Chicago (March 11, 2014) – The Coaching Education Department presents a new series of articles to introduce coaches to the U.S. Soccer National Instructional Staff. Each month, we will feature a Q&A with a member of the staff that will delve in to his or her background and coaching experience. We aim to share with coaches a small glimpse of our instructors’ history, knowledge, and expertise that they provide at U.S. Soccer educational events. The National Instructional Staff consists of top coaches from across the country leading the sport in coaching education.
This month we begin this series with National Instructor James “Jay” Hoffman.
How did you first get involved in soccer?
Jay Hoffman: “Well one of the things you have to remember is that when I was young it was well before the time of highly organized sports for youth. There were really no clubs for youth soccer. Everything revolved pretty much around high school sports. I lived in a small town; I went to a small school. We had no football, so the game to play in the fall was soccer. Everybody played it.”
When did you first begin coaching?
JH: “My first experience coaching was actually in basketball. We had a gentleman in town that used to teach kids basketball skills on Saturday afternoons. He taught me basketball, and then eventually when I made the high school basketball team, he came to me and asked if I would be willing to help teach the youngsters, and I said yes. That experience served two purposes: it was fun teaching the kids and it also got me into the gym and allowed me to play. Coaching soccer really began when I went to college at East Stroudsburg State College; it is now a University.”
Where are you coaching now?
JH: “I am the Director of Academy Coaching for the Virginia Rush and a National Staff Instructor for U.S. Soccer.”
Who is a coach you look up to or admire and why?
JH: “I’ve been very fortunate because I had some very good mentors along the line. My first mentor was Wilson Hartranft, my high school basketball, soccer, and baseball coach and gym teacher. He was the one who sort of ignited the fire in me to teach. I actually ended up following in his footsteps because he went to East Stroudsburg State College, so I went to East Stroudsburg State College; he majored in physical education, so I majored in physical education.
“My second mentor was my college coach Dr. John McKeon. He took me under his wing and had it not been for him I might not be coaching. On a Friday afternoon in 1972, Doc. called me to tell me that I had been accepted into graduate school at my Alma matter. I told him that I had not applied to graduate school. After a lengthy conversation, he wouldn’t take no for an answer, so I drove to Stroudsburg that afternoon and started my Master’s degree and graduate assistantship under his guidance.
“One of my two most recent mentors is Timo Liekoski who I worked with for seventeen years coaching in the NASL, MISL, for Emerald Soccer club and instructing U.S. Soccer coaching courses. I can remember the day he hired me. He said I’m not hiring you as an assistant coach to pick up balls or move cones; I’m hiring you to prepare yourself to be a head coach one day. Finally the other mentor for me has been Bob Gansler. I worked with him for many years when I was working with the Federation full time and his knowledge, passion and love of the game are evident. To this day, I enjoy being around those two; I still love working with them, and am always excited about their passion and their commitment to the game and to its participants. I am very grateful for the guidance these gentlemen have given me.”
What is your most memorable soccer moment?
JH: “ I don’t think I could pick just one. They’ve all been unique. They’ve all been a little different. The journey for each one has been memorable. It’s hard to pick just one because they’ve all just been so good. I’m just really thankful that I’ve been able to have all these experiences and have been able to gain something from each and met the people I’ve met and traveled the world and everything else.
“It’s difficult. If I had to name a few, I would say the Women’s World Cup in 1999 when I was the Assistant Coach; in 1999 when I was the head coach and we won the Pan American gold; when we qualified in 1997 for the U20 World Cup; and qualifying the Paralympic teams for the Paralympic Games in 2004 and 2012. It’s been a great run and hopefully it will continue in new ways.”
How did you get involved with instructing?
JH: “ When I came up through the coaching ranks, a lot of us spent our summers working camps. A lot of the summer camp staff were the same gentlemen who taught in the coaching schools. We would spend our summers working together and teaching kids. At the camps you would always hope that you did a good enough job that the National Staff would recognize you and think you could bring something to the table and make them a better staff. You would hope that one of those days you would get a call and my call came in 1977 from Walt Chyzowych, Director of Coaching for U.S. Soccer, asking me if I wanted to come in and instruct a school.”
How do you feel the coaching schools have evolved since you began?
JH: “I think the evolution of the schools has taken place along with the evolution of the game, the players and the participants. The technological improvements in our world have played a part in this evolution and it will be interesting to see how this will continue to influence the educational process in the future. When you look at the level of detail that goes in to teaching and coaching these days, the schools have advanced. I think coaching is viewed a little bit differently, and it’s critiqued a little bit differently. The level of detail has made us more accountable and better teachers.
“We also now have greater support. The soccer culture in this country has given us momentum and has placed greater importance on coaching education. I think the schools have always evolved but I don’t think it’s ever been as pronounced as it is now. We want to be the best so we are going to push the envelope and I think our game in this country is going to push the envelope as well.”
What does it mean to you to be a U.S. Soccer instructor?
JH: “The great part about teaching is helping people to improve. It is always great when former candidates come back to let you know that they have been influenced by the coaching schools. I love to teach and I love to be involved in the game. I think this is a great avenue for me to help the game evolve. It is a great honor to be a member of the staff. When I look at the quality, the commitment and the passion of the other instructors, I certainly feel honored that I would be included in that group.”
What is one thing you wish you knew when you were first starting out?
JH: “If I would have known 42 years ago that I was never going to have a real job, I was going to be able to work at my passion and my hobby, I was going to travel the world, meet great people, and be involved with my peers, I probably would have forgone college and started this a little sooner.”