in our first spring practice last year is dramatically different. Like, and I remember as a coaching staff, we came into that first spring practice last year and we're again, you know, some of these some of these bare minimums from a from a standard standpoint, we're missing. And today we actually, we were really optimistic about just how we were hitting the ground running. You know, guys knew what was expected of them coming into a training session. You know, the type of energy we want to have, the type of intensity we want to have. And we just go in and we're focusing on the things we want to focus on. So I don't know, you know, it's still for sure, you know, a work in progress from that point, from a foundational standpoint. But that was... That was great to see it and it felt good to walk away from the session today with like, all right, we're, we're definitely farther along that path than we were 12 months ago. Brett Teach (14:02.586) Yeah, we started this morning as well. We actually went outside at eight, so it was not the warmest session I've ever been a part of. I think it was 18 when we started, but quite frankly, it was fine. You know, the advantage, I guess, that I would say we've had is that they've known me now what I was gonna expect for six weeks, five weeks. So it's been, I've been telling what it was gonna be like. You know, one of the things I like to do is I like to put out trading sessions before I even do them. So they know what we're going to do. They know what the, so I always post in the locker room. When I told them at our team meeting, our opening meeting, these are the rosters is what we're going to do. This house is going to be to make it as organized as possible. So they understand, really can focus on the things that we talked about. And I gave them two or three training objectives pre-training. And then my assistant and I were just evaluating the video now. And so, you know, we're fortunate that we have a turf field. So we're able to train kind of no matter what. So that was positive, but my first look, but a third of the rosters knew. So it's really more now just about learning the guys, learning okay, who are gonna be the guys that can successfully play the way I wanna play. And those who can't don't. I know Lucas on the call too, he kind of did this as a player with me back in 2007, cuz I took a team over in 07 and Lucas was in my first. roster they did it again in 2010 at VCU because he came with me for his senior year. So he's actually been through it as a player twice. Might be interesting to get his perspective on you know two startups with a new coach. Lucas Paulini (15:48.03) Yeah, I think it's interesting because it's very true that you as a player, I guess, when you come into a program or into, for me, it was a different country, different culture, different everything. I didn't know what to expect. And it's so important to set the standards early. I think with Coach Teach and I was a Division II school in Tennessee and I think the standards were set right away. It was a program that needed some reshuffling of values and what was important for the program and kind of who we were at that time. And I think Teach did a great job. helping us understand what was about and how to get to what we needed to get. And I think one of the things that he put a lot of emphasis in, and I'm sure he's going to be the same way at his new school, is mental toughness. What it takes to really not just be good, but also push you through the last five minutes of the game. What's going to make you a team more than just a good group of individuals and talented players? And I think as a... player that comes from a different culture, a different way of viewing things, you know, like small things that you might think is not important, like showing up on time or, you know, not cutting corners when you do an extra lap. Things like that were very important for him and it really, it started to set the culture for that team. That was my initial impression when I first got to the States and Coach Steech was the head coach there. And then when I transferred to VCU and came along with Brett, he was the assistant, which also changed the dynamics a little bit. from a player's perspective, because although he was the head coach, was my head coach for three years, then he was his assistant. And obviously his imprint was still part, big part of who we were as a team. But maybe the level was a little bit different, so the requirements for players were a little bit different. In my case, it helped me a lot to play Division II for three years before I transferred to Division I. And it helped me be very successful when I was a player at VCU. But, you know, just, the small difference is that. Each coach has, I think when you say coaches and staff, we will say that the team is always a reflection of the staff and it's just, not just one person, not just the head coach, I think it's a reflection of the staff and the way they train and the way they carry themselves and the way they behave off the field and how they play. And I think both places were similar but different in some of the ways that I just expressed, but good in many ways and it helped me be the player that I am and it also shaped me the way that. Lucas Paulini (18:11.571) I like my teams to play and I like to coach. Michael Callahan (18:44.407) I'll take this one first. Yeah, I think the biggest message is trying to, inspire the feelings in the recruits, the same ones that we have about the excitement and optimism of being a part or having the opportunity to be a part of putting a program back on the map or on the map and being a part of something special. And I think You know, again, with what the recruiting landscape looks like now, you know, your question was more directed towards, you know, a graduating high school senior from, from the U S like the message to that kid might be dramatically different than it is, you know, to, uh, I don't know, you know, a kid who's transferring, um, you know, as a junior or, or an international player, you know, they might be very different messages, but I think for the for the, I would say what stays consistent across the board is that wanting them to feel the same way that we do. Guys, look, we have amazing facilities. We have a fantastic school. You know, we have one of the best public universities in Virginia. I mean, so much better than VCU. You know, it's not even close. And I wish you could see me smiling, but hopefully you can hear me smiling when I say that. But you know that we... Lucas Paulini (20:04.287) Do one, Cali. Brett Teach (20:10.618) Yeah, you did come from our staff, Callie. All three of us were on staff together at VCU, so we'll just, we'll go ahead and preface it there. So that was your start, careful. Michael Callahan (20:13.957) What? Michael Callahan (20:17.547) Well, yeah. And I'm forever grateful guys. I'm forever grateful. No, but, but you guys get the point like that, that we felt we have so much to offer, uh, as a, as a school and that, you know, we just, we need to get the right people on the bus and. And that if we do, it can be something really special. And in VCU, all jokes aside, VCU has been this great example since you guys took over teach of a mid major that can do amazing things. If you get in there and start creating the culture and start building the right environment. And so that's what we're so excited about because it can be really special. And we want... What our hope at Mason is, is that kids can look past, okay, if they go look at the results over the past few years, they're not gonna be impressed, right? They're gonna be like, oh, this team, well, what's been going on there? And so our hope is that they can look past that and see the same opportunity that we feel is there as a coaching staff. Brett Teach (21:32.066) Yeah, and the only, I was just going to add a couple of pieces again, just coming from a startup type thing where, again, unfortunately in college soccer or college sports in general, you are where your record says you are. And so we had a tough record last year. Two years ago, VCU, we won three games. So until you prove that wrong, that's who you are. And so the message we give, it's more about what type of student will be successful here. Lucas Paulini (21:32.25) Yeah, I would, I would, I'm sorry, go ahead, touch. Michael Callahan (21:45.779) Yeah. Brett Teach (22:01.278) And again, we're not a 30,000 student university with 18,000 women or a 2500 student university in a great location, but it is kind of out in the middle of a nowhere area. We're not urban like Mason or like VCU, but we're close to Frederick, we're close to Dee, we're close to everything. So we're looking for kids who want that experience first and foremost. And we just tell them flat out, look, you come here to get a great degree, and to be in the most professional environment that we can create. And we want most of our players, their dream and their ambition is to be a pro. And we don't waste much time with guys if they're not. Because quite frankly, the guys that are looking for the, in the University of Tennessee, University of South Carolina type experience, they're not gonna be happy here. And so we try to eliminate that in that process. I think it's like Mike said, you do wanna capture that momentum, cuz that's the nice thing about a coaching change, right? There's a momentum period. But more importantly, you have one chance to make a first impression and that's that first group. And so you got to make sure your messaging is clear and then you bring the right type of kids who fit what you want ultimately. And you don't take, or at least I don't take risks on kids, even if they're really talented, I don't think quite fit the culture of what I want because ultimately they'll be in the portal a year from now and we're all dealing with that stuff again. So for me, it's much more important that we get the right kids who are bought into the same things that I want and that understand the mission of the school and fit again, the mission of the school and are ready just to get going. I want opportunities. So that's kind of what we talk about, but that's also true. That's what I want. It's not just to get players here. That's actually what I want. And I'll want that, you know, if I'm still coaching 15 years from now, that's what I'll want. You know, because I think you always have to match the mission of school to the dreams and desires of the player. Because without that, I think you end up with 3000 kids in the portal. Lucas Paulini (24:10.346) No, I obviously agree with both. I was going to add much more besides the fact that I think it's about the message. I agree with Kyle, it's different from kid to kid. And I think it's just, I think the most important part is to be, to really understand what drives them. Each player is a little bit different, they come from different environments. So to really understand what the players' needs are and where they're coming from, what's going to drive them to push to be part of the culture and something bigger than just a soccer team. And the second piece that I think is important too is the need to understand who you are and what the expectations are right away. Like who you are as a person, as a coach, as a staff, what the culture is about. And that ties on to like what Breestedt was saying about the culture of the team. And if they don't fit into that, I don't think it matters how much, how talented they are, where they come from. I think if it's not a good fit, it's not a good fit. Brett Teach (25:17.002) I was with the Strikers the first couple of years and I moved to the Kickers. The way I ended up with the Strikers is I worked with Bob Jenkins when he was a UAT national team coach. I was one of his cronies. I wouldn't say assistants, but I was on his staff, usually at region camp. Callie actually played back in those days. I remember Callie from region camp. And so I knew Bob and he was like one of three people I knew in Richmond. Michael Callahan (25:36.008) Right. Brett Teach (25:44.054) And so, and ironically, the other person that I knew was the leader of the staff we were replacing because, you know, many, many years before that, he'd offered me a grad assistantship at University of Richmond. So those are the only people I really knew. And so I knew Bob was a great coach, a great guy. So I went to work with him, but the 45 minute drive from my house every night was too much. So then I moved to the Kickers because it was 20 minutes from my house. And so, yeah, 12 years, I think is what it ended. I'm actually... My 90 days, because you get a 90 day little grace period, you can work with them. My 90 days ends after the VDA showcase. That's my 90 days, and that will be the end of my kickers time. Brett Teach (26:24.126) Kind of. I'll be advising. I'll be advising. I think Ronnie's gonna coach him. Ronnie Pascal is gonna coach him because he's probably taking the group next year. So. Lucas Paulini (26:40.318) Yes, I am. So I do a little bit of everything to be honest. We started the futsal program back up after COVID. I also coach a U-17 team. I do U-23s in the summer and I'm also the college recruiter coordinator or but I don't know what the title is but I help kids both on the men and women's side to get recruited. Michael Callahan (27:11.347) Five years. Yeah, so I started out in the in the u12 and u13 Academy ages That was when the development Academy still existed And I did I did three years in those younger ages 12s and 13s and then oh no Sorry, I did two years in those ages and I did three years with the 17s and 19s and then Yeah, when the DA folded, we made the transition to ECNL here in the mid-Atlantic. But yeah, five years overall. Michael Callahan (27:52.827) Yeah, so I joined the VCU staff as a volunteer for one year. So that was in 2021 or it was, yeah, spring of, spring of, no fall of, yeah, fall of 21, spring of 22, that year before I took the job at Mason. Michael Callahan (28:17.589) Sure. Michael Callahan (28:46.767) Yeah, it really is. It's an incredibly different world. I, you know, a couple of aspects I think, you know, are probably the biggest difference. One is the college season, you know, you are in this three month sprint to try to compete and win a championship. So there's no time within the season for... Hey, we've got this, I mean, it's so rare you actually have a full week of training, you know, so you're much more in this environment of we play every three or four days, we are scouting the upcoming opponent, we're preparing, trying to improve from our last game from a technical perspective. And boom, we got to move on and prepare everything to try to win the next game, you know, versus where in the in the Academy environment with the with the 17th and 19th, you know, we're really have a much more, obviously our season is eight, nine months spread out over the course of that time and a lot more, I would say, training time where it can really be focused more on the individual player development. What I would say from now being in the college environment for a year and a half and looking back on my time coaching those age groups right before they go on to college is I think I would try to push harder to get them in environments and like create games for us where we're playing against older players because I think that's the hardest jump for players going from U19 ECNL or MLSNext or whatever, you know, any under 19 into the college game is that now they're playing against men. You know, like... whatever we all are seeing a lot of the players who are coming into the college environment, the, the 30 year old on, uh, what is it? Um, Franklin, Franklin Pierce, the 30 year old playing in the hair. Um, but yeah, it's a, it's a massive, it's a massive jump. So I think what I would, what I would try to do more of as a, as a U 17, U 19 coaches, try to find those games, you know, play UPL, UPSL teams, like push really hard to try to get those games into our schedule to try to challenge those players more because Michael Callahan (31:05.967) Everywhere, you know, everywhere in the world, you know, the best, the best youth players are getting pushed earlier when they're ready to play against men. And so if we want, if we want to give our, our young American players the best chance possible to, to be ready to have success when they go into college, you know, we got to try to try to help prepare them more, you know, push them more into environments where they compete against older players, more experienced players. But still in meaningful games and that's one of the biggest challenges and I'm not jealous of the of the youth club directors that they have this challenge is trying to find those games because It can be so hit or miss like you might go and say hey, we got this great UPSL game Against a team with a bunch of men, but then you show up and these guys, you know They're not fit or they're not you know, they're not it's not a meaningful game. And so Yeah, I think that's it's a big challenge for youth directors to keep trying to find those ways to Create those challenges for their uh, you know for their sophomores juniors and seniors And then a big a big responsibility falls on the on the coaches of those oldest age groups like lukey I mean, how lucky are those you 17? FC richmond players right now, you know, brad teach. I mean how lucky were those under 19? Richmond Kickers players to have you guys as coaches, because you know the intensity that it takes to succeed at the college level. You know what they're about to go into. And so you have, I mean, they are so fortunate to then feel this intensity coming from you guys, so that when they do step into their first practice at VCU or Mount St. Mary's or George Mason, it's not a shock. You know, they are more ready for it, the intensity that comes from the coaching staff. you know, the speed of play that's coming at them. So I think a big responsibility for that is falling on the coaches as well. Brett Teach (33:21.142) I think I'm going to quote my old boss, all three of our old bosses, Dave Gifford. He always would say to people, look, you have to quit thinking of this as the jump from, you know, the