From AYSO Player to MLS Coach

PLAYSOCCER Spring 2018

When AYSO alumnus Sigi Schmid was announced as LA Gaxaxy’s head coach in July 2017, the soccer team’s president, Chris Klein, called Schmid “one of the most experienced coaches in the history of soccer in the US.” And it’s true.

With more than 250 wins across MLS regular and postseason play, Schmid is the winningest coach in MLS, he is one of a few coaches to win multiple MLS cups, and he left his mark at the University of California, Los Angeles during his time there as head coach by garnering the most wins in the school’s soccer history.

Schmid’s journey started through the influence of his parents. Here’s our talk with him.

What sparked your interest in soccer, and what’s your first memory like?

My interest in soccer was sparked by my parents. They were from Germany and that was the game they knew. My mother cooked for a German club in the Los Angeles area, so I started attending soccer games from age 5 and on.

That’s the sport that I watched, and watching the World Cup in ’66 from England when I was 13 was a big  memory. My first real memory of playing was when I was 8 years old. I was able to play on a 12U team. I didn’t know if I was a player or a team mascot, but I was on the team.

You played on the Firefighters, one of the first AYSO teams in Torrance, California. How would you say that

experience influenced your future in soccer?

The Firefighters was hugely important because our coach, George K. – or Scotty as we called him – was a big influence in my life. His passion for the game and commitment to training and details were fantastic for me as young player. I ended up playing for him for approximately five years.

Who are your unsung heroes that have helped you get to where you are today, and how did they help and inspire you?

My unsung heroes were probably more on the coaching side, and certainly George K. was one of them. The next one who was very important to me on the coaching side was a guy named Max Wosniak, who coached me at the men’s level when I was in my late teens.

Max was a very good coach. He would coach the US national team for a series of four or five games. He was a Polish guy who obtained his German A license, so he gave me all of his German A license notes. As I moved forward, coaches like Lothar Osiander, Bob Gansler and team Olechowski were all big influences as well as Bora Milutinovic later and a few others.

What would you say is the most impactful piece of advice that you’ve ever received?

The most impactful piece of advice that I’ve ever received was given to me by a guy named Harry Tweedie, who was from Northern Ireland. When I thought I was a pretty hotshot youth coach, my youth team played his team in the semifinals in the state cup. They were beating us by 5-1. I realized maybe I wasn’t as good of coach yet as I thought I was.

When I was thinking about leaving University of California, Los Angeles for the LA Galaxy to start to coach pro, I called up Harry Tweedie and I asked him what he thought. His advice was, “Son, if one doesn’t accept the challenges that life brings with it, then life’s not worth living.” For me, that was the key in saying, “Coaching the LA Galaxy is a challenge. This is something I want to do, and I’ll always regret it if I don’t accept this challenge.”

How do you inspire your players on and off the pitch?

Inspiration is such a good word but such a hard word to define. I think everyone gets inspired by different things.

The most important actions for a coach to do is to show your players your passion for the game, show your players your honesty, and be honest and direct with them. Players always appreciate those things as well as seeing that you’re committed to your work and bringing the energy on a daily basis.

What advice do you have for those who want to pursue a career in soccer?

Enjoy it. For me, I’m lucky. As a soccer coach, I feel I’ve never really worked since I’ve always felt a youthful exuberance every time I step onto the field, even to this day at practice.

You’ll also want to make sure you observe and learn. So much of my growth was watching successful coaches coach, not only in soccer but also in basketball and other sports too. Learn from every coach and what they bring to the equation.

Learning all the small details is what makes a difference sometimes, too, between being successful and unsuccessful. Sometimes we forget about the small details because we look at the big picture, but taking care of small details is the key to success.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.