New year’s resolutions are typically about taking on new challenges and finding ways to grow and get better. My resolution would go hand in hand with one of the biggest decisions I have ever made, being I am leaving Wingate University to accept a position as the Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach at University of Cincinnati. My wife, Erin, and I had talked a lot about the move over the Christmas break. It would be exciting: a great opportunity in a vibrant new city and I promised Erin I would buy her warm clothes to combat the colder temperatures! But the move itself would not be easy. Erin has all her family around the Charlotte area and, although my relatives are all in Northern Ireland, I realized that I had another family that I would also have to leave behind.
Wingate University has been my home for over thirteen years. I have grown there as a person, soccer player, and most recently, as a coach. I consider myself lucky to have the experiences I have had there meeting some great people and playing with, as well as coaching, some fantastic players. As I look back however, the best times at Wingate were probably when things were not going well. Overcoming homesickness as a freshman, dealing with a new academic system and different style of soccer, learning how to win (and lose) in the right way, were all challenges that I found very tough. I found it difficult to deal with these problems being a long way from home, but Wingate provided a support system for me to overcome them and come out a stronger person. Gary Hamill took a chance on me as a player when he recruited me and also as a coach when he gave me my first start as a Graduate Assistant in 2003. I could not have had a better mentor. He taught me that you do not achieve any level of success in this profession without putting in considerable amounts of time to learn about the game and your players. Of course I loved coaching there, but I also loved going to work there every day. A work environment is all about the people and their values. Wingate University is a perfect example of that and you can find proof in every office, every department, and in every building on campus.
Telling the team of my decision was not easy and it was difficult not to become emotional about it. I explained to them that this was a big decision and that it would provide the type of challenge that would propel me out of my comfort zone. We have enjoyed a lot of success in recent years, but again, it was in the tough times that my relationship with the team really grew. A few of the girls stopped by the office the next day and we talked a little more about everything. That meant a lot to me and gave me a new respect for these girls. At the same time, it did not surprise me. It has always been more about soccer with this team and I am proud to have been associated with this ‘family’. With the help of Sarah Rahko we always tried to create an environment where players love coming to practice every day and accept criticism in the exact same way that they accept praise. Dealing with success and failure has become one of the biggest strengths of the program and, as some exciting new players come into the program in August, I have no doubts that they will continue to be successful. I will now become one of their biggest fans.
As I take the next step in my coaching career at Cincinnati, I am excited and ready to get going at another great school. I have known Head Coach, Neil Stafford, since the summer of 2000 when we worked together at Mass Premier Soccer in Boston. We share similar coaching philosophies and, with his success at Central Michigan University and Assumption College, I am confident that I will keep learning and evolving as a coach. I am blessed to be in a fortunate position but realize that success in soccer, be it at Wingate or Cincinnati, always relies heavily on one thing; hard work.
But first, I have to find Erin a coat!