next step from club soccer to college soccer. It's not, it's a step below USL championship and MLS. And so I think the perspective of so many kids have is that it's just the next thing. You know, it's like you 17 to you 19. No big deal. This year I coach both the U-17 and U-19 kickers teams. And so the jump from U-17 to U-19 is massive. And it's not close to what the jump from U-19 to college soccer is. And so I think it's really critically important that the coaches that are working with kids in those age groups, you have to demand more. You have to demand that even if they're good enough to get away with what they do in their level. It's still not gonna be enough when they come into an environment where, quite frankly, you have 20 guys that can do the same thing, 25 guys. And they're gonna all compete and it's gonna come down to who understands the role the best, who can function the quickest, and who can play. And I think that what happens, one of the things that I, the last like, since we kinda took over the United Teenage Group at the Kickers, that's been kinda my goal is to build a group that at least understood the demands. understood what it was like to be in the system, how to function within the system, you know, what your job was, what your roles were, you know, and I think we were pretty successful in putting players into college. And this year we have nine or 10 commitments from the group. And, uh, and I have 10 juniors or nine juniors. So it's a, you know, two thirds of the roster is going to play in college. And so it's not because of me, especially, or anything like that. It's just because hopefully in training. Even if they were better than all the other players, there was still a demand that they perform. And then quite honestly, the last couple of teams I've had, we had three or four kids that were great at setting a standard. It's nothing like having players help set the standard, because that's the best teams. The best teams, the players begin to set the standard, the coach becomes, I say the coach becomes a tour guide when a team becomes good enough. So I've been fortunate in the last two years, I had, in fact, all three of the kids I'm referring to are all going to VCU next year. Brett Teach (35:43.886) and their kids are just, they set a standard in training every day. And, uh, and honestly, some days it was more intense than, uh, a few of our college practices were, so that was really good, but that was my experience. It's just not enough demand for execution. And I think that's where I spent a lot of my time with. Wasn't it perfect, but at least the demands were right. Lucas Paulini (36:06.612) Yeah, I mean, I think there are three big pieces and they call it touch on one of them, which is the first one, I think meaningful games. I think it's a big one. When players are ready to move up and play up, I think that's something that needs to happen more often. I was watching a game yesterday. I'm here in Argentina recruiting and I watch a game with guys that were trying to make the transition to college between, I don't know, they were between 18 and 22 years old trying to make the jump to college soccer. And we played against teams. made up of players of 16, 17 year olds who had experience ready playing with the first team and training with them and being in that environment in preseason. So I think meaningful games, you know, meaningful games and players move up when they're ready is number one. I think the training environment is two and I think Coach Teach talked about it. I don't think, you know, club coaches do enough to recreate the game, the college soccer game in terms of time and space. I think there's more to do there. And then the last piece. And I think... They need to do more. I think some of the players that I see in my club a lot, but I'm sure it happens all across the state is, they just, you know, three times a week, an hour and a half is not enough. And most of these kids really don't do much more besides that. And to be honest, they're already playing catch-up. You know, they are 16, 17 years old. For the last five or six years, they've only been training four hours and a half a week. And it's not enough. And I think it's no more just games, because I think they play plenty of games. They've had... a super difficult fall with my team between private school boys and public school boys. I think we probably had 10 or 12 meaningful sessions, training sessions, but they probably had 30-something games, 40-something games in four months and a half. So that doesn't really make a lot of sense, and this spring will be no different with public school boys playing soccer in high school and tournaments with three or four games in two days. That just doesn't make any sense. It sets you back from what really a training session looks like. you don't really get much time to train. So I think those three pieces are massive, massive for youth development in the country. Michael Callahan (40:24.038) Thank you. Brett Teach (40:45.51) I think this year it's around the eighth, seventh or eighth, because the first games or whatever that Thursday is. Ours is the 22nd. So I think we're allowed, what is it, 14, there's around so many days you're allowed in early. So I think seventh or eighth we're in and then we start training. I think it's 14 training day opportunities or whatever. Is that what you guys got, Cali? Michael Callahan (41:05.639) Yeah, yeah, it's about that. And yeah, to that point, that's where getting the guys, I mean, it's, you know, of course, it's they're on their own coming back in an optional capacity, but hopefully inspiring the leadership of the team, the older guys that they all get together back on campus, you know, five, six weeks before that, you know, and really start pushing each other. Cause you know, obviously there's a ton of... There's a ton of really good summer environments. They can go play in different teams and get games and get really good, uh, competitive coaching and stay fit and everything, but they're all doing it in their own separate environments, you know, with no more than five guys in one team. And so that's where, um, you know, at least our, our hope is that we kind of inspire that from within that the guys want to come back, want to start getting together, want to start, um, training together on their own. in that five six weeks leading up to the season I'm sure it's... the same you know no different for you guys right... Luke Ian and teach. Lucas Paulini (42:12.428) Yeah, no different. No different. I think the way we look at it, somewhere is a little bit different maybe where we try to see who are the players that will play the most games in minutes in the fall. I'm trying to find an environment where they're not going to be super busy and playing plenty of minutes or plenty of games. So when they come in the fall, they are a little more fresh. That will be the only thing to happen. No different. We're in the sixth of August and we hope that our players, for the most part, have been in training with our strength and conditioning coach for at least two weeks. Brett Teach (43:34.782) Thanks for watching! Brett Teach (43:48.494) You know, I think, you know, we've gone through it both when I was at VCU and of course, we'll go through it here. For me, I really think that as a coach, you can do a lot in the front end. If they feel continuous development, I think when you start to lose kids to the portals, when they feel like that they're not developing for whatever reason, they're stagnating and whether and again, whether playing or not playing, even guys who play a lot, they tend to leave when they feel like they're stagnating for whatever reason. So I think it's really critically important that you have open communication all the time, not just at the end of the year when they're upset, but all throughout the year. You know, I know when Michael was with us at VCU and Lucas and I were together, we would meet with our younger players all the time. We'd just pull them in every couple of weeks to say, how you doing? Here's what we see, here's what you're doing well. And then we did a lot of training sessions where maybe the guys who had played a lot the night before, you know, they were off or not training, recovering. I think you just, they have to feel number one valued. Number two, they have to feel like they're continuously developing, getting better. And number three, they have to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And those things, if you lose any of those, you're probably gonna lose the kid in some way. And so we try really hard, and I'll try very hard here through me and my staff to constantly let them know. what they're doing well, where they can improve. We watch video all the time. You know, like we video, last couple of years at VCU we videoed every practice. We bring kids in all the time. We're doing the same thing here. And I just think information, communication, they understand their value. You see their plan. And in the end, you know, if they still choose to move on, they were just always going to. But my experience has been over, this is my 36th year, is that if a kid feels like... that he's valued number one by the coach, but that he has a value within the group. They'll tend to stick it out as long as there's light at the end of the tunnel. At VCU, we very rarely lost people to the portal. It was only this year that we lost a few. Now it's more because we had, honestly, our roster was really large. And so guys are just saying, okay, I don't see a way in. And so they left, you know, but other than that, I think Brett Teach (46:05.122) Luke and probably Cali the whole time they were there. I bet we didn't lose more than one or two. You know, I mean total, not a year, total. Lucas Paulini (46:13.66) Yeah, I think one of the biggest pieces that we put a lot of emphasis in is we never, well, first of all, I think we say it's never your turn, right? We don't tell kids after this guy leaves, this is your job. Because at the end of the day, I don't think they're competing against each other. I think it's more they're competing against the level. So if my left back right now is doing very well and is playing well, it doesn't mean that when he leaves, the next guy is up. It means that he needs to be ready to play at the level that's required for the league. for the tournament and if it's not, we're gonna recruit over. And so I think like to Brad's point, it's a continuous development that ties a player to the school and to the program. And as soon as you lose that and you make empty promises, that's when you start to lose kids to a portal and it's difficult to fill empty promises. So as long as you don't promise kids anything and you compete to a level and they feel, you know, love and continuous development. they just don't leave for the quarter. And that's why I think this year's been very successful with that over the last few years. And this year has been a little bit different, but our loss was large, but also many of the kids that are transferring were out of state walk-on. So school is getting expensive too, and finding ways to help the parents afford is what made this happen for us this year. Michael Callahan (47:32.711) Yeah, I think that's one of the biggest challenges. And Tichu said it really well. You know, if the player feels that they are developing and that they're growing as a player and a person, like they're gonna be way more likely to stay. But the, and the biggest challenge within that, and we all know this, like in these critical ages of 18 to 22, like what do they need to develop as players? it's matches, right? And so that's a huge challenge and a huge credit to you guys at VCU, like how you manage that situation, right, and manage that. So like you were saying, you're meeting individually, you're doing individual work with the players, you're finding ways to still stimulate them so that they are growing and that they are developing. And that's one of these interesting inherent challenges of college soccer is that roster size, like there can be, reasons for carrying a 35, 40 man roster that are outside of the realm of like, hey, this is what's best for the development of the players at that age, right? Whether it's based on your budget, whether it's based on what the school wants, you know, yada, yada. There's many reasons because like I said, in reality, if we say, hey, what's really best for each one of these players? Like it's probably going to be that they are playing matches on some level, you know? And so that's where... you know, like you said, it's those individual meetings, extra supplemental work with the players, like whatever, whatever we, and that's a huge objective of our staff too, is like we wanna show the players like all the time, like our door is open, we'll do extra work with you guys, we're gonna, you know, video, go out to the fields, extra stuff, because I know I'd be going insane if I'm a 19, 20 year old and I'm not getting games, right? Like I'd be going nuts. And so. Like how are you, how are we as the coaches managing those situations and still finding ways to help those players improve, you know? And, you know, Lukey, you used the phrase light at the end of the tunnel, or maybe it was Teej, actually, I can't remember. One of you said it, right? The light at the end of the tunnel, and that's really, really important too, like showing the players that there is a pathway for you to be a contributing player in these meaningful games. Michael Callahan (50:00.755) But yeah, that's amazing, amazing point. I couldn't agree more. And a huge challenge for all college coaches. Lucas Paulini (50:10.288) And then the other piece that we do at VCU is the spring is so big for them. For those players, maybe they're 15 through 30, through 35. We schedule games in the spring where it's a two game per day. So when people say, you know, we don't have a chance or we couldn't show ourselves throughout the year, you have five games in the spring where these players will compete against, you know, good caliber teams and they get to measure themselves against them. And that gives you a really tangible way to look at that. So. For those players, after year two, they'll have 10 college games under the belt. So that's another way that we use that for those players. Michael Callahan (50:44.318) Yep. Brett Teach (50:56.422) Uh, we'll be between 30 and 40 somewhere, probably mid, mid range there, 33 to 35. Um, one of the things that I like is I like to be able to play 11 aside in the spring. Um, so if you have 26, you're most likely losing a group of eight. Now, unless you're a big portal guy, you're going to have 19. Uh, you name, name a basketball team in the world that never plays five to five and practice at some point. You know, you can't because you need to be able to do that. So. I've always preferred larger rosters anyway, maybe not 40 like we had this year, you know, at VCU. And I've had other places, larger rosters, but we'll be, I'm guessing 34, 35 probably would be about right. And I would think that'll be the same way going forward for us. Michael Callahan (51:42.087) Yeah, I think we'll probably be, we were at 29 this past fall. We'll probably stay in the like 28 to 32 range. You know, somewhere in there exactly, you know, same as, same as Brett is saying. I mean, that's, I've never thought about it that we're actually comparing it to basketball, like how crazy that sounds. If you're like, yeah, you can't play five, five in your basketball practice. Like, but. how many colleges are dealing with that in the spring is so true, you know, and how important that is too for the players to keep improving. But yeah, we kind of, we want to operate in that probably, you know, upper twenties range because it's also, we don't want to have to be like inventing roles for players on the team, you know, like for Guy. 36, 37, 38, like man, that is a big challenge to find, and not saying you can't do it, you can do it. Find a meaningful role for every player, but he's gonna be sitting out in 11 v 11 when you're at your full capacity. You're gonna have a lot of guys sitting out in that space. A lot of colleges are dealing with that. So again, just back to the point of keeping the players. engaged, stimulated, feeling like they are improving like as much as possible. We don't wanna have, sorry about that guys, it's my security guard there letting us know. But yeah, so we, you know, that's kind of why we like to operate more in that 27 to 30 range. Lucas Paulini (53:32.98) Yeah, so we have 31 right now. 30-31 will be at 36 for the same reasons that Brett mentioned. And for probably to be able to do 11 outside in the spring and have double date, play two games in one date for those guys, 15 through 30. Scot Cooper (55:43.612) Yeah, you guys have a few more minutes. I got a couple of questions real quick. Yeah, I got it. Michael Callahan (55:48.903) Yeah, I gotta jump off at 3.15. Scot Cooper (55:53.084) Okay. This is a so I met you guys at the VDA, I guess ID tournament or camp or whatever it was, whatever the official title was. But I wanted to get your guys opinions on, you know, some of the better questions we recorded a Q&A for that camp. And I just want to get your guys thoughts on what's some of the better questions that you've gotten from recruits through the years that really impressed you, that could tell, that made you realize that they'd done their homework and that they were truly interested in coming to play for you wherever you guys were at that point. Brett Teach (56:40.206) I think always when they understand a little bit about who you played, how you played, you understand the difference between VCU, Mount St. Mary's, Christopher Newport, George Mason, you understand that each of these programs are a little bit different, not only in where they're located and all that, but also in how they play. I see so many guys will... talked to me about, I think I can play the way you guys play, but they've never once seen us play. So I think somebody that says, look, I've seen you guys play. I know you, you love to be on the ball, you know, this is what I want to do. And so a little bit of knowledge about the program and then a little bit