By Michael BRUER
We conclude our interview with St. Francis varsity soccer coach Glen Appels who won his 400th game on Jan. 15, beating Crespi 2-1 for the Golden Knights’ first Mission League victory of the season.
Q: A lot of players growing up in the soccer culture of California have to choose between playing for their club team or playing for their high school team. What sort of exposure to that dilemma have you experienced as a coach?
A: For us it’s been really difficult. I was talking to a college coach and thought we were one of the schools that suffered the most from the Academy where the kids don’t play for us. We have two absolutely brilliant players on this campus who don’t play for us – and I think kids would like to if we were to arrange that. I think being a small school and playing Division I, missing two or three guys makes an enormous difference. On the other side, it gives two or three kids a chance who otherwise wouldn’t have had it.
It’s hard to take the very top of the talent pool and eliminate the chance for them to play for their high school. This has been going on [for about] the last 10 years. We’ve had a dozen kids who absolutely would have changed the results of our games. But on the other side of that, we have kids who just love playing for their school. The saddest part about that is there is a way for the Academy and the clubs to co-exist with the high schools. I think you get things from both that you don’t get from playing only one. If the soccer people ever decided, ‘Let’s do what’s best for all of the kids, not just what we think is best for the top 10%’ then they make it so the kids can play their Academy season and high school season, still get a month off – and get both experiences.
Some of those guys are going to be top-notch players, some of them aren’t. They’re going to look back and say, ‘I missed a chance to play with my friends, and wear my school colors.’ I think that’s sad for them and definitely sad for us. You can’t tell a kid at 16 how he’s going to feel about it when he’s 25 or 30. We always tell these guys that there aren’t any club team reunions going on – 10 years from now when you come back to your high school you’d like to have the memories that will last a lifetime. Eventually we’re all recreational players, whether you’re a college player or a pro player. To get the most out of sport, you have to enjoy it on some level. I’m afraid that for some parents, some coaches, and some kids, it becomes a business way too early – you lose the joy of playing the game. You’re constantly trying to reach the next goal.
Q: How does your experience in the classroom help prepare you as a coach on the field?
A: There are really two distinct things: we ask our kids to be student-athletes, and student comes first. Being a teacher-coach brings home the idea that academics are a central part of high school. We try to set the example by being professionals in the classroom. The second part is that teaching is teaching – whether it’s advanced placement English or tactics on the soccer field. The ability to deliver information in the right way, deal with personalities, team management/class management … I think a lot of the skills that make good teachers make good coaches.
Q: What is your background in soccer previous to SFHS?
A: My dad’s from Holland. I’m from a long line of soccer players; my grandfather was the best in our family. At the high school level I played in the Olympic Development Program (ODP) in Arizona. I played three out of my four seasons at Cal. My senior year I wasn’t going to play at all, which is when I started covering the team for the school newspaper. I played in the semi-pro league here for a bit – I actually met a few guys that were coaching in the Mission League. I started coaching against these guys, and I wound up doing two stints at Occidental as an assistant coach. I coached several club teams – AYSO, YMCA indoor – anywhere there was a soccer ball, I was a part of that.
I was an assistant coach for the Cal South Olympic Development Program for a couple seasons. Some of my mentors early on convinced me to get my U.S. Soccer coaching license. By renewing that, I stay involved in the coaching education side of things – I sit in a room full of pro players and pro coaches and as a high school guy it’s just a chance to really soak up all the things that are changing and keep ahead of things. I just recently finished the MCAA program, Masters in Coaches and Athletic Administration. I got a chance to really focus in on techniques, psychology, training and sports medicine. I’ve told the kids that it’s important as a coach to keep trying to grow and find new things and new ways of approaching it. The key for me is not to sit back and [settle.] I’ve got to find ways of reinventing myself.
Q: In what ways is coaching different than teaching? What sort of opportunities does it lend itself to?
A: Honestly, one of the biggest things is that parents are a lot more concerned about their kid’s playing time than they are about their grades. I talk to a lot more parents about kids who aren’t playing as often.
In the classroom there are objective standards; with soccer, a lot of it is subjective. There is a lot more ego when they are playing. There are kids who would rather get a ‘B’ than not start. On the field, we have guys from all age groups; in the classroom you have guys who are about the same developmentally. Here it’s not as difficult, our guys are really good to each other, there’s not really the traditional class ranks.
I think the biggest difference is the team culture. In the classroom you’re an individual. If the guy next to you fails a test, it has no influence on you at all. On the field if you have a bad day you’re letting down more than just yourself – and not only the guys who are in the game doing well, but the guys who push you in practice, who show up on time, and set a standard of behavior. I think if there is one thing I am most proud of in our history, it is that we’ve had kids that maybe weren’t the top talent who were able to win games together as a team. We really strive to keep that idea of team together.
A lot of teams are measured by their wins and losses; to me, I’ve done that less as I’ve gotten older. The kids who put in their best effort and we’ve had a good year cause we’ve all gotten along and kids have shown the right character and value – those teams are so much better to coach, whether you win or lose.