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Conversations in Soccer – Kim Wyant

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Oct 20, 2015

Conversations in Soccer – Kim Wyant

Kim Wyant

Kim Wyant has been a fixture in American soccer for the past 30 years. She has played at the highest level with the USWNT. She has coached and played in high level games. But it is current situation in the sport that might be garnering the most attention. Kim Wyant was recently announced as the head men’s soccer coach at NYU just one game into the season. With few women being in charge of men’s athletic teams, Coach Wyant finds herself in somewhat unchartered territory. We recently had a chance to chat with her about her history in the sport, the growth of women’s soccer in the US and her current role at NYU.

Hi Kim. Let’s start this off with a couple very interesting facts about you. You were teh first goalkeeper on the US Women’s National Team. You played in the very first women’s NCAA championship match and now you are one of the very few women that are the head coach of a men’s collegiate program. Have you ever thought much about all of that?

I have, believe me. You can look at that and say “wow, that is really impressive.” But what it means is that I’m really old!

I’ve been at the right place at the right time. If I look at the enviroment today – just take the US Women’s National Team and the goalkeepers that are on the team today. If I had to compete now for one of those positions – I don’t know – it would be very difficult. They are 5’8″, 5’9″. I was definitely good. But the players and the game have gotten a lot better. But like I say, I’m very appreciative to have been in the right place at the right time for all of these milestones.

Speaking of the USWNT and your history with the team, it has to be pretty cool to see the evolution of not just the team and their style of play, but of the sport in general.

It’s phenomonal. It was never a question in my mind about the success of the program. We can speak to this from a cultural standpoint because the women in this country are encouraged to pursue athletics, to be confident, to be in leadership positions. In many ways, I think we re dominant in all sports because of our culture in the United States that encourages girls to play sports.

It’s amazing how far the women’s game has come along in 30 years. That’s a short amount of time to develop the best players in the world and to have all the success that the USWNT has had.

30 years, that’s it! August of 2015 was our 30th anniversary of playing our first game. It’s not a long period of time. But we were well positioned from the very beginning. Appointing Anson Dorrance as the second coach of the team was significant becaue he really set the culture for women and our national team and for the spirit and aggressiveness that we play with. We have so many girls playing and so many great coaches coaching them that we have a culture of winning because we were winning from the beginning.

That’s an interesting point. Given that the USWNT has been successful from teh beginning there is an expectation and culture of winning. Do you think that has a big influence on women’s soccer in America?

I absolutely think it does because we come into a culture where you are expected to win. If you can’t deal with that culture you’re not on the national team. We have plenty of players on the USWNt who can deal with that pressure and who want to deal with that kind of pressure.

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Let’s transition to your current role as the head coach for the men’s program at NYU. It’s a fairly new frontier for a female to be coaching a men’s college program. That’s not the status quo.

A lot of people have an interest in this which I think is great. What’s interesting about this to me is that there are a number of examples that we can point to – in any sport – where you have a male assistant coach of a men’s team transition to take over as the head coach of the women’s team. It happens all the time. But when you have a coach that is a woman make the sametransition in the opposite direction it makes people stop and think.

From my perspective, nobody blinks an eye when a male coach transitions to the women’s game. It’s just accepted that he is qualified to do the job and gender doesn’t matter. Football is football. You have the same number of players on the field. The field is the same size. The soccer ball is the same size. Coaching is about managing players and managing the game.

If we take coaching qualifications out of the picture, is there a cultural stigma where it’s more difficult to accept a woman coaching a men’s team than a man coaching a women’s team?

There’s no question. Although it hasn’t been posed to me yet. There are a lot of people out there who believe this is not going to work. I’m sure there are a lot of people out there who will judge how this is working out based on early season results. There’s no question about that. They’re looking at this and saying the team is not winning or she is not winning so this isn’t going to work. And if I allow myself to think about that from everybody elses’s perspective, then I will be having anxiety attacks every five minutes.

In looking at the totality of the situation, any coach, male or female, that walked into a situation like this, where a team had a coach that resigned one game into the season – anybody stepping into that role is going to be in a difficult situation. Male or female. Because it is unusual. You don’t expect a coaching change one game into the season. That in itself was a challenge. To get a team that had a coach that they had either been playing for or had been recruited by and then that coach leaves. This was a challenge. Whether the guys looked at this and questioned me being a female – I never thought about it from that perspective. I just thought about it from the perspective of stepping into a situation where the team is very fragile and very vulnerable just by the fact that the coach had left after one game into the season. I stepped into a situation where the team was 21 days and one game into the season. So that was the challenge for me. The first 48 hours in my mind were the most critical.

You mentioned there have been people who were skeptical about you taking over a men’s program. It remeinds me a bit about soccer in America and how there has always been people who are skeptical about the sport and who doubt it. Seems to be a parallel that can be drawn there. Anyone involved in American soccer has always had to battle naysayers, skepticism and people who just didn’t believe in the sport. This seems like another example of that type of thinking that you have been dealing with.

Yes! I have said to myself that I am qualified to coach this team. I intend to figure out the personnel that I have as quickly as possible. I coached the first game without even knowing the players names. I am going to get knee deep in this. I have to get to know my players. I have to make my own impressions. I’ve been around high level players and coaches before. I’ve coached women to a national championship before.

Players are players. The gender thing really doesn’t cross my mind. I am confident in my abilities. I am confident in knowing the players I coach. I am confident I can go out there and give the players the training sessions that they need that will help improve them and help improve the team. I’m learning more about this team and my players and I’m confident in guiding them.

All I can really control is how hard I work and rely on the people around me. I have a great locker room. The guys are working hard in practice. There is great communication in the locker room and no drama. Aside from the fact I would like to be winning more, I would say this is all going very well.

You mentioned that so much of coaching is about the management of players. Is there a difference in how you manage a women’s team and how you manage a men’s team? Are there fundamental differences between genders that make the apporoach to managing them different?

I think that there is a difference. I told some of my former female players that after managing them for four years that the men’s team should be a cake walk. Becasue women are just… I don’t want to see that they’re more challenging, but they are more likely to want to challenge and debate the coach and want to talk about things. So you have to get women to really buy into the system of play or what you are asking players to do. There’s a lot of stuff that will go on among the relationships between women players. Thre are friendships. There can be spite. Playing time issues. Women players tend to rally around each other and support each other in that way. But they can also carry their differences off the field which can create a lot of drama.

With the men, I’ve just been very direct with them. I tell them what I would like to do and the say “OK coach.” There’s no debate about why or how we should do it. I find that discussing playing time or or the changing roles of certian players – these have been less dramatic conversations than they might be with a female player.

With all that’s been going on, what are the mechanisms or measurements that will define success for you?

The way that I am defining success – right now – is am I improving teh team on the field? Are the players relating to each other? What’s the team culture? Am I relating to the players in a way where I am reaching them on an educational level? And am I making them better football players? These are the things that will define success for me.

I tell the guys that we all want to win. Every athlete shows up and knows that they want to win. That’s what we do. But winning is so elusive and it’s not in your control. You can’t control the other team. All you can do is focus on the things that you are in control of. How we prepare the players both on and off the field. How the coaches prepare. Preparing mentally and physically – that’s your responisbility as a player. You have to come ready to play. There are so many variables that factor in to whether you win or lose. We all want to get all thes things right so in the end, we get the right results.

From a acoaching perspective, to define how I’m doing or to hang this on wins and losses – it’s very difficult for me to buy into that. There are so many other things that I would also like to see, like a positive locker room and player retention. Being able to improve the players both on and off the field.

Thanks so much for your time. Best of luck with the season!

Thank you so much!

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