of understanding of our roster said, you know, I, you know, uh, you have, you know, two or three guys, you know, in midfield that are seniors, um, you know, I know two of them were pretty pivotal. Again, I guess I go back to a knowledge of what we're doing. Because again, it shows you that they take the time to watch an ESPN Plus or whatever because games are so accessible now at our level that you can find them if you want to. And I know so many teams, whenever I wanted to watch your team, Justin, or I wanted to watch Mary Wash, just go on the website and there's gonna be a link and you can watch the guys play. So I think just doing a little bit of research and then asking questions. that actually pertain to that university or that program or the recall of a moment in the game, hey, you know, that build up, you know, I had so many after we played Marshall at VCU this past fall, I probably had eight to 10 recruits that we were at VCU engaged with the time who watched the game because obviously Marshall was number one in the country. And then one of the clubs in town brought their team to the game. So we had 600 kids happening from risk kickers at that time. And so The amount of questions, intelligent questions I got about the game, about how we played, what we did, whatever, were really good. And then you'll hear him say something else about, well, this team, because the team was, for instance, Cali's team this year was honestly one of the better teams we played this year. But they didn't have great success early on, so the record wasn't as good. But if you watched them, I mean, we won the game this year, but we probably had 40% of the ball in the game. And so- Brett Teach (59:04.77) Most guys just see the results and they say, hey, you're better than that team. You know what I mean? And so I just think a little bit of understanding and homework on their part really impresses me all the time. Michael Callahan (59:15.631) Yeah, I couldn't agree with that more. Just also because like we're coaches, we believe in our teams, like we play a certain way because, you know, it's probably something we believe about the game and we love about the game. And so we want players who are excited to play that way as well, you know? And it's like, I'm sure we've all had seen stories of players who've gone to programs that haven't been... a fit from the style of play. And so it's just like, we want as much as like we want to be excited about talented players, you know, and when we watch them recruiting, it's like, it's probably so I mean, I know it for me coming into the college environment is one of my favorite things. Now it's like, I just get to go watch games and try to watch good players. And that's really fun. And, you know, but it's the same on the other way, right? Like like as teach you're talking about, like we want kids to be excited about the way that we're playing and the way that we're doing things because we want it to be a fit and you nailed it on the head. It's just such an indicator of like, this kid's really serious about it. He's not just talking the talk. He's really putting the time in. And I think for the American, the traditional American recruits, like stuff like that is more important than ever because Like, like, as Lukey's over in Argentina recruiting right now, you know, bread, like you say, you got to try to bring in guys who can kind of start helping turn the corner right away on the portal. You know, Rich and I were just in Spain last week, right? Where there's access to higher, higher level players or I would say older, more experienced players than ever before. And so if you really want to make a difference for yourself as the 17, 18 year old coming up through the ECNL and less next. regional leagues, all national leagues, all these, all these things. Like you've got to take the time to watch the games, get to know the programs. Like, um, you know, bread, like you said, when they really, you know, you can tell they really took their time to get to know what you're doing and how you're doing it, and maybe have interesting questions about why, why did you do this? Why did you do that? Like it sends a really strong message that this kid is going to be invested in, in the program, you know, and like we've already talked about, it's incredibly difficult. Michael Callahan (01:01:42.879) for freshmen to earn playing time right away with the quality of the players that are coming into college right now. So that tells us like, hey, this kid, even if he doesn't have playing time, hey, he's still gonna be really, really invested in the team. You know, this is a guy who cares about what he does and he's gonna, you know, go the extra mile to try to help the cause. Scot Cooper (01:02:14.132) Lucas, you have anything to add there? I know that that's kind of your role at FC Richmond, right? Is to help kids get- Yeah, so- Lucas Paulini (01:02:19.686) Yeah, so basically what we try to get at FC Richmond, what we try to get across is really understanding what type of player they are. I think the two things they mentioned, they were very valuable. Some research on the school, research on how they play, and interesting questions about style play. And I think the next one is really understand what type of player each of them is to really ask questions. How can you improve me as a player? Where can you get me? I really like those questions because I think what it does, it just gives you a little bit of an insight of a player who wants to be challenged, who wants to push boundaries. And I think most of the kids nowadays look at it the other way, right? Like Brett said, I think I can help your program without even looking at how your program plays. I think I can help you midfield or I can do this and I think I can help your team do this or play this way. And I think it's more the opposite. It's what can you do and how can you help me as a player improve? and reach my ceiling. I like those questions a lot. But it really comes, it starts with the player understanding how they play, what type of people, what type of person they are, what type of player they are. And I think it starts there. And I like those questions. It just gives me an insight of what, how hard, and what they need to do when they're with me to get to where I think that player can get. Scot Cooper (01:03:42.085) Um. Brett Teach (01:03:43.102) Scott, one other thing I would add to this, because I just thought of when Luke was talking. When I first started coaching, I worked with a guy probably pretty famous in the business, a guy named Ralph Lundy. And he was down at College of Charleston for years and years and ran camps. And one of the things he taught me very early as a young coach was if you listen closely enough. Kids will tell you their intentions with their questions. So you can see the angle they're coming from. you can see what their thoughts are about your program simply by the questions they ask. You know, and so it was really I thought a poignant statement at that point that, you know, 36 years later, we had a kid in today. And we were talking about after he left, it's like, yeah, you know, he seemed kind of blah about his interests and this and that. And we'll kind of move on because simply didn't seem interested, you know, and I think he is. But, you know, you worry about those things. I think it's really critically important for young people to understand it. everything that you say, everything you put on social media, whatever, we're going to see, we're going to hear, and then we're going to make value judgments on. And most of the time, we're pretty accurate, I would guess. You know, I've worked with Lucas and Mike as much as I have, and Jesus' program wouldn't be what it was if he wasn't good at that. You know, you read, you read clues, you know, and sometimes you don't even mean to. So I think really understand that what you're putting, are you putting out what you want people to see? with your questions, with your social media, with everything. So that would be the one thing I added to that. Scot Cooper (01:05:14.164) Yeah. Scot Cooper (01:05:54.709) The last thing I'll ask, I know you guys need to bounce, but I just wanted to get your guys take on the value of ID camps. I get a lot of feedback on that and questions and that sort of thing. I just wanted to get each of your opinions on why those are important and how you should approach those as a recruit and what you should hope to take away from them. Brett Teach (01:06:20.979) I'll take the first one, then I'll jump off quickly. I think they're hugely valuable. And honestly, I'm kind of borrowing the model we had at VCU, where we basically, it was just us. So the guys coming were very interested in us. We wanted to see them. Every now and then we'd bring another outside coach in, but not very often. And we would, within the legal limits, allow our guys to be involved. And I think you had a really good picture of how they would fit in with your group. Michael Callahan (01:06:41.607) Thanks for watching. Brett Teach (01:06:49.342) Um, I, where I have a little bit more trouble with these bigger, like I was explaining this to one of my club guys the other day and we were talking to him. He was looking at a, one of the larger ones that has like 20, 30 schools there, 40 schools. So the problem with that is even though there's a large group of coaches, you're only going to see a few players. And so quite frankly, if I, and then, and then they say, okay, we're going to rotate you so all these different coaches can see you. So I may get, if I go to do a three hour session somewhere, The first hour and a half is us running training sessions. You're gonna see three groups. And for 20 minutes each, 30 minutes each. And honestly, that's 80 kids. I'm not gonna name those names. You know, unless the kid just really stands out, you know, I'm not gonna remember him. And then you go and like, okay, well that kid was in your group, well was he? You know, and so I think the reality is, is that you're much better off picking a few schools that you like, looking at they have other schools that you like. working there, going there, because it is a big bang for buck. I mean, it's the only legal way to try out in Division I, really, quite frankly. I think it's hugely valuable. And again, some places use the moneymaker, I get it. For me, it's always been, let's put them in our environment, let's see what they have, let's see how they do, and let's see how they interact with our guys. So for me, they're gigantically important. Michael Callahan (01:08:11.851) Yeah, and very similar for us on the way we run our ID camps. It's just our staff. We really shoot for kind of the same number of players at each ID camp that we would have in any training session. And then we run them through exactly as Teach said, training sessions that are really going to give them a feel for what it's like in our environment. One thing I would say, because I just came across this recently, and I would say this to every. You know, you 17, 19 player is prioritize your club games first. Like I, it was so funny. I was at a big ID camp and I knew this youth club had big, big league games going on that day and I saw three kids from that club team at the ID camp. And I know them and I was like, what are you guys doing here? I was like, don't you have a game today? And they're like, oh yeah, but the, you know, we wanted to do the, the camp and this and that. So I called the head coach of this club team later and now also having just come from the youth environment, I could empathize with this frustration, because we want players that are committed to the team. So I called this youth coach later and I said, hey, how'd the game go? I saw a couple of your guys. He was like, one of them didn't even communicate with him that he was missing the game. And what kind of message does that tell me? no chance like he is crossed off the list zero chance we will ever recruit him at george mason you know and so i would say that and here's the caveat the asterisk that i would put on it is that there is a situation where the id camp can make sense to miss your game and for me that case is like this school is genuinely very interested in you They want you to come to their ID camp because it's an environment as bread teach and I are describing here it's an environment where you're really going to get this unique experience of their training sessions being on campus and they're genuinely recruiting you and so this is what I used to always do as the U 17 U 19 coach is I would say well let me call the coach like I will I will tell you like if this is worth your time to go to this ID camp. Michael Callahan (01:10:28.987) And if not, like, you need to be there for your team, you need to be there for your teammates. And I talked to this club coach that I was this story I told recently, like, they lost the game to one in a big league game. And again, it's a youth league game, right? Okay, you can say so what but at the end of the day, like we've all been saying here, we're trying to recruit players that are going to be fully invested in the team when they get to college. And, you know, that we want to see that. now with the players with their youth team so I would say one I would I would say you know the youth coaches out there in the youth directors like really should be emphasizing this point with their players and then the coaches need to be proactive to support them on that you know because like you said some of these camps are money makers and they're trying to get 150 kids to their camp and they're going to tell you whatever like hey we really want to see you there but just with a quick phone call you know to get... get somebody on the staff, you can probably find out pretty quickly like, Hey, is this, is this pretty, pretty important that this kid comes to the camp, you know, or is this more this generic kind of, Hey, come so we can pump our, pump our numbers a little bit more, you know, and, and I've had cases like that. I would say they were more on the, more often they were on the ladder of what I described, you know, that it's like, Hey, it, you know, no, it's okay. We'll see him another time. But I had a case where it was like, no, we really want to see this kid on campus. We're almost treating it like a visit, like an official visit. And in that case, yeah, go for it. But I would say, I don't know, that one strikes a chord with me. And I think it's a really important message that the players hear. Scot Cooper (01:12:19.86) Lucas, you wanna add to that? Lucas Paulini (01:12:24.) No, I wouldn't have much more than that. I think they touched on all the points. I would agree 100% with both of them. Scot Cooper (01:13:52.82) Fair point, cheese. And just to get back to Mike's point, you called those three kids their club coach. I mean, the point's been made many times that you guys are a tight-knit network as college coaches, and everybody kind of knows each other. So as a recruit, they should know that somebody's always watching, and you guys are always talking to each other. Michael Callahan (01:14:15.638) Yeah. Scot Cooper (01:14:22.945) sure. So yeah, we've gone well over an hour here. So I just wanted to thank you guys. Hopefully this won't be the last time you guys come on. There's a lot to a lot of stories there. I'm sure we could we could kind of get to as well. So Brett Teach (01:14:38.426) Yeah, especially the three of us being on the same stop for a year. Michael Callahan (01:14:40.191) Yeah. Oh man, good times, good times. Scot Cooper (01:14:44.952) I was also thinking 36 years, there's probably a lot of stories as well. So anyway, I'm going to get you guys out of here. I really, really appreciate it. And you know, enjoy the recruiting season and getting your guys spring season started. Brett Teach (01:14:48.743) Oh yeah, look. Michael Callahan (01:15:02.291) Yeah, thanks. Thanks guys. Appreciate it. All right. All right. Brett Teach (01:15:03.41) Thanks guys for having us. You guys have a good one. Lukey, say flight, brother. Scot Cooper (01:15:06.433) Thank you. Lucas Paulini (01:15:06.488) Bye, thank you. See you guys. Thank you. See you soon. Bye. Michael Callahan (01:15:10.367) Yup, alright, see you soon guys, bye.

