Neil McKay – 2007 Girls / 2009 Girls / 2010 Girls
-What was the first thing that attracted you to coaching youth soccer?
Challenger Sports came to my college back in the UK when I was 19 and gave details on their soccer summer camps in the US. I jumped at the opportunity to coach in America for 8-10 weeks and it was during that time that I decided I wanted to pursue a career in coaching at the youth level. I found it incredibly rewarding to be able to have a positive influence on the players I was working with and knew I wanted to continue down this path to see how far I could go. Twelve years later and I’m still loving every minute.
-What is the first thing you look for in a player?
Attitude and mentality without a doubt. Tryouts can be a stressful time and with nerves running high, players sometimes have an off day with regards to their performance. But you can’t have an off day with regards to your attitude and mentality. You’re either going to be a hard worker with a desire to learn and improve or you’re not. I can tell what type of player I have in front of me very quickly. I really don’t care if you’re the most skillful player to ever walk on the soccer field or you’re just starting off in the sport. If you show me that you’re going to put the work in and that you genuinely care about getting better, you’ll make my team all day long.
-You’ve coached in the UK and Australia, are there any real differences in your approach to players?
I’ve found one of the biggest differences between here and the UK/Australia is the time players commit to their own development away from organized practice. Back home players will spend every recess playing soccer, then they’ll meet up at the park after school to play soccer and then if they’re not playing on Saturday or Sunday afternoon, they will spend their weekend watching soccer on TV. In America, I have to factor in that a lot of players won’t even touch a ball in between training sessions so I often try to set ‘homework’ assignments to encourage players to do more in their own time. This links back with the ‘Attitude and Mentality’ traits that make the most successful players in my opinion.
-You are currently completing your UEFA B certification, what has been the biggest lesson you’ve learned going through the course?
I’ve learned how to get my point across in a more clear and concise way. My key takeaway from the course was the importance of time management and that my coaching points were often too detailed and long-winded. Now I aim to limit my stoppages to 10 seconds max. Anything more than that and the point I’m trying to make gets lost in the detail.
-What’s the best advice you give to your individual players?
The more you do off the ball, the less you have to do on the ball. When looking to receive a pass, can we scan our surroundings to see what time we have and what space is available to move the ball in to? Can we create more space with our movement towards or away from the ball? Can we give the player on the ball information like ‘man on, time’ etc.? All of these things and more mean that when we finally have the ball at our feet, we have a better chance of success in our next action.
-When your teams are playing well, what does the game look like? What is the style of play?
Everyone knows their role in each phase of play. You can see players off the ball making deliberate and well thought out runs. Players on the ball are patient in possession. They are not afraid to move the ball backwards in order to pull defenders out of position but they are also confident to win their 1v1s. Out of possession we make play predictable by forcing the ball into certain areas and there is constant communication between teammates as to who is pressing and who is covering. I would define our style of play as possession based. We like to play out from the back and dictate the pace of the game with our ball movement.
-What coaches do you follow and aspire to be like?
As a Manchester United fan, it goes without saying Sir Alex is a hero in my eyes. He had incredible man management abilities. Then there are modern coaches like Pep Guardiola, Maurizio Sarri and Jurgen Klopp who have very clear and defined playing philosophies. I respect the work, planning and time that these coaches commit to making sure every player knows exactly where and when to move on and off the ball.
-Some coaches are constant talkers on the sidelines and some take a “sit back and enjoy” approach (and everything in between); what type of coach are you?
My demeanor on the sidelines varies from team to team. With my younger teams, I am a lot more vocal. I don’t agree with coaching the players during the play as I feel the players need to be allowed to make mistakes. I aim to give feedback after an action has taken place, whether it be positive reinforcement for a correct action or constructive feedback on what might work better next time. I always tell my players that if they make the same mistake again after my feedback then it is no longer a mistake but rather an incorrect decision. With my older teams, I tend to sit back a lot more and let the players do the talking. I’ll only pipe up if there is something clearly needing correction.
-How do you define success after coaching a season?
Success for me is the team having consistently strong performances, demonstrating the styles of play that we’ve worked on throughout the season. If those strong performances translate into league and tournament championships, then that’s a cheeky bonus for the players. The biggest indicator of success for me though is coaching in an area of Florida with a relatively small talent pool and forming teams that can go on to compete against some of the strongest teams in the state who have 2-3 teams at every age level.
-What makes you most excited about being on the touchline?
I get a real kick out of seeing the players try to implement what we’ve been working on that week or that month. When you see a passing pattern or tactic executed almost exactly how it had been practiced fills me with an enormous sense of excitement and gratification.
-Define the following: “What is the role of a youth soccer coach?”
The role of a youth soccer coach is to give players the tools required for success both as individuals and as part of a team. A coach must also instill positive values such as sportsmanship and fair play in his players.
-What is your coaching dream?
It is my goal to work with a team from U8/U9 right through to U17 and win a State Cup championship along the way. I would then love for a majority of those players to gain the opportunity to continue playing at the collegiate level too.
On a personal level, I have a goal of working within an MLS club in an academy setup and helping to guide players to eventually play in the first team.