This article is a re-post from an interview with Robert Lopez published on the National Soccer Coaches Association of America web site.
“A coach should first and foremost be humble – no one owes you anything; you’re a teacher and an example to all those who see you on and off the pitch. Without true humility, you can't grow as a coach. There's nothing wrong with pride in its proper place and accepting the positives when they come your way, but the true student and teacher can learn from every situation and every person he or she comes in contact with. The negatives have just as much input as the positives. A coach should be able to adapt his or her teaching style and keep the team and players creative, but still be able to provide structure and a system to become successful at their level of play. For every plan "A" in a training session or match, there needs to be a plan "B", "C" and so on. These qualities influence your players and teams, because you are the example and that is the standard they will move forward with in their soccer and life experiences.”
At the age of nine, Robert Lopez knew he wanted to be a coach. Through his involvement in soccer as one of the sports he played at a young age, he became enamored with the game and knew he wanted to remain involved in it, no matter at what level. He coached various sports, including soccer, during his 20’s. Years later after moving to Texas, Robert officially began his coaching career through getting involved in local teams and coaching his daughter. It wasn’t until he took advantage of a free clinic, however, that the notion truly took hold in his life. In 1998, he enrolled his daughter in a free skills clinic held by Luis Papandrea in Lago Vista, Texas.
“I was already helping on the soccer side of things with recreational and some select as a volunteer with our then starting out academy program,” Robert said. “Watching Luis teach, captivate and motivate all 45 of those players just fascinated me and showed me that there was a lot more I could do as a coach than I was currently doing, and I have never looked back.”
Since that moment, Robert has credited his initial motivation for coaching to Luis. Due to that first clinic, Robert was impassioned with teaching soccer and became highly involved in Texas club soccer under the guidance of many experienced staff trainers that he has had the privilege to work with.
“Luis was really my motivation to go and learn more, take classes and be humble to learn from everyone and every situation I was presented,” Robert said.
Today, Robert is the Location Director for Lonestar Soccer Club at the Steiner Ranch/Riverplace Boys and Girls Jr. Academy and a Lonestar Soccer Club full-time staff member. He is also Director of Integrity in Motion Fitness, where he is responsible for setting up all training curriculum. He holds National Soccer Coaches Association of America National, Advanced Regional, National Youth and Goalkeeper I and II diplomas; and this summer, he is taking the NSCAA Advanced National Diploma course held in Denver, Colo.
NSCAA: What is your most memorable moment as a coach?
RL: After all these years, I have quite a few memorable events – matches, state championships, tourneys, etc... I am proud of all of them; but I have to say the most memorable moments are when you connect with your players and they believe in what you’re teaching them and then execute that during match time – regardless of the result. When they are proud of whom they are as a soccer player and then as a person, that is a true reward that keeps on providing the drive to get better. So, perhaps not so much a single moment as much as a striving for a repeated result for all your players: growth and a love for the game.
NSCAA: How do you describe the relationship between you and the players?
RL: I feel my relationship between my players and myself is one of mutual respect. They understand when it's time to goof, and they do plenty of this at times, but they also understand when it's time to focus. I have a strict persona in the beginning with all my teams, but once we get into our third or fourth training session of the fall season, I have a good idea of how to work with every team and adjust my training style to get the most out of my players and continue to change if needed as I go along with the season.
NSCAA: What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced while coaching?
RL: It's dealing with parents. It's important to be truthful and show respect to all parents, but after the amount of time I have been doing this, many of the parent challenges merely repeat themselves with a new group of parents. The challenge is to show them their concerns matter and direct them to a place where they can either agree with a trainer’s perspective on a particular situation or agree to disagree and move forward for the player. The second item would be keeping players motivated and dealing with the mental challenges of the various pressures involved with match competition by constantly re-evaluating how you run your matches and set up your training sessions.
NSCAA: What are your thoughts on coaching education and its role in developing coaches?
RL: I feel coaching education is very valuable in networking with other coaches and getting ideas for all types of training to take with you back to your own sessions. I also think we need more opportunities for classes in many different states, but realize this is hard to accomplish as there are many factors that impact holding quality classes across the nation. I feel coaches need periodic staff development before each of their seasons, similar to what we do here at Lonestar. It's crucial to create continuity among the staff and how they run and train their teams during the season.
NSCAA: What has NSCAA meant to you?
RL: I enjoy the NSCAA due the fact it is based on teaching a coach to be a "teacher", "mentor" and "trainer", purely based off who you are and your aptitude, not what you did for this club or that league. It's true coaches’ education, no matter the level of your expertise. If you want to learn, the NSCAA is willing to provide all the tools necessary to be the best you can.
"Teach athletes why they train, the way they train with INTEGRITY"