86. Mason McKnight -- Student Athlete - Randolph-Macon College and Chris Norris, Head Coach, William & Mary Men's Soccer Hi I’m Scot Cooper and welcome to the Tales From the Trail Podcast. In this episode I’m joined by Chris Norris, head coach of men’s soccer at the College of William and Mary. We welcome one of his former youth players, Mason McKnight. Mason discusses his recruiting story and how he arrived at the decision to attend Lycoming College. His first semester and season at Lycoming left him wanting a different college experience. As a result, Mason chose to transfer to Randolph-Macon College. This is an important discussion for anyone making the decision to attend college- it brings focus to finding the right fit when in the recruiting process. Summary The conversation explores Mason McKnight's experience with the college soccer recruiting process, his decision to attend Lycoming College, and his subsequent transfer to Randolph-Macon College. Mason discusses the importance of camps, physical and mental preparation, and the value of adaptability. He highlights the significance of team culture and the impact it had on his decision to transfer. The conversation also touches on the transfer process and the role of the transfer portal in finding a better fit. Overall, the discussion emphasizes the importance of finding the right fit academically, athletically, and socially in the college recruiting process. In this conversation, Mason McKnight discusses the importance of observing local teams and the value of a tight-knit team. He shares his experience of seeing the William & Mary team play and how it influenced his decision-making process. The conversation concludes with a reflection on Mason's story as a positive example for prospective student athletes. Chapters 00:00 Introduction and Background 04:15 Starting the Recruiting Process 07:46 Coach's Perspective on the Recruiting Process 11:11 Preparing Physically and Mentally 14:18 The Importance of Camps 16:24 The Value of Adaptability 18:29 Choosing Lycoming College 22:10 The Soccer Experience at Lycoming 31:46 Reasons for Transferring 40:09 Investigating Team Culture 46:02 The Transfer Process 48:12 The Importance of Fit and the Transfer Portal 50:42 The Importance of Observing Local Teams 51:44 The Value of a Tight-Knit Team 52:16 Mason's Story as a Positive Example Mason McKnight (00:02.138) Thank you. Scot Cooper (00:02.266) So like as you were saying right before we hit record go ahead and give us a low down Mason McKnight (00:07.906) Yeah, so I mean it was always my goal to play collegiate sports and I mean I played soccer my whole life so that's the route I took and my sister was a big inspiration for me. She played Division 1 at USC Upstate and then now just finished her fifth year at ODU so I was always just following the footsteps of what she had done and was a big inspiration. So once that I saw she could do it, it definitely helped me realize that. I could do it as well. So that was how I got started with the journey, I guess. And then I think recruiting for us really picks up around end of like junior year summer and then going into senior year. When senior year, end of senior year, middle senior year, you get a lot of your offers. But going into junior year, I had just been doing a bunch of camps and just bounce around trying to see what I like. I was really focusing because I hated the cold. So I focused on a lot of schools in the south and a lot of big schools that were a little out of reach, but there's no way I could find out if they're out of reach unless I tested the water. So that's what I did. I went around to a bunch of schools that I had interest in academically and were a good fit regionally and just tried to see if I could pave a road for myself. getting into their soccer program and a lot of places, all of them, it didn't really work out, but it was a good way for me to test the waters there. And towards the end of my process, I had narrowed it down to a couple of D3 schools in the ODAC and I was at a camp in Shenandoah. I got invited out to go play because I... was good friends with the assistant coach there at the time. And while I was there, one of the assistant coach for like homing was there and he saw me play and was impressed and thought it ought to be a good fit for the program. And it was, I was kind of hesitant at first because it was so far away from home, really far up North. And like I said earlier, I don't, not big fan of the cold, but so it was a big risk for me to go and take that jump in. Mason McKnight (02:31.886) go there and I ended up liking the facility and the coaches and the school and academically it was a good fit. So I just kind of just, it was a big risk for me. I mean going to any school is a big risk. You just got to try to find the right fit and I thought going in to this past fall it was the best fit for me. But it, I mean things pan out how they do. as it is now, it wasn't the best fit for me for a number of reasons. So I ended up at Lyco and I enjoyed everything except for some experiences with the soccer team there. But I love the school there and the people there are good. But I just honestly wanted to be closer to home too. So that led into my decision to come. back home and look at the schools here and out going into during my recruiting process, I had already had a connection with the coach right off making and he recruited a couple of the players from our rain team. So I knew there were some guys there that I could reach out to see if they enjoy their experience and they all have good things to say. So I just reached out and it was a he thought I was a good fit and I really like to school when I got there on campus afterwards. And then I'll go there in about a month and start that journey. But that's where I'm at as of now is my recruiting process. Scot Cooper (04:15.054) Yeah. So go back and, you know, when you were, you know, you made the decision that you wanted to pursue being a college soccer player, what kind of schools were you looking at and, you know, what were you, what kind of feedback were you getting from coach Norris there? I don't know when you started playing on his team, but, or when he started coaching your team, that sort of thing. But, you know, what were your initial thoughts and actions as you were starting to pursue that? Mason McKnight (04:45.086) I think definitely with, I know a lot of players on our team, I mean, everybody on that rain FC team except for a couple ended up playing on a program somewhere. But I think for me knowing what my sister had gone through, my parents kind of, we kind of had a foot in the door already. So we just really, I think going through that process, it's reaching out to coaches, making film, getting out to camps. inviting coaches to tournaments. And that's really what I did to try to expose myself. And then with talking to Norris about it, he, I mean, obviously, tenure coach, been through a lot, went through that process himself when he was younger. So he knows that process well. And I reached out to him and he was a really good help trying to, he has a good lot of connections that helped me get exposure to myself. And he also was very, one thing that I appreciate from What he did was he was very upfront with me with my, I think his evaluation of my skill level, going into the recruiting process that helped me a lot. And I think a lot of players, and I caught up with it early on was that D1 dream of like always going to like a top D1 program and it's not realistic for everybody. So it was a big, big help coach helped me realize that sooner that it's not possible for me in a lot of places. So After early on, as I said, I went to a lot of big schools at camps and stuff. And I knew after going to a couple of camps at these schools, I knew it was going to work out. And then I focused my attention to some smaller schools, some smaller liberal schools and like the ODAC and closer to home. And that's where really I went on to like target those schools. And you really just got to find the best fit, no matter the soccer level there. And coach. I don't remember exactly when we started playing on that Rain FC team, but you had us, what, with one legacy season and then we went to Rain? Or was it now? No. Two. Yeah, and then we switched to Rain. But yeah, we had a, we originally was with me with the, just the straight 04 team and we had, I think, what, seven or eight of us that stayed another year to. Chris Norris (06:53.098) Now, two. Mason McKnight (07:11.034) combined with the 04-05 team. And we had a really strong team that year. That team, that strong team, and along with Coach Norris's knowledge and connections, it really helped a lot of us get recruited to some of these schools. So yeah, that's about it. Scot Cooper (07:29.422) Yeah, I mean, yeah. Um, Norris, what do you remember about all that and, you know, that team and Mason in particular, you know, what were you seeing and what were your thoughts at that point? Chris Norris (07:46.282) Yeah, I mean, look, I think Mason's experience was Chris Norris (07:58.198) you know, not unique in the sense that he had a little bit of background with his sister, having gone through the process. I think that helps a lot of, a lot of people and a lot of families. When, when you have multiple kids and you've had one or two go through the process already, that can kind of give you some ideas about best practices. If you're not so fortunate, then it's good certainly to be playing in a good club and to have some guidance from people, you know, who have been through the process, either themselves, um, or have, have tried to help guide other prospective student athletes through the process. And so Mason kind of had a little bit of, of both. Um, and then as a family, they were really good about being engaged in the process. You know, he didn't just hang out and wait around for people to show up at games and watch him play. I mean, they got out and he did a bunch of camps and Like he said, he really pushed the envelope in terms of shooting high early on and setting his sights high early on and, you know, trying to see kind of what level he could achieve. And I think it was, it was an interesting process for him. I think Mason developed a lot in his final few years and that included in his case. And this is not necessarily the right way to go for everybody, but Um, Mason reclassified as well. And, you know, moving back a year probably helped him to be more mature and, and have another year of high level soccer underneath him. And I think that probably helped his process as well. To be fair, when I took the team over, um, that he was first on the 0-4 team, um, you know, Mason, I don't think was considered, and I hadn't really seen the group, I didn't know. you know, that much about any of the individuals when I first took the team over, but Mason wasn't somebody that most of the guys that, that I knew who had worked with the team or had seen the team, um, you know, Mason wasn't one of the first guys on the team sheet or wasn't one of the first guys that, that they spoke about in terms of guys that could go on and play in college. And so, you know, I give Mason a lot of credit because he, he had that as a goal. He saw his sister go through the process and then he, he did certain things to give himself the best chance. And it wasn't just about. Chris Norris (10:20.694) Um, you know, making himself visible by going to camps and figuring out what might be good fits for him. It was also about working hard on his game and trying to give himself the best chance possible to, to play at the highest level possible and to find the right fit where, you know, he could get a great education while doing that. And so, you know, um, I give Mason a lot of credit. He, he was, he's definitely been one of the more engaged individuals and. You know, the McKnights are one of the more engaged families as far as really investing in himself, as far as Mason investing in himself, and then, and then really engaging in the process and getting out and taking full advantage of opportunities. Scot Cooper (11:01.826) Mason, what kind of stuff did you do to help yourself advance and get more towards what you were trying to achieve? Mason McKnight (11:11.402) I think on the physical aspect, I mean, coaches say this all the time. It's like you go to practice and you train and that's very important, but you have to spend extra time by yourself either in the gym or on the field. Just repetition, getting the little things right. And I think it's not, not everybody has that ability with like field space or tools that they have, but I've always had. my home. I didn't start using it until maybe freshman year, but we've had just a couple like gym equipment pieces in our garage. And as soon as my brain like just snapped and was like, you got if you want to play at a college level, you have to put on at least some kind of size. If you're not because I'm not even I was never the quickest or the most technical player. So I Mason McKnight (12:08.378) the physicality and the vocalization of myself on the field were big things that helped me advance myself over other players. So I definitely going into high school, I needed to decide to one, get bigger, get more physical. And I think one barrier that stops a lot of good players from getting where they want to be is just talking on the field. And coaches always say that and a lot of players would just overlook it and not do anything about it. But you really have to be. talking and communicating with everybody because I mean, the pros do it. And if you go to any high level game anywhere, you just listen and they're talking nonstop the whole game. So I think those are definitely two pieces that I took to try and advance myself. Just realizing what your strengths and weaknesses are early on really helps you grow. So that's one, physically, I think that's what really helped me set. separate myself from other players. And then during the recruiting process, I think just asking questions from coaches and coaches that you know, like Norris, and then coaches that you don't know, that like, what am I doing wrong or not so wrong, but what could I be doing differently to help more fit what you're looking for? And I think after a lot of the camps I went to, I would always reach out afterwards and. get feedback because feedback really helped me grow. So I think getting feedback from people you don't know and people you do know will really help a lot. And then just you got to have a look at yourself as a product and promote yourself the best you can. And one we use, I think the website sports recruits and to get a lot of exposure myself, I could like upload videos. And so putting the time in. with film, just reviewing film to try to get yourself better and then putting together clips for coaches to see is a big thing that helps. Scot Cooper (14:18.306) Yeah, what was your experience with camps? Mason McKnight (14:21.446) Camps is... I mean, I really enjoyed camps, even though I think a lot of people find it hard, but I think camps made me such a better player. I think, especially the high-level camps early on, because you, it's every player experiences it. When you play with low-level players, it's very easy to drop to their level. But when you play with the very good players at camps like that, you have to step up and it helps you grow. So I think... Camps is just, it's a very tricky situation. You go out there with a bunch of guys you don't know and you have to be able to adapt on the fly to play at these, in front of these coaches and the pressure is always on. And it's okay to make mistakes, but you want to try to keep that to a minimum. And I think I went to a bunch of camps, just my dad wanted me to get as much exposure as I could. And just playing different, being open to... playing wherever because most of the time at these camps, you're gonna go to go play or do drills. But mostly when you're playing, there's gonna be bunch of guys in your position fighting for the same thing. So you've got to be open to get as much exposure as you can playing different spots on the field. And that's one thing I think that helped me grow was I'm going in to as recruiting and on the field, I was an outside back, but at these camps, the majority of the time. I was getting, to get the most time on the field, I would have to play center back. And I think that really helped me grow as a player to be adaptable and be able to have a different skillset. So I think camps is definitely something that if you have the money to do, because a lot of these camps are very expensive, that it is good for you to experience because you just get a different edge to your game, being able to adapt on the fly with people you've never played with. And... under the pressure of all these coaches having these eyes on you. So yeah. Scot Cooper (16:24.134) Norris, like in your camps or when you're working a camp or whatever, how much are you looking at, you know, their ability to, you know, a player is a left back and you stick them at center back or somewhere else on the field completely and just their willingness to do it. I mean, I'm sure that's the most important part is aside from playing obviously, but just their willingness to take a challenge on and that sort of thing. How much are you looking at that? Chris Norris (16:57.29) I mean we definitely are, it's something that we're observing for sure. Scot Cooper (16:57.821) and Scot Cooper (17:02.295) Mm-hmm. Chris Norris (17:04.782) that have a fixed mindset is never a good thing. You know, it's not the number one quality that we're looking for, but it's certainly a positive in someone's... Chris Norris (17:19.55) in their toolkit or on their resume, if they're adaptable and if they're resilient. And if, you know, you can learn a lot of things about their soccer ability and their understanding, if they can adapt and play in different roles as well. You know, so yeah, it's helpful. We say in that kind of environment, like Mason said, the biggest thing was for him was just being able to maximize time on the field to be able to show that kind of. resilience and, and willingness to do what the team needs in certain situations. I mean, those things are all positive. Like if we're recruiting from the camp, those are things that we like about somebody, but there's also an element of, you know, don't be a jack of all trades and a master of nothing, because nobody wants to go into a college program and be number two in four different positions, but never be able to be number one in a certain position or a desired position. So it's definitely a positive. It's not the biggest thing that we're looking for, for sure though. Scot Cooper (18:29.286) Gotcha. So Mason, get back to your path and you know, you starting to get recruited, starting to get some attention and you mentioned you were at a camp and that's where you met the Lycoming assistant coach, right? I think that's what you said. And so what was that interaction like? And you know, what kind of visits did you go on and... Mason McKnight (18:48.184) Yes. Scot Cooper (18:58.306) What were you starting to pick up on that was important to you as you were starting to look at different schools? Mason McKnight (19:05.762) So I was at the Shenandoah camp when I got that exposure from Lycoming and I didn't really usually the process of the camp you get there, coaches will do introductions and then they'll split you up into groups to do whatever games or drills they want you to do and then you go through the camp and at the end if coaches are interested they'll usually just come up to you or... you have to go up to them depending on if you're interested in their school. But in this situation, the coach, the assistant coach pulled me aside and he liked what he saw. So he gave me his card and told me to reach out if I was open to that, that option of like homing. So at that time, I hadn't been committed or wasn't thinking of seriously committing anywhere in the upcoming days. So I was like, why not? So I guess, I reached out and we communicated and found a time to get up on campus. And I think, yeah, it's about six hour drive from Williamsburg to Lyco. So