Q&A with National Staff Instructor, Dean Wurzberger
National staff instructor Dean Wurzberger came on to the coaching scene after a professional playing career in the NASL and the ASL. He held several college coaching jobs before becoming the head men’s soccer coach at the University of Washington where he coached for 19 seasons. During this time he won the Pac-10 Coach of the Year award in 2004 and was the winningest coach in program history when he left the program in 2011. Outside the college realm, Wurzberger also spent time with various Youth National Teams, including two years as head coach of the U-16 Boys’ National Team. He became a staff instructor in 1988 and continues to learn and challenge himself as a coach. In the past few years, Wurzberger earned the FA UEFA “A” license (2010) and the U.S. Soccer National “Goalkeeping” license (2014). A self-described “lifelong learner,” Wurzberger explains the importance of continuously absorbing new ideas and adding to your knowledge base as a coach.
ussoccer.com: Where and when did you first begin coaching?
Dean Wurzberger: “My first formal coaching experience started with the Seattle Sounders soccer camps in the summer of 1975. I was playing with the NASL Sounders as a draft choice right after college. They offered players the chance to work camps if they wanted to add to their income. I was on a pretty small salary so I was motivated by the extra work and money and I just thought it looked like fun. That was my first formal commitment to coaching and it was something I thought I did pretty well at. Then I went on to coach high school and pursued other coaching opportunities.”
ussoccer.com: You have a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in physical education. Do you feel that your education has helped you as a coach?
DW: “Definitely. In fact, I didn’t graduate from college originally because I was drafted and went to play with the Sounders. When I stopped playing in 1978 I decided to go into coaching so that’s when I went back to complete my bachelor’s and then my master’s. At that point I knew that if I wanted to be a coach that physical education would be the most logical pathway. It did impact me as a coach, no question. All the skills and knowledge I learned contribute to the development of a coach. For me it was also the substantiation that I was headed in the right direction. I knew that if I wanted to become a college coach that having a degree would be the minimum requirement to be considered. So that was a motivation for me since I knew I wanted to coach in college when my playing career ended.”
ussoccer.com: In 1992 you became the first full-time head coach for the University of Washington men’s soccer team. What was it like taking on this position for a relatively new program?
DW: “When I was hired at UW they made a decision to go full-time and fully fund the program so I was the first ever full-time coach. It was a dream start for me because we had immediate success. We won the conference in my first year there. We also won the first-ever NCAA playoff game in school history down at Portland. It was a season of many firsts. When you come aboard in a new position, having a good first season gives you the chance to solidify your career there and gives you a better chance for longevity. If you have the good fortune of having a good team in place and the good luck to have a great first season, it helps you build your credibility at a new place and gives you more years to put your program in place. That was important for me starting out at Washington.”
ussoccer.com: In addition to college soccer, you have also worked with several youth national teams. In 1997 you were an assistant to the U-18 MNT and you served as head coach of the U-16 MNT in 1998-99. What did you learn from your experiences working with the Youth National Teams?
DW: “I first assisted a couple of times with various teams. I was an assistant for the World University Games in 1993. I had various appointments but my big moment came in 1998 when Steve Sampson appointed me Boy’s U-16 National Team head coach. I had that position for two years. That was the realization of every coach’s goal, to coach a national team. Even though it was youth, it didn’t matter to me. It was a great honor to be able to pick any player from a country the size of ours, put a team together, and play foreign competition. It’s an experience that I’ll always treasure.
“I learned the difference in international competition, the difference in methods of coaching and playing formations, the challenges of international environments and travel. All those things open your eyes to the challenge of playing well internationally against other established soccer nations. There are ups and downs of the experience; the great wins, the upsets, the hard losses in some cases. The exposure to the world’s game is one of the biggest take a ways from that. We are just a player in this game that’s famous around the world. It’s a unique thing about our game; it’s truly a global experience.”
ussoccer.com: How did you first get involved with instructing?
DW: “It was a very big moment for me in 1988. I was called by Ralph Perez who I met when I got my “B” license in 1977. Ralph was actually taking his “A” at the time. The way the courses were organized, sometimes they needed assistance at the end of the course. Back then Walt Chyzowych would rely on his instructional staff to find competent people. He turned to the people that he was using as instructors and asked for their recommendations. It was the old school way. It was an exciting experience because when I went through as a candidate, I was very influenced by coaching education. When I went through the “B” course, I met people like Lothar Osiander, Bob Gansler and Walt Chyzowych. To tutor under people like that who had so much knowledge and such a great command over the game really impacted me. I knew that this was something I wanted to be one day. That was the start of my real hunger and desire to be like them. I aspired to be a staff coach, someone who had a command of knowledge and was able to put on sessions and help other coaches.”
ussoccer.com: Do you think it is important for coaches to receive formal coaching education today?
