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Building a championship team

In the world of university sports, summer is the offseason. It’s a time when the focus of a coaching staff shifts to the long-term goals of implementing new tactics, scouting potential competition, and planning for the year ahead. For UFV’s Men’s Soccer Coach Alan Errington, like most of UFV’s coaches, it’s also a time for recruiting raw talent, a process with many of the same difficulties and consequences as for any professional team. The recruits of today are the veterans of tomorrow, and the task of choosing “the best” out of thousands of potentials is not one to be taken lightly.

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Date Posted: June 21, 2011
Print Edition: June 10, 2011

By Paul Esau (The Cascade) – Email

Coach Alan Errington (back row, second from left) and the 2010 Cascade’s Men’s Soccer team. Last year’s team placed second in the Keg Classic. Errington is predicting that he’ll have another “good little squad” in 2011

In the world of university sports, summer is the offseason. It’s a time when the focus of a coaching staff shifts to the long-term goals of implementing new tactics, scouting potential competition, and planning for the year ahead. For UFV’s Men’s Soccer Coach Alan Errington, like most of UFV’s coaches, it’s also a time for recruiting raw talent, a process with many of the same difficulties and consequences as for any professional team. The recruits of today are the veterans of tomorrow, and the task of choosing “the best” out of thousands of potentials is not one to be taken lightly.

So can you describe the general processes you use in recruiting people? What steps do you go through?

There’s a few steps that we go through. The first one is that we scout players in the local Metro soccer league, the under-18s to be aware of the best players around and get to know the players that way. The second is that we attend the high school championship soccer playoffs, and see who the best players are in there. But I think what’s unique about what we do at UFV, what I do anyway, is, well, a lot of other universities recruit from far away, from out of town, and I actually develop players to come to the university. I coach the under-18 Select team at the local Abbotsford soccer club. I’ve done that for the last 10 years actually, and the players I try to develop we bring them in and train them and coach them and they get to know who I am and what UFV’s about. And when they finish their youth career they know who I am and how we play and the relationship is already built.

So when you’re looking for recruits, what are the top three qualities that you look for?

A good athlete first and foremost, a good attitude, and a good student. They have to be a student first and a soccer player second, that’s very important. Good athletes with some awareness of what the game’s about. Tactics and how to play, we can teach that, but they need to come in with the right attitude to learn and buy into the system that we play.

When you’re recruiting from within the team that you coach, do you think it’s more important in a sport like soccer to recruit from within the same area or the same team? Because it’s eleven players on the field at one time, so do you think teamwork and having previous chemistry are extremely important?

Good players can play anywhere. We’ve got players from Port Coquitlam; we’ve got players from Mexico; we’ve got players from Abbotsford, Chilliwack, from all over the place. It’s just a matter of getting all the technically gifted players, and organizing and arranging them to play as a team and to buy into the structure of the teamwork and the way we play.

What are the rules for recruiting that you [as a CIS coach] have to follow?

Well there are rules in place. Players that are already committed to universities you obviously can’t speak to them and that. I guess we all abide by the rules, but you’ve got to do your homework; you’ve got to get out and scout and speak to the parents, speak to the players, speak to the coaches. One of the things that I always do when I scout a player on a team is I ask the coach “could I speak to your player or would you like to speak to your player on my behalf and get them to contact me?” You don’t want to go in there and steal players away from teams.

So how much time do you spend in the offseason looking for players?

I don’t put specific time on it, but all the time! Again, every time I’m out at games, every weekend with the under-18s I’m just out scouting. I was out last night, out in Langley. Some player contacted me, I went out and watched him play. I’m always prepared to go and watch people play. I got an email from a guy in Mexico today…and he’s going to send DVD’s and all that. I’ve been around a long time looking at DVDs and reading resumes and letters and all that. I need to see them play. I can tell in five minutes if they’re going to be good enough or not.

Well it’s hard to tell from a resume if someone can score or play defense right?

Well, even with stats and all that. When I was with the Whitecaps we had a guy called Nobby Stiles who played for England and won the World Cup. Nobby used to say it comes down to four words: “Can he bleedin’ play?” It’s as simple as that. They can have the best stats in the world, they can juggle it, they can kick with both feet, they can head it, they can tackle. But it comes down to: “can they play?”

How do this season’s recruits look?

Not too bad, there’s about eight new players coming in from the under-18 squad who are a very good side and just won the Coast Cup. They’re very good players and I know them very well, and I know their strengths and weaknesses… The squad I’ve got coming back from last year, I know they’re a real good group. One of the things that’s good about this squad is that there is a good harmony, a good camaraderie, a good team feeling among them: they’re bonding quite well. I’m expecting to have a good little squad this year.

Alan Errington has spent seven years at the helm of UFV’s soccer team, and coached almost every level of the game during his thirty-plus year coaching career, including a four-year stint with the Vancouver Whitecaps. Along with coaching the UFV Cascades, Errington also coaches the Abbotsford Mariners Premier Development Team, and provides colour commentary for the Vancouver Whitecaps.

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