we got up there, me and my, I think it was my dad one day, we got up there on campus and met up with the coach and he, there was a couple of players on campus that we got to have lunch with, sit down. got to pick their brain on what they like about the school and maybe what they don't like. And I had a good time. I mean, I had a good time on that visit and I got to see the, you get to tour, it's basically just a tour with the coach and the guys about the school and the program. So I mean, I had a good time on that visit and got to see all that academic buildings, their athletic facilities and meet a couple of the guys. Scot Cooper (20:56.366) Right, and so you were starting to like the school, I'm assuming, I mean you... Mason McKnight (21:01.002) Yeah, they're I mean, they definitely put a lot of they put a lot of time and money. Because it is just I think there's about 1100 students there. So it's a very small school, but they do put a lot of time and money into making sure that their facilities are up to date. I think when I got there, the turf field they had just been in for the soccer was going into its second year old and they just built a brand new stadium, brand new locker rooms for soccer and lacrosse alone. And then all the other sports have their new stadiums. And when leaving this year, they're just building a new baseball stadium. So they're definitely looking to keep up with the amount of people that are coming in and use their money wisely. As well, when I got there, they had redone all the classrooms to have new desks, whiteboards, and some teachers prefer blackboards. So they had the blackboards in there. So, I mean, I- Going in, I really enjoyed seeing a lot of the buildings and the facilities to see that they're actually keeping up with everything. So yeah, I did like it when I had visited the first time. Scot Cooper (22:10.814) So you went on other visits and saw other places, talked to other coaches and teams and players and that sort of thing, right? And so what made Lycoming stand out for you and ultimately choose to commit there? Mason McKnight (22:18.563) Yes. Mason McKnight (22:27.542) I think just appeal, I mean, like I said, they are very updated. I think nobody wants to go to a school where everything is run down and dirty. And a lot of the D3 programs that don't have a lot of, that the school doesn't choose to put a lot of funding into maybe athletics that it can't, it's not very appealing to some athletes. So seeing that they were keeping things updated and Nice was a big bonus for me to take that step. And as well as just the appeal of the team and the program itself, I mean, I knew going in, I wasn't going to get a bunch of playing time because of, I think they brought back like 15, they had like 15 seniors and like, at 15 there was like three or four, fifth years at a D3 program, which you're starting to see now is a lot more common. but that's not a lot of most of the time at these D3 schools, they'll just move on right after. But seeing that they had a lot of guys with experience, I was thinking this will be a good year to make a run to the NCAAs. And that was, I think that for me, that is my ultimate goal as a athlete is just to try to experience that one time and see, play at that level would be very fun and cool. So I think that appeal of this team being at a very high level was gonna help me either now that I'm transferring out, prepare myself for the next school I play at, or prepare myself to play for the next four years at that program. So just being at that high level with a lot of those guys made it very appealing to take that step and to go there. Scot Cooper (24:14.522) Mm-hmm. And so what made you like, what were some of the criteria that actually you were thinking of to evaluate schools and what made you kind of that broken leg test, right? Where if you couldn't play anymore, lycoming would be the place for you. Mason McKnight (24:38.886) I think really after you just go after athletics, you just go straight into academics. I think like it was not like a top wild, very smart school, but it does have a very strong core of academics. And one thing that also was a that drew me there was they had just introduced a entrepreneurship class there that I had applied for and got a scholarship for there. With that scholarship, I just had to minor in entrepreneurship. And this so that I that was a big thing for me going there. And I got there and I took the base level entrepreneurship course with the new professor that was leading the course. And he had come from he's a tenured guy. He's been teaching for a very long time. And he was I very I enjoyed his teaching. And when I met him on Zoom for the first time, I thought he was a very interesting guy. And I could learn well from him. So that was a big thing for me looking past soccer and college that if I was able, if I was for some reason to stop playing that I think what I would learn from him and other teachers there would prepare me to get a job after school. And I think I can't remember exactly what they were ranked, but the newest liberal arts Mason McKnight (26:05.882) they were ranked in the top 100 this year. So it was a very strong liberal arts school and the academics there were pretty good. So that's one thing that I think was a big plus going there as well outside of soccer. Scot Cooper (26:21.574) Cool. And so once you got to Lycoming, what was the soccer like and what were the differences that you saw immediately from playing on Coach Norris's team to playing in college and was it what you expected? Mason McKnight (26:42.806) I mean, it was definitely what I expected because I had a lot of the camps I went to, they would, at the end of the camp, you usually have like an all-star game where you get to play against some of the guys. So having those experiences, I got to see a little glimpse of what going head to head with a lot of these guys is like, and it's just the speed of the game is just so much faster at any college program. I think just when I got there, I would just hop right into it. I got there like a week before classes started and it was just athletes on campus and for a week, my whole life was just at the field or in the gym, just nonstop. So it was very heavy for those first couple weeks there. And I think just the speed of play was the big difference for me. I think, like I said, I wanted to prepare myself as much as I could physically. So I think I was pretty close or at that level physically to compete with a lot of these guys, but just their understanding of the game, their speed of play is what separated them from me and some of the other freshmen primarily in those first couple of days. But as the season progressed, I think a lot of the freshmen, I think there was a group of seven of us. Most of us were competing to try to be the first or second guy. And one of us, Aiden Stillman, he was a good friend of mine there. He was actually getting a ton of minutes towards the end of the season and had been taking on a bigger role in the team going forward. So I think a lot of us were very adaptable and we're looking to grow out of that freshman core. And I think it was very- Not easy, it was a lot of hard work, but definitely, we definitely could step up to that level if we had more time. Or if I had more time, I think I would be there next year. I was looking to try to step into a bigger role for the team, but a lot of the, like I said, Aiden had already began that process. So I think seeing him do it made it very, made me realize that a lot of us could too. Scot Cooper (29:07.678) Alright. Norris, did I miss anything through the recruiting process? I kind of glossed through some of that, but is there anything that comes to your mind that I didn't pick up on? Scot Cooper (29:21.466) I'm not trying to put you on the spot. I'm just trying to think, just asking if you remember anything from all that, that stood out. Chris Norris (29:21.838) I don't know. Scot Cooper (29:32.994) All right, cool. Chris Norris (29:34.898) I mean, not necessarily specifically. I mean, if we were gonna push Mason on it a little bit, I think if you were. Chris Norris (29:50.524) What was it about just the soccer piece of... like coming that that, you know, made you think that it might be more of a challenge for you than some of the other places that were recruiting you. Mason McKnight (30:06.118) I think definitely just the head coach there had, I can't remember, I think it was, 2023, they won the, they were in the Mac, they'd won the Mac, I think, five years ago when I got there and the coach had a couple other season wins and he, his first season there, he had a ragtag team that he had put together with what he had got coming into there and they had won the conference. So I think. just the coach being there, he was a good coach and seeing what he could do compared to some of the other coaches out there and what I was looking at was a big plus. But the team when I got there was just not what I was expecting, but I think definitely the coach and the players, and like I said, they had a lot of seasoned guys that knew what they were doing at this level. So I thought definitely that. having that amount of older guys there would help me grow on a personal level for just myself and playing in a team setting with a lot of guys that knew what they were doing compared to some of these other programs I maybe didn't have. Like I said, like a lot of these D3 programs are now starting to have a lot of older guys stay but I feel like a couple years ago you wouldn't see that as much. Scot Cooper (31:28.142) Yeah. So you mentioned that it wasn't quite what you expected. So run us through the season and, you know, what kind of experience was it? And what made you ultimately decide to transfer? Mason McKnight (31:46.434) I think the, I went over this with Noah, so he already knows a little bit, but I think just finding the right fit and being happy was what really made me decide to leave. Like I just, being so far from home was a big thing that was on my mind every day that I was there. It's just like, just little things, like being able to drive home and see your parents that I couldn't do because I was six hours away or. see friends that I'd grown up with my whole life, but just not being able to have that, took a toll on me mentally a lot, outside of soccer and then inside of the soccer aspect. I would think I was up for the challenge physically. I was really looking forward to, I mean, I'm not afraid to fail or whatever happens. So I was looking forward to just getting out there and playing, but I think the big thing that really just, made me leave was just the morale with the team and how a lot of guys handled setbacks or issues on the field or mistakes on the field. I just hadn't experienced that on the club level, especially with Norris' team and any other team I've been with. I think I thought we were all very connected. Obviously at the club level, you play with a lot of these guys for a long time. you know their strengths and weaknesses and you know them on a personal level. But it is when I got at Lyco, I thought it was just going to be like that where I thought that it would be, everybody would be together as a team. But when after the season, it was very, there's a, it was very divided. And that's just one thing that I think that if you want to be a team that pushes for titles or wins, A lot of games you have to be able to play together and I think that's one thing that the program didn't have this season. So that's what I think made me decide to leave. Scot Cooper (33:55.106) Yeah, I mean, what do you think was causing that division and you don't think it was gonna get better? Mason McKnight (34:04.822) I think a lot of a lot of the guys just had massive egos and we're not going to get over that to put the team first. They were just they thought they were at the top of the world and that looking down on a lot of the younger guys I think a lot of the older guys and you're going to find that in a lot of places that maybe these older guys will be a little rougher on the younger guys. But I think from my perspective and some maybe some of the other freshmen. that I talked to, they just found it very hard to get any growth because of the treatment they were getting from some of the older guys on the team. And I think that's one thing that really affected me was not be able to push past that these guys aren't willing to change for the betterment of the team. So that's what I think really made me look at other options because I just not being happy outside of soccer. And then going to play soccer is one thing that I always found happiness in. And then not being happy there was just too much for me to handle on top of college and the stress of other things in life. So it just, it just made, that was the trigger point for me at the end of the season to try to look for another option. Scot Cooper (35:24.142) Yeah, I mean, do you think that, I mean, looking back, do you think that there were indications when you're making your, on your visits that would have been clues to the culture of the team or was that not something that you would have seen? Mason McKnight (35:40.674) I don't think, I mean, I only met like a portion of the guys when I went up on the visit. And a lot of them were younger guys. The younger guys, they were the freshmen at the time, the sophomores when I got there. And I think it was a lot of our freshman core and the sophomore core on the team were very connected and had a good chemistry, but the junior and senior classes, I didn't get to talk a lot on the... my visit, but when I got there, there was definitely a division between the older and younger guys. And like I said, the older guys weren't willing to change for reasons that they have of their own. But from my opinion, I just think they just had too big of egos and weren't willing to put that aside to help the team grow. Scot Cooper (36:33.382) Gotcha. So Norris, just in general terms, like when you're talking to coaches, when you're looking into programs that you're interested in as a recruit, what are some just good ways to investigate, I guess, for lack of a better word, what the team's like, how the players interact, and all that good stuff to kind of get an idea of what you're getting yourself into. Chris Norris (37:04.054) Uh, I mean, ask questions, but probably even more importantly is be really observant. Um, and, you know, for, for a situation like Mason's where it's far, you know, to get there, you can't go regularly and watch the team play or show up at a practice, that kind of thing. It makes it hard to, to kind of learn those things for sure. Um, you know, I would recommend for any prospective student athlete. get out to your local schools, even if they're schools that you're not necessarily that interested in, like go watch them play, go see how players interact with one another, you know, see how players are after a loss, for example, but more importantly, when you do get to visit schools that you are interested in and that hopefully are interested in you. soak up as much as you can. Don't be a passenger on those visits. Don't just show up and think like, wow, this is going to be cool. Like they'll just lead me through the day and, you know, I'll learn a lot and I'll figure it out from there. Have legitimate questions prepared that will help you get to the bottom of whether a school is going to be a good fit. And the culture part is a big piece of that for most kids. It's not just about... what happens on the field. It's going to be about that overall experience. And for most people, when you're spending that kind of time within a group, having commonality in terms of values, goals, work ethics, maybe even the social aspect, those are going to be things that are important to you as you're navigating those four years. And cultures, it's a... tough thing to build and an easy thing to have kind of break down. And so it doesn't, it's not going to necessarily, even, even in a given program, it's not going to necessarily be the same from year to year, even from semester to semester because of the constant turnover of, of players that are graduating or, or completing eligibility. And so, you know, trying to figure those things out, I think is, is really. Chris Norris (39:23.23) important and valuable. You first have to start with understanding yourself, doing some soul searching and figuring out what's really important to me about being part of a team. And if those things don't exist for you, once you figure that out at a given place, then you're probably not going to be happy there. So really, you know, do a deep dive. Like we hear all the time when we ask people like, what's important to you? Or what are you looking for in a school? And the basic answer is good soccer and good academics. And it's like, okay, well, That's not really what's most important to you. There's gonna be 15 other things that determine whether you're happy or not in a given place. And you really gotta know that about yourself so that you can evaluate that at each of the places you're considering. Scot Cooper (40:09.55) Right. Yeah, so Mason talk about. you know, your process to find someplace else to go. Or actually, what made you decide? What was, was there, was it just the whole season as a whole or was there kind of an event that kind of drove you to say, you know what, I gotta get closer to home and go someplace different? Mason McKnight (40:39.594) I think there was numerous events that happened that just were buildups over the season. And after the season ended, we had a tough loss in the conference final to Catholic. So morale was very low at that time. And I wasn't really majorly affected by that because I had already felt kind of excluded from the team. So I was like, it was hard for me to connect to what a lot of players were feeling. based on the treatment I had received before that season ending game. So after like, I was already looking into just not looking into but just thinking of places that I could go that would be closer to home or have a better fit. And I looked into a lot of a lot of my friends ended up at CNU and where they were, they knew about my unhappiness there and were. asking