DW: “No question about it. Coaching education is mentioned in all of the top coaches’ backgrounds. All the famous World Cup winning coaches have mentioned that part of their development was formalized coach education. Coaching education gives you ideas and makes you study the topics. No question it has a role in the development of a coach. Now, coaching experience is obviously the most important element, but coaching education is an important step. It formalizes things, it introduces you to new thoughts and ideas, and it challenges you. I think that most top coaches would acknowledge the role that coaching education played in their development.”
ussoccer.com: You have taken a number of courses recently both inside and outside the U.S. You earned the UEFA “A” license in 2010 and the U.S. Soccer “Goalkeeping” license in 2014. With a wealth of experience already, why do you feel it was important to continue your education?
DW: “I’ve always had a desire and a liking for education. I was drawn to the college environment for many years because it’s an environment of learning. Being a lifelong learner is a message I’ve heard from every human performance expert out there. The game moves on so you have to stay up with it. Adding to your content and knowledge base is ongoing. The game that we play is so dynamic. You have to stay up on recent changes and new ideas in the game. You have to stay as current as you can. If I’m going to be relevant and make a difference for today’s coaches, this is critical for me. So I do it to add to my knowledge base and to sharpen and polish my tools as a coach educator. It makes me better at what I do and I take that seriously. You have to continue to learn until your very last days if you aspire to make a difference.
“I’ve had the benefit of watching some of the best coach educators in the world work and there are certain things I learned that changed my thinking about the game. I did the coaching education courses in Scotland in the mid-eighties under Andy Roxburgh, and then more recently with the FA under Dick Bate. It is incredible to see the level of detail that they work with, their preparation, the depth of their knowledge, their ability to communicate, and their leadership skills. You can’t help but be changed by an experience like that. Then to be able to pass along the ideas that I thought were important is a huge motivator. It’s fun to pass some of those ideas on to today’s coaches. Today’s coaches are more educated and more aware than ever before because of the availability of information over the internet. Today’s coaches come into schools far more knowledgeable than in the past because of global access to information. The information age has exploded in all professions, including ours, and staying up with it is something that we are all tasked to do if we want to stay current and relevant in the education business.
“Goalkeeping is one position that I never played on the field. To go through that course was new. Certainly it was a different experience. The last U.S. Soccer course I went through was in 1981 so to go through a course in 2014 was really eye opening. I had to write a technical report like the ones I’m grading now at all license levels for the “A”, “B” and “C”. To go back to being a candidate was great. I learned a ton and took away a lot of information from the three instructors.”
ussoccer.com: In March you traveled with a group of coaches to England to visit the English FA and clubs there. What did you learn from that trip? Do you feel as though U.S. Soccer Coaching Education is catching up to European standards?
DW: “I was very excited to be given the appointment to travel with the “A” renewal group to England. I have a history with the FA having made three trips there and then a fourth to refresh my UEFA “A”. To go back as a representative of U.S. Soccer was a big moment for me and one that I really enjoyed. It was a great trip in that we saw the EPL club environment and the Academy system, which is the future of the game training up the younger players. Observing the EPL Academies, first at Manchester City and then at Tottenham and Arsenal, was certainly something to remember. You see it up close and it gives you an appreciation for what else is going on around the world because we do coach a global sport and you have to get out and see those things when you can.”
ussoccer.com: How do you see the evolution of the game and coaching development growing in the US?
DW: “I heard Bob Gansler once say when he was our Director of Coaching in the late ‘80s early ‘90s, that the United States’ place in world football is going to be an evolution, not a revolution. It’s not going to happen overnight. Are we evolving? No question about it. We’re evolving as a Federation; our youth national teams are improving each year. It’s always going to come from the grassroots up. We’re not going to see big changes at the top level, with the full national team until these waves of players have come through the right youth system. They need to continue to be challenged at the top level and they need to play in professional environments as soon as it makes sense for that individual, whether that is at a top college or through other professional opportunities. It is an evolution and it’s going to take more time then perhaps everyone would like to see. But it will come from the bottom up. We should start to look for successes at the grassroots level, especially with the youth national teams. Those successes will be signs for where we’re headed. If you look at the changes we’ve made in youth soccer, especially with the Development Academy on the boys’ side, I think we are going in the right direction. We have to continue to do good work and learn from each and every opportunity to improve.”