about the possibility of looking into that program. And when the time came, I did look into it and it just didn't pan out how I would like to have had it. But things happen how they happen. And I'm very happy to be finding a fit at Randolph-Macon where I'd also had, like I stated earlier, three. So Connor, the twins. from the Reign FC team, both ended up at Randolph-Macon. So I reached out to them and like coach said, you've got to ask the deep questions when you're recruiting coaches. And that's not a question I asked the Randolph-Macon coach, but I definitely, I picked their brains about how they felt about the team morale before I even reached out to the coach and was just like, are you happy here? And all of them had good things to say about the team that said they had a good culture and. They hang out a lot outside of soccer, which is always a plus that I think at Lyco it wasn't like that. It was just a lot of time it would just be each class hanging out by themselves, even if they're hanging out. Most of the time we didn't have any team building experiences outside of soccer. So I think seeing that a lot of the guys I knew had found that at other schools just was a big... Mason McKnight (43:00.614) thing for me, seeing that I could find a good culture somewhere else. And that was originally, primarily for me, what led me to take that next step. And taking that next step, I had to have, you don't always have to have the conversation with your coach about going into the portal, but I think it's very important on a respect level to have that conversation. Because on the coach at Lyco, on that level. He has shown me nothing but respect and was a big help throughout the process. Going there and leaving there, he helped me because he understood that I just wasn't happy there and he was trying to find what was best for me. So that process was just first making a decision of wanting to find another program, which I also talked to Norris on the phone about once I made that decision that... he really helped me find to make that decision, like to be happy. So that's, he helped me make that decision was what I'm trying to say. But so then I had to go to the coach and I had that conversation, which was not easy conversation, but it is, it's a very important one to have. And then you, I had to go to the school's compliance officer and put my name in the portal. And after I put my name in the portal, I had a couple coaches. Like I said, I reached out to CNU and there was a color other coaches that I had connections to before going to Lyco from the, my earlier recruiting process that I reached out to, and I reached out to Randolph-Macon's coach. And I mean, I, I really liked their program and everything beforehand before choosing Lyco, but. I just thought that Lyko's chance of going deep and winning a lot was what made me ultimately make that decision, but I wasn't correct with that decision, but it is what it is. And I'm really happy with where I'm ending up now. But I just reached out to the coach there and he wanted to make sure I was in the portal so we could go forward with the next steps and had a good conversation about where he saw me. Mason McKnight (45:25.09) Then and now and where I could fit on the team and just having that conversation made me realize that was probably the best fit for me out of the schools I was looking at the time. And then I made that decision. And after I got off the phone with the coach, I reached out, I called my dad right away to make sure that he was on board with something like that. And then I talked to my mom and everybody was on board with it. So I... reached back out to coach and we're just inquired about the next steps I had to take to complete the transfer process. Scot Cooper (46:02.918) Cool. What are kind of the highlights of the actual transfer process for anyone listening who might be thinking about it? Mason McKnight (46:11.302) Um, it's definitely, it's, I think it's easier than most people think. Like, I mean, to get in the portal, I really just had to write an email to the compliance officer and outline my reasons of wanting to leave. And he, the compliance officer was, I mean, I think at every school they're very busy people, but. I wanted to speed up the process as much as I could. So I reached out to the coach and asked the coach to reach out to the compliance officer to see if he could get me in as soon as possible. And he did. And once I was in, then I could go through it. But I think getting into the portal is my, yeah, there's definitely a highlight. It's just easier than a lot of people think. And then just if you, unlike me, cause I didn't, I feel like a lot of people might not have the connections that I did. from the previous recruiting process. So if you don't have those, then the process is definitely, it was very hard getting in, just like getting in all the right paperwork and all that stuff is very long drawn out process of filling out the paperwork, sending it over, getting more paperwork. So that was hard for me already having a connection with a program, but people that might not have that connection might find it even harder to first. originally find a new program because a lot of these, a lot of people nowadays, I mean, there's so many people that go into the portal and just don't find a new home. So I think I was, I'm very grateful that I had a good connection with the coach originally and was able to find a new home. But a lot of people, I think might find it hard taking the next steps of finding somewhere else to play. Scot Cooper (47:54.141) Thank you. Scot Cooper (47:58.146) Yeah. Norris, do you have any commentary on the transfer portal and the whole process? I know that it's a big part of what you're doing. Well, what college sports is dealing with right now in general? Right. Chris Norris (48:12.878) No, look, I think the biggest takeaway from Mason's situation, I mean, well... You may not be able to learn everything that you, or you may not know what you don't know, you know, in the, in the initial process. Um, and so the portal exists and does provide opportunity for you to correct. A, you know, mistake might not be the right word, but to, to be able to find a better fit, if the fit that you chose the first time around, isn't exactly what you thought it was going to be. Um, You know, it shouldn't be like, I think the important takeaway from Mason's situation is that it's not all about soccer and it's not because exclusively because he's not, he wasn't playing as much as, you know, other guys in the team or whatever, um, that it really is about the overall fit, the overall feel. And fortunately the portal exists to help you solve situations like that where you aren't really in the right situation. You know, hopefully people are using it that way. And, and, uh, you know, the majority of people that are in the portal are ultimately finding a better scenario or a better situation, um, you know, to use it to just try to ladder climb or to get out of a situation where you aren't getting what you want, but maybe you're not willing to work that hard for it is not necessarily, you know, um, the intent. other portal or what I think it should be utilized for. So I think it's important to take away that it's great that it exists. I think it's been really helpful that Mason had this opportunity to try to find a better fit after going away for a semester, but that it's not a decision that should be taken lightly. And it shouldn't on the front end of the process. Chris Norris (50:21.058) the existence of the portal shouldn't. cause you to make a frivolous decision on the front end, or feel pressured to make a decision without really knowing what you need to know at that time to make the best decision possible. Scot Cooper (50:36.934) Well said. Gentlemen, what else we got? Anything? Mason McKnight (50:42.726) I can't think of, I mean, one thing that I wanted to touch on earlier was when Norris, Coach Norris had stated that you should get out and see local teams. And I think one thing, I mean, having Coach Norris as a William & Mary head coach and coaching me was a big, big help in everything. But going out and seeing the William & Mary team play was also a big help, I think, seeing how those guys interacted. Like one thing that I, I mean, I wasn't like, I was like, I wanted to go to William & Mary, but I think. One thing that was cool about their team was I think a lot of the guys all have those cool nicknames and everything and just like hearing that on the field is like just seeing like how tight knit a lot of the team was was very that's like cool to see. I think that's one thing that I was hoping to have at a program that I didn't but seeing that it is possible at a place like William & Mary or places my friends have gone was just something that was I value greatly. Scot Cooper (51:44.582) Well, I hope you found that now and you have a great time at Randolph-Macon. So anything else guys? Scot Cooper (51:58.53) Norris, no more sage words. Chris Norris (52:01.59) I don't think so. Scot Cooper (52:04.52) Use them all up. Chris Norris (52:06.378) Yeah, Mason's story is a good one and a positive one for prospective student athletes to learn from, for sure. Scot Cooper (52:16.934) Absolutely. Yep. All right. Hold on one sec.

84. Chris Albiston, US Men's National Team Beach Soccer Team, Josh West, Assistant Coach, Villanova University Men's Soccer, & Chris Norris, William & Mary Men's Soccer head coach Hi I’m Scot Cooper and welcome to the Tales From the Trail Podcast by MatchPlay. In this episode I’m joined by three fantastic guests. Chris Norris is the head coach of William & Mary men’s soccer and with him are 2 of his former players, Josh West and Chris Albiston. Josh West is an assistant coach of men’s soccer at Villanova University and brings great insight to the current college soccer landscape. Chris Albiston graduated from William and Mary and went on to law school and is currently a practicing attorney. What is relevant to this podcast is that he is also a prominent player on the US Men’s National Sand Soccer team. Chris competes around the world and discusses how he got there and provides a great example of one of the many routes to continue playing at a high level. Make sure you check out US Sand Soccer matches, they’re available on youtube and are usually from places that have palm trees. Scot Cooper (00:05.146) Tales from the Trail podcast. Got a from on my screen, I see Chris Norris first, who's the head men's soccer coach at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. And I see Chris Albiston, who is a graduate of William & Mary, played soccer there with well, I don't want to jump yet. So he is. also an attorney down in Virginia Beach. But the reason why he's on the podcast, not that we need legal advice, but we wanna hear about his professional sand soccer career and representing the United States on that side. And last but not least, we have one of his old teammates, Josh West, who's been on before, currently an assistant at Villanova and a club coach at Delco up in Philly. So Josh, take us away, man. Chris Albiston (01:47.394) Yeah, well first of all guys, thanks for having me. Sand soccer in Virginia Beach is kind of a one weekend sort of deal, at least it was when I was growing up. The North American sand soccer championships that are down here at the beach is the largest in terms of sheer number of players, not just professional players, but kids as well. It's the largest sand soccer tournament in the world and brings people from all over the world. um to play and it just happened this past weekend. Um like you said I've growing up in Virginia Beach. I played in it when I was younger. Uh played you know in the younger kids divisions and those sorts of things played pretty much up until I went to uh play soccer for coach Norris at William & Mary. I did not play during the four years that I was playing uh soccer for uh William & Mary because I didn't want to get injured. And soccer is a pretty good way to break a toe or two here and there. And so I took a break during those four years, but yeah, other than that, you know, growing up, I played in the tournament here and that was pretty much, you know, that was pretty much, uh, the only sand soccer that I played. Um, after I got done at William and Mary, one of my, uh, Neil Harrison, who actually played at William and Mary as well, Josh, you know him and Coach Norris, uh, knows him. He was playing on. one of the pro division teams down here and he asked me to play with him. This was back in 2018 and we played against what was called the red, white and blue team which I had no idea who they were. Turns out they were a team of US national sand soccer players and ended up playing against them. And then a couple of weeks later got a call from the US national sand soccer coach and he invited me out to California to train with them. and the rest is history. At that point, I had no idea there was a US National Sand Soccer team, as probably many of the listeners. And I really didn't know much about the sport. I was still a grass player at that point. At least I considered myself a grass player. I'd still dribble the ball on the sand and tried to use my athleticism and those sorts of things. It wasn't the pretty sand soccer that I've come to learn about. So that's kind of how it all started. Chris Albiston (04:17.498) Yeah, he did. That was not something I was particularly great at. My, uh, technically, I've never been the best player. Coach Norris can obviously attest to that, that I relied more so on my speed than my, uh, my technical ability. And so, you know, football is mainly just, you know, chest in the ball in the air and using your feet and getting it over the net. It's, you know, a combination of soccer and, uh, volleyball. So. For me, the beach soccer stuff where I could use my speed and those sorts of things was more my scene. Chris Albiston (05:05.346) Yeah, I mean, a lot of people say when they first come out onto the beach that they're still grass players. And I think what they mean by that is they don't, you know, the first thought isn't getting the ball up in the air, which is, you know, what a lot of the good beach soccer players and teams do is try and play in the air and keep it off of the sand because the sand makes it, you know, quite variable and you don't really know where the ball is going to go half the time. So if you keep it up in the air, it's more predictable. And so when people. they still consider themselves grass players because they're not playing in the air. So I've learned to play in the air. I still, you know, every once in a while, still put on the sand and try and run past people, but I'm learning. Chris Albiston (05:52.652) That's all I've got if you ask my younger brother, he would say that my left foot is the only thing that's gotten me to where I am today. Chris Albiston (07:19.106) Sure, yeah, so I got very lucky growing up. I had a group of friends who we played on the same club team since I was 10 years old. Beach FC, as you mentioned, Beach FC Fire, we were successful when we were 10, 11, 12, 13 years old and we had a core group of guys and we just so happened to go to the same middle school and high school together as well. So it was just, there were five or six of us that stuck together through all of that. And it made a big difference, obviously, in high school. You know, high school soccer, at least around Virginia Beach, is not the highest level. I think that, you know, club soccer, even back then. And I'll be honest, I don't know too much about how it all works now, because I'm kind of removed from it. But I do think that, you know, club soccer was certainly where you saw Coach Norris and other coaches on the sidelines. I don't think at that point. I didn't see too many of them at the high school games, but just, you know, the high school experience itself, you know, we did win a couple state championships with Cox and just the, you know, to see all your friends from high school up in the stands, you know, they're not coming out to the club soccer games and those sorts of things. So it's a, it's a different experience to have people who you go to school with and to walk into school the next Monday after you've won a state championship is a feeling that, you know, you're not going to get. club soccer wise, but like I said, I don't know too much about how the club scene is going these days, but certainly, getting in front of college coaches is the most important thing. Chris Norris (09:16.216) Yeah, but it's very specific. You know, I think the, even if you're not talking about quality, um, when you talk about efficiency, it's not efficient at all to go watch one off high school games. Compared to go into a big youth tournament where you can see, you know, a hundred teams or a couple hundred teams in one setting over a few days. So, you know, it's just not that efficient. I've been to games very recently, last couple of weeks. You know, in Virginia, we have just finished up the state playoffs. So the last few weeks have been, you know, regional and state playoffs. And I've gone to some of those games when I know there's going to be some kids who I'm interested in playing. And I know that the games are going to be probably fairly competitive as well. Scot Cooper (10:04.25) Thanks for watching! Chris Norris (10:50.704) Yeah, I mean, I'll be honest. There were the only kids that contacted me and told me that they were going to be playing in those games or kids that play for me on a club team, you know? Um, cause I coach club soccer as well. And I am having discussions with some of those guys about the recruiting process. Not just because I have some interest in them for William & Mary, but also because I'm, uh, close with them and I'm trying to help them find the right fit. And so. Most of me going to those games was sort of, you know, watching kids that I've coached and helped develop or I'm still coaching and trying to help them kind of navigate the process, but you know, the level generally speaking, as, as Chris mentioned is not quite as high as what we would see in most club games. You know, I mean, if I think back to his Cox teams, watching them play was was good, you know, and you could learn a lot. Now, most teams they played against didn't have the same number of high level players that they had, and that's what I find in most of the high school games now. But, you know, Chris touched on some really important things. Like, I think there's value in representing your school. You know, you're gonna, if you play college soccer, you're gonna have to do that. You're gonna have to know what that feels like. It's not just about you and the... you know, 16 or 17 other guys that are playing on your club team. Um, you're actually representing your school, you know, on the flip side of what Chris mentioned, you know, it's a great feeling to go in after winning the state championship to high school the next day and have everybody on a great job, but had you lost those games, you know, you have to face that as well, you know, um, and I think that's, that's a good lesson I have also seen. With my youth players, like, for example, you know, I might have a guy who's a right back for me on my youth team. And he goes into his high school team and all of a sudden he's no longer a role player. He's the most important guy on the team. And he's playing in midfield, which is going to stretch his, his skill set a little bit. And when we get those guys back, we sometimes find that they're a lot more confident that they now can do some different things that they weren't really comfortable doing before because they've been asked to do something. Chris Norris (13:16.748) a little bit different. And that can be a good thing. The challenge, I think, for us in Virginia with some of that is that they play a lot of games. There's some overuse issues there. But there are a lot of positives to it. Chris Albiston (14:10.102) Sure, I'll try and remember what happened back then. It seems so long ago now. Yeah, I think that, you know, like I said, we had a good high school team and we had a good club team who was going, you know, our club team was going to, you know, at that point, the big tournaments were Jefferson Cup around here and, you know, in Richmond, we were going down to play Castle down in North Carolina and playing, you know, the state cups and those sorts of things. I think those were the tournaments where you saw the most coaches on the sidelines and that was your time to get noticed. I do think that on a At least my take on it was, you know, on a team where there were so many good players and you know, I was not the best player on our, on our, you know, club team growing up. I felt like, you know, when there's so many good players, it's, it's sure you get in front of coaches, but it may even be harder to get noticed because there are so many other good players that are playing with you at the same time. You're getting in front of them. But, and for me, you know, I felt like I was a bit of a late bloomer kind of, um, going through puberty and all of those things. So like when I was 10, 12 years old, I was one of the better players on the team. Felt like I was a star scoring a bunch of goals and then went through like kind of the 13, 14, 15, even 16 age groups where guys were going through puberty at different times and I felt like I was kind of being left behind. I moved from forward where I was scoring all the goals and I got moved to left back and I was like. I'm sure my parents can attest to what I was going through at that time. And I was beside myself because I wasn't the star player on the team anymore. But in hindsight, looking back now, I think that was something that really helped me. And I tell parents who ask me about their kids struggling with playing a new position, I tell them how important it is to play all of these different positions. And I think that playing defender, Chris Albiston (16:18.822) in those years leading up to being recruited by Coach Norris helped me because when I got to William Aaron, he said, you're not a defender. I think you're actually, you should be playing on the wing or something like that. I think it helped me because I knew what it took, at least I thought I knew what it took to defend and I knew what I didn't like playing again. So I said, hey, I'm going to try and be what I didn't like to defend, which was the... aggressive every time I got the ball trying to go at people and those sorts of things. You know, the recruiting process for me, I think I sent some emails. I was not super familiar with how to get seen. You know, I was like, I'll go to these tournaments and I'll play my best and hopefully a coach notices me. And it wasn't necessarily the case right away. You know, it took sending some emails and quite frankly, you know, I think Coach Norris saw me maybe at a tournament in Williamsburg. I think we were playing in a state, we might have actually been playing against your team. I remember playing against you guys in a state semi-final or final in Williamsburg and I think we might have lost that game. And I was playing left back at the time and I remember seeing Coach Norris for the first time and I don't remember exactly what happened. But as soon as I got... some correspondence from William & Mary and started looking into the school. The academics and the history behind the soccer team really made me interested in going there. Chris Norris (17:57.804) Yeah, my recollection is Arlington versus Beach, state cup final, striker park, 1-0, Josh with the game winner, which, Alvaston, when we first, when we did our last podcast, Josh and I together, I was saying that sometimes, you know, you just see a guy when he's like playing the best soccer of his life. And that's kind of how we ended up with Josh. Chris Albiston (18:05.354) Okay. Chris Albiston (18:21.096) Yeah Chris Norris (18:27.863) You had two, I'm sorry. You got most of it right. Chris Albiston (18:30.058) I do. I do remember that. Yeah, Stryker Park does sound right now. For some reason, I was thinking it was at Williamsburg, but yeah, I do remember that. Chris Norris (18:38.496) Yeah, no stadium field at Stryker Park. I mean, that was, I mean, it was, I have a pretty good memory for like recruiting scenarios when I, like, I can remember a lot of times the first time I saw a guy or the first time that a guy stood out to me. And, uh, I mean, that game in particular, you know, stands out obviously because of you two guys, but also because of the other guys, I mean, that, that was a game with a lot of top players. Um, obviously you guys. Chris Dunn, Marcus Luster, Neil Harrison, which are guys that all ended up at William & Mary, but then there were also guys like Kyler Sullivan and Eric Bird and you know just a lot of top top players in that game. Chris Albiston (19:34.546) I really blocked that one out of the memory. It's going to be hard to sleep at night knowing we let you put two goals past us. Chris Norris (19:44.976) And you can see the Chris Norris (19:50.406) And that might have been the tipping point to Alveston where I was like, man, I really want this guy, but I don't really want him to play left back anymore. Chris Albiston (19:58.194) Yeah, that's fair. That's fair. I think I remember that. I remember bits and pieces of that game. I think I was much better going forward, putting crosses in rather than doing the defending side of it. Chris Norris (20:08.912) There's always a place for fast lefties. Chris Albiston (20:11.082) Yeah. Chris Albiston (21:00.578) Yeah, I mean, I think probably most players that make it to Division I soccer probably dream of becoming a professional soccer player. And certainly, you know, from the time I was 10 years old, maybe earlier, wanted to be a professional soccer player, thought that that was a real possibility up until probably junior, senior year at William & Mary. I just I thought maybe I could get to that level. And I think, I don't remember exactly, I know I hinted at it a couple of times with Coach Norris, we would have our meetings and he never told me, yeah, you're not gonna play professionally, but he kind of hinted at like, maybe it wasn't the route or something along those lines. I mean, he never discouraged me, certainly, but. Um, it's, it's hard to, to know whether you're good enough for that level, um, without, you know, doing it. And I didn't go to any combines. I, um, I kind of, after William and Mary, I thought that, um, law school was probably the better route for me. You know, I come from a family of attorneys and, uh, I talked with them a little bit about it and, um, decided that law school was probably a good route. And I was happy at that point to play men's league or to play really any soccer I could get my hands on. I was playing indoor over the summer and playing in the sand soccer tournament and playing in any sort of men's league that was available, like I said. But I kind of had come to terms with the fact that William Air is going to be the end of the uber competitive. part of my soccer career. And turns out that wasn't the case, but I was okay with it. And like you said, I turned to a different, going professional a different route, which was going the lawyer side of it. But yeah, turns out I wasn't done yet. Chris Albiston (24:47.954) Yeah, I think eventually a switch flipped probably around the same time that I just figured out that I wasn't going to be a professional soccer player. Growing up through high school, I was hard working, but I was more hard working when it came to soccer than school. Always did decently well in school, but I wasn't. I wasn't the valedictorian or anything. I did well enough to luckily get into William & Mary, but I did all my homework, but I never went the extra mile when it came to the schoolwork up until probably beginning of junior year, end of sophomore year at William & Mary. I think I actually sat down with Coach Norris and we were talking about, he always sits down with us and talks about how we're doing in school. He's a coach who doesn't just care about the soccer side of things. He actually cares about, you know, creating good people and good young men that are going to come out and do good things, which, you know, I've heard through the grapevines is not the case in all in all situations. But he sat down with me and told me what my grades were. And I was like, man, I really could probably bump those up a little bit. And. I decided that I was going to put a lot of focus towards studying and living with Neil, as you mentioned. He was somebody I've grown up with since we were 10 years old. He was one of the smartest people in every room he went into, but he was also one of the hardest working people. When I lived with him, he'd be like, I'm going to study. I was like, cool, I'm going over to hang out with Josh. I'm going to hang out with him and I'll see you later. Chris Norris (26:36.634) Thank you. Chris Albiston (26:39.138) And so I think that, you know, eventually some of him, you know, some of that rubbed off on me and I started really, you know, putting my nose to the grindstone and saying, I need to, I need to figure out what I'm going to do after this. And I just, I hit the books. I mean, you, you're probably like, man, this guy's pretty boring to live with. Because I was, I was really trying to do well this last couple of years. And it paid off, you know, hard work for us paid off in soccer. And then, you know, I think it paid off and and. getting a degree from William & Mary as well. But yeah, just say, eventually I think that switch just flipped a little bit for me. Chris Albiston (28:54.75) Yeah, I think part of it is just making the decision on your own to do it. Same thing you do with soccer. Most people probably listen in there trying to get recruited or big soccer players. And you put the work in there, you just have to make the decision to put the work in elsewhere and know that it'll pay off because it does eventually pay off. Chris Albiston (29:42.69) Yeah, so I knew that I wanted to go straight to law school, but I guess I waited a little bit too long to take the LSAT to get into law school right after William & Mary. So I actually did take a gap year and I focused on studying for the LSAT and also making some money on the side so that I would be able to pay for wherever I ended up going to law school. And I ended up driving for Uber. This was back when... Uber kind of first started and it was not something I ever saw myself doing, but it was actually really entertaining. And the time to make the most money with Uber was late at night. So I would go down to the beach, down here in Virginia beach and pick up all these people that had been out drinking all night and have to conversate with them. I think it helped me being able to talk with people. And I've always kind of been, at least I always considered myself to be somewhat introverted. And so to do something like that kind of took me out of my shell a little bit and forced me to interact with people who maybe I wouldn't have wanted to interact with at other times. So it was something that was good. But yeah, so I really just studied during that year, worked and... Probably played a little soccer, but I can't fully remember. Chris Albiston (31:23.71) Yeah, yeah, I work in Norfolk. I live in Virginia Beach, but yeah, we have a family firm and I work with both my parents and my brother's now a lawyer as well. So it's quite the family affair. Don't come to our Thanksgiving dinners. It's a lot of hard work. Chris Albiston (32:28.402) Yeah, I think probably the biggest one is it taught me how to fail. Um, I, you know, as, as athletes, every, all of us are very competitive and I can be sometimes too competitive, um, over the course of, of my, you know, soccer planning career and, um, certainly transitioning to be a lawyer, um, you know, there are going to be losses in life. There's going to be losses in, in work. There's going to be losses in, in whatever sport you play. And having to deal with losing was probably the most important lesson that I learned through sports. And it's helped me, you know, being a lawyer, I've gone in as a young lawyer and thought that I was going to win the case and the judge rules against me and I, you know, could walk out and, you know, be upset. But I'm, you know, sit there and I'm respectful and, you know, I talk with the judge and, you know, go back and try and understand why I lost or something along those lines. I think communication too. As a group of athletes, you have to talk with each other. You have to work through disagreements, work through any problems that you have. And I think that playing soccer growing up, I think, taught me how to communicate with coworkers and certainly opposing lawyers now. It's something where we have disagreements all the time, but you figure out a way to talk through it, kind of like we did. You know, I'm sure me and you had plenty of disagreements on the soccer field, you know, Chris, why didn't you pass me that ball or something along those lines? And, you know, we had to work through that. And, you know, it's kind of like those problems exist on the soccer field, but then as soon as we went back to, you know, our apartment, we were best friends again. And I think that's something that sports does well. You know, you're in the courtroom, you know, I'm in the courtroom now and opposing counsel is, you know, we're going back and forth as we're supposed to. And then you walk out of the courtroom and you can be, you know, colleagues again and talk about it. I think that's something that was really important for me to learn. And I'm not sure that I would have learned it if I wasn't playing, you know, soccer, you know, playing with Coach Norris and playing with you guys and. Chris Albiston (34:51.802) and learning those lessons the hard way. Because quite often you do have to learn those types of things the hard way. Chris Norris (35:15.02) Well, I mean, look, we've talked about this before. You know, Chris mentioned they are being sometimes a bit hyper competitive. And, uh, I certainly remember that from the recruiting process, you know, there were people, there were coaches that were a little hesitant, uh, with Chris, just because at times he, he got very emotionally invested in games. And, you know, sometimes I could, that could come out negatively, maybe towards a referee or, or an opponent or whatever. And. You know, you, that's why in the recruiting process, if you think somebody's talent is, is big enough, then you, you do a really deep dive and you try to learn about them as people and you learn where they come from. And you talk to as many coaches as you can about them. And if at the end of the day, you think the juice is worth the squeeze, so to speak, then maybe you decide to make them an offer. And that was kind of the process with Chris. He was, um, occasionally, you know, volatile and we knew that he could be a little bit negative at times, but. Um, we knew that at the heart of it, his values were in or were right and, um, that we would help him try to keep maturing and dealing with adversity in better ways and, you know, felt like he would be a great addition to our program. And he was so. Chris Albiston (36:41.326) All right. Chris Norris (36:44.282) Yeah. Chris Norris (37:54.144) Yeah, and we made a calculation that, you know, in addition to just the talent level, in addition to being a fast left-footed guy who would be aggressive and could score goals and make chances for teammates, you know, one of the things that I thought and I was right about was that in important moments and in big games and in difficult situations, Chris was never gonna shy away from the challenge. He was always, he was so competitive that it didn't matter who he was playing against or what the circumstances were. He was gonna try to do everything he could to help the team win. And not everybody's like that. Some guys, they hide from the big moments and Chris ran head on into the big moments. So that was sort of what we thought would happen and we were right about it. Chris Albiston (38:50.364) I appreciate that. Chris Albiston (39:17.686) That's a good question. Certainly my parents are both, you know, super competitive. My mom is, you know, she's one of the best lawyers in town and she is a shark, as people lovingly call her. And, you know, she doesn't back down saying, you know, what Coach Norris is talking about. I think I certainly get that from her. My dad is a bit calmer, but he's also very competitive and, you know, an equally good. lawyer as well. I think, you know, a lot of it probably stems from the competition that my brother and I had growing up just constantly, you know, my parents can probably talk for days about it. But, you know, we were just constantly fighting, constantly battling, you know, always wanting to be, you know, beating the other one at whatever it was. And I think we made each other better in that sense. But yeah, I mean, I just kind of always had that. inside of me. As part of the beach for the U.S. National Beach Soccer team, recently we had to, we all sat down on a call and had to talk about kind of what drives us, what our motivation is. For me, I just have this desire inside to want to be the best at whatever I do. And I don't really know where that comes from or how to explain it. It's just kind of there that as soon as I like, you know, for example, this sand soccer this past weekend, we made it to the semi finals and we had a semi final Sunday morning at 8 a.m. and I was dead tired, beat up my legs could barely move. And you know, my dad came up to me that morning he was like, you ready to go? You ready to go? And I was just like, oh, man, I don't know, like, I don't really want to play. And then as soon as that whistle blew. It was just like everything, my legs stopped hurting, everything stopped hurting, you know, it was do or die. And, you know, wanted to do everything I could for the team to win. I think that, you know, adrenaline probably kicks in, but I don't know, I just have that, yeah, I don't really know how to explain it. It's just a, it's a burning feeling inside of me that if I don't give everything I have, then why am I, you know, why am I out there? What's the point of, what's the point of even going out there if you're not gonna... Chris Albiston (41:41.59) do everything you can for yourself, for your teammates, for your family that's supporting you, doing it all. And that's why I keep doing it, because I have this opportunity with the beach soccer team where everything I've done my whole life, even playing with William A, playing beach FC, playing in high school, has led up to this point. And if I don't take full advantage of it, then was it all really worth it back then? Might as well. Do everything 100%. Chris Albiston (42:54.69) Ha ha. Chris Albiston (42:58.025) Ahem. Chris Albiston (43:44.67) Yeah, good question. So Ryan's definitely taller than me, but he's certainly not faster. And I told him on his wedding day, I was his best man. I was like, if you want to race today, we can race. I'm ready whenever you're ready because he thinks he's faster, but definitely taller, I'll give him that. Yeah, we certainly battled a lot growing up and played against each other. We would go out in the backyard and just... We had two goals set up on both sides of the yard and it was pretty narrow and we would just go at each other all day long, kind of playing like 1v1 and keeper wars and all these different things. And I did a lot on my own. I think I was as good of a player as Ryan was and as into soccer as he was. I think I was always just a little bit more into it than he was. I remember my parents bought one of those little, they probably don't even make them anymore. It's like a square, has like elastic on all sides where you kick the ball into it, it comes back to you. I would spend hours in the backyard just playing with, you know, playing into that, having it come back to me, taking a touch shooting, dribbling through cones, you know, all those different things. It's crazy to look back on it. You know, my dad always told me, he was like, you have all the tools to be the player you want to be if you just put the work in and... He was a big driving force and obviously when we're 10, 11, 12 years old, we can't see the future. We don't know how important it is to be outworking everybody else. And he was always a big driving force in telling me, you have to do more than the other guy, otherwise how are you going to be better than him? And so I spent a lot of time. in the backyard just playing by myself, dribbling around cones, those sorts of things. And even to this day, like, yeah, as you mentioned, you know, still doing the beach soccer stuff. And as we talked about earlier, it's a different game. You're playing in the air a lot. So I'll go and I'll find a wall. There's actually a shed in my backyard where I go out and I just kick the ball off the shed and try and keep the ball in the air. And I make it part of my routine where, you know, I'm trying to get... We have a... Chris Albiston (46:09.57) saying on the beach soccer team, you know, if you get 1% better each day Then you know, you're going in the right direction and you know, we're gonna be improving quicker than other teams are so we you know, we try and do those things to get better and if you're not, you know, just going to practice with your teammates or going to You know games or tournaments if you're doing the same amount of stuff as other people then You're not going to be getting better than them. So you really have to. Eric Bird, we talked about him earlier. Coach Norris mentioned him. He was one of the players on my team who ended up going to UVA. And that guy worked harder. Certainly worked harder than I did. I think he worked harder than anybody I knew growing up. At one point, he was going to, and he won't mind me telling you this, he was going to stop playing soccer. We were 14, 15 years old. And he was just, he was. tired of it. He had other interests. We were in middle school or whatever it was and started talking with girls and wanted to go do that instead. I was like, listen, man, I can't blame you, but I still love this stuff. He ended up changing his mind and he put his mind straight into soccer. I would go and play with him every once in a while, but when I wasn't there, he was still in his backyard doing everything. He didn't have a left foot growing up. you know, got a left foot and he was hitting the ball as well with his left foot as he was with his right foot. And he became the best player on our team and you know, he led us to a couple state championships both in high school and on the Beach FC team and he's still playing, you know, he's still in the USL still doing those things and he's somebody that, you know, when you talk about doing the extra thing when no one's watching, you know, he embodied that and I certainly did that as well, but it just goes to show you that the more you do it, the better you get. And Eric's, certainly we were getting better at the same time, but he was always, he was that step above me because he put that extra bit of work in. And it just, like I said, it pays off and it's paid off for him big time. Chris Norris (48:28.644) It's a Chris Norris (48:59.568) Um, well, I mean, look, I have some recency bias here, but we have just kind of graduated a group and they, this group of guys, Alexander Levengood, Dibinwegbo, Nathan Messer, and Alfredo Bustalongo. Alfredo actually will be with us for one more year, but those guys in particular, um, certainly as a group strike me as really unique because they are probably the most professional group of players that we've had in terms of their preparation and the work that they put in to try to get better individually and to try to help the team be better. I'm trying to think of other guys. I mean, you know, guys like Jackson Eskay, William Eskay. I mean, I've known those guys since they were little kids, so I have more of a frame of reference. Like I know the work that those guys put in as youth. players to get to the level that they're at. I mean, you know, we've got, we've got Chris on here representing us beach soccer today and William SK just won, you know, the, the soccer tournament million dollars, 77 along with Marcel Barry and William is on the U S footsal team and him and Marcel play indoor soccer professionally. So, um, you know, there are guys like that. Uh, I'm trying to think if there was any, any other guys. that really stand out as far as that goes? Yeah, I mean, it's hard to say. There's definitely. I mean, there are varying degrees. One of the benefits of being at a place like William and Mary is that I get to work with a lot of individuals who are high achievers and qualities of high achievers basically are that they're usually pretty self-motivated. They usually work pretty hard. They are usually willing to put in. the time, you know, and it like I said, it varies, but most of the guys are pretty hard working I would say. Then you have a few guys that are just super talented. Scot Cooper (51:10.699) in our space. Chris Albiston (51:10.712) We won't name any names. Chris Norris (51:12.517) Hehehe Scot Cooper (51:13.738) What about, like, what were the differentiators when, you know, there were guys that went on to the MLS that were kind of from your era? You know, were they the types of guys that Josh is referring to or? Yeah. Chris Norris (51:31.204) I will tell you this, we have not had... Chris Norris (51:39.696) player that has gone on to play at that level, at the MLS level and had a career that wasn't talented and wasn't hardworking. You know, they had to have both. Some were a little bit more professional than others, maybe some were a little bit more passionate about soccer specifically, but you know, all the guys that we've had that have gone on to have significant careers, playing careers in soccer have all been. Hard working. Chris Norris (53:03.11) Um... Chris Norris (53:08.364) Yeah, yeah. I mean, look, I vary a little bit on this. I think that there are, there are, like, if you want to be a pro player, for example, like being a pro player, soccer becomes your career. Okay. Now we all know that like, regardless of what your career is, there are things that you absolutely have to do that you probably don't like to do. For most of us, like when we're playing sports, when we're younger, there becomes a point you've got to do fitness or you've got to do some things that you don't love to do, but your talent may be good enough that even if you don't work that hard at it, you're still going to be okay. If you're going to have a sustained pro career, you've got to really love that aspect of it. You've got to embrace all of that. I don't necessarily think that every guy in your program or on your team has to be like that in order to have a really successful team or a good culture or to win things. You know, there are some guys that can kind of flip a switch a little bit. It's not the way to try to be certainly, but there are some guys that can compartmentalize the soccer aspect of it. They can show up to lift in the morning and then they can come to training in the afternoon and they can put in work there. but then they might not think about soccer for the rest of the time. But when the whistle blows on a Tuesday night or a Saturday night, you know you're getting everything they have, you're getting their best effort. And that can be frustrating for some other guys who are living it, you know, they're breathing soccer all the time and they're thinking about it when they're in class and all that stuff, but not everybody is gonna be that way and not everybody has to be that way. I think there are different ways to be. really effective and you know you want to have a culture where players are trying to get better but how you get better I think that there are different ways to do that for sure. Chris Norris (55:27.608) I got a question actually for Chris. Just explain like what is it? What's your, what is being a beach soccer player for the US like? What is like, what are you doing? And, and you know, what's the pinnacle for you guys? You know, we've talked about it. There's one event in Virginia Beach, but what else are you doing? Chris Albiston (55:45.267) Yep. Chris Albiston (55:48.754) Yeah, so yeah, the event in Virginia Beach is like a more of a club side of it. So for the US side, so ever since 2018, that's when I started playing with the US team. My first trip was in Hungary. And then November of 2018, we went to Dubai for what's called the Intercontinental Beach Soccer Tournament. Those were my first two tastes of. quote unquote professional or high level beach soccer. Those are both international tournaments and they were two very different tournaments. Hungary was, it was just a four team tournament. We played against Japan, Czech Republic and Hungary. Japan at that point was and still is one of the best teams in the world. We ended up beating them in my very first US beach soccer game ever. to my own horn just for one second. I did score a goal in that game with my right foot, if you guys can believe it. So we ended up beating them four to three, and then we beat Czech Republic and Hungary, and we ended up winning that tournament. So my first taste of the US beach soccer team was winning a tournament. Well, turns out that is not the norm, and had not been the norm up until very recently. Um, so ever since 22, and then we went to Dubai and, you know, Dubai, we played, I don't remember exactly who we played against them, but it was, you know, Spain, Iran, Russia, and, you know, for those who aren't familiar with beach soccer, which is most people, Iran and Russia are two of the very best teams in the world, Spain is always top seven or eight teams, um, and we got demolished. I think we lost to. to Russia 13 to one and I ran 12 to two. And I got done with that tournament. I was like, what are we doing here? What am I doing? But I loved it. Beach soccer was something that it just is, it's such a fun sport. And for people who aren't familiar with it, check it out because it is, go out and just kick a ball in the sand, play with your bare feet. It's something that is Chris Albiston (58:11.806) You know, if you wonder why the Brazilians have such a good touch, it's because they grow up playing with the ball with their feet. You know, my I've played for I'm 30 years old now, played soccer as we've talked about all grown up. My touch has never been better than it is now. And I truly do believe that that's because of, you know, my recent beach soccer stuff and having to, you know, control the ball in the air. Play with. play with the bare feet. And even when I put the cleats on still and go play outdoor or play indoor, you know, the touch is still there. And so, you know, the beach soccer team, we are under the U.S. Soccer Federation. It is part of the U.S. Soccer Federation and they treat us so well. We frequently go on trips where there are more staff than players. You know, they're sending doctors, trainers, security. coordinators, strength and conditioning guys, and they, you know, it is run as a very professional environment. And Francis Farberoff, who's the head coach, is, you know, his passion for beach hockey is unmatched. It's his life and he's really made the team, you know, over the course of the past five years from when I started, the team is vastly different. The expectations are vastly different than they used to be and the results are much different. You know, just recently we had two tournaments, one in El Salvador, which was a qualification for the ANOC World Beach Games, which is being held in Bali in August. It's like a mini Olympics, so it's not just beach soccer, it's beach volleyball, surfing. Any sort of beach and water sports, I think there's 16 or so sports going on there and that's being held in Bali and we qualified for that. Then we went to the Bahamas for the World Cup qualifiers and we won both tournaments. We beat El Salvador in one of them and we beat Mexico in the other who are two of the strongest CONCACAF teams and have been over the course of certainly the last five years and even longer than that. Chris Albiston (01:00:30.482) it started to feel like that was what was expected. You know, it had not felt like that up until that point. So, you know, the game is really growing, even around Virginia Beach. You know, we have this Virginia Beach tournament, but there is a group of people here who have started beach soccer, Virginia Beach, and I cannot take any credit for it. It is, they're running kids' clinics, leagues. all these different things and these kids who are playing for Beach FC and playing for Rush down here, they're coming out here and they're playing in this beach soccer league and they're, you know, touching the ball, they're throwing bicycle kicks, they're doing all these things that you see in traditional beach soccer and I really do think it's going to make a big difference for them, you know, as they start to get older and, you know, they go through the recruiting process. You know, I I wish I would have started playing beach soccer more seriously earlier on, you know, back before I went to college and before I, you know, did all of that because I do, I do really believe that it would have made a difference in my playing career and in my abilities. And yeah, I mean, it's, it's been quite an experience and to have it, you know, to be able to wear the U S soccer crest and play for a team and hear the national anthem. even though it's not the traditional soccer that we all think of, it's been a really cool experience. And hopefully I can convince some of the listeners to check out a game or two. Sometimes they're hard to find. But if you check it out, I really do think that they'll have a good time watching because there's a lot of goals you can shoot from anywhere and a lot of bicycle kicks which make it fun to watch. Hopefully. Hopefully I can talk a few people into it. Chris Albiston (01:02:38.362) Yeah, so we have like a strength and conditioning program that we're expected to do that's set out by a strength and conditioning coach with US Soccer. So we have to do that. And then we have to train, you know, on our own or, you know, if we have people that are around us that can train, we have to train during the week. During COVID, it was, you know, we would do like Zoom calls and stuff and train that way. Now it's more so, you know, doing it on your own. We do get together before the tournaments, there will be a camp. beforehand, you know, usually it'