With a 40-year career in soccer, Jeff Pill currently coaches and teaches at Maranatha Baptist University in Watertown, Wisconsin. Pill has been a part of the National Instructional Staff since 1994, and has worked with the Women’s National Teams in a variety of capacities at the Youth and Senior levels.
ussoccer.com: How did you first get involved in soccer?
Jeff Pill: “I started playing schoolboy soccer growing up on Long Island, outside of New York City. One of my elementary school teachers introduced me to the sport, and he was also the varsity coach at the high school. His name was Ward Siebert, and he was the first one that really got me into the sport.”
ussoccer.com: Where and when did you first begin coaching?
JP: “He [Siebert] actually got me started in coaching when I was about 15, so pretty early on, working with one of the youth teams that he was coaching, as well as summer soccer camps. I was an education major in college, so that helped the development process as well.”
ussoccer.com: You received your Bachelor’s degree in Education and Master’s degree in Sports Science. How did that prepare you for a career in coaching?
JP: “There is a direct correlation between effective coaching and effective teaching. I think effective coaches are effective teachers. They have to be able to communicate their ideas, keep the players motivated and allow the players to be able to learn to read the game for themselves. All of that is about effective communication and the ability to lead, inspire and teach.”
ussoccer.com: Who is a coach you look up to or admire?
JP: “Those coaches that I began working with in Long Island were initially who I looked up to. Then, when I got out of college, and started getting really serious about coaching, I was fortunate enough to live in New Hampshire, down the highway from Bobby Clark and Steve Swanson. The three of us would get together all the time and talk about the game and work on our coaching, so they were some of my early mentors.” In addition, I have been fortunate to work with some great coaches while working for U.S. Soccer: Tony Dicicco, April Heinrichs, Steve Swanson, Tracy Leone, Janet Rayfield, Jay Hoffman, Bob Jenkins and Tony Lepore, to name a few. You always pick up something from the people you work with along the way. Even today, I pick up things from the coaches that I get to work with at Maranatha. Hopefully, wherever I am, whether it is coaching players or observing candidates and other instructors at a National Coaching School, I am always picking up something to make you better. You can always be a better coach!”
ussoccer.com: How did you get involved with instructing?
JP: “I was involved with the state ODP program (in New Hampshire) and started doing pretty well there, and the state association president at the time, John Motta, asked me to get involved with the coaching education. Progressing from the state level, we hosted a National “C” course, and from there, U.S. Soccer asked me to get involved, and as things progressed after a while, I became a national staff coach as well.”
ussoccer.com: What is one thing you wish you knew when you were first starting out?
JP: “The first thing that comes to mind is how much time actually goes into preparation. Not just throwing out a lesson plan, but actually studying the game, knowing the ins and outs of the game, the complexities of the game and being able to read the game effectively. Equally important is the ability to read players’ ability effectively so that the systems and styles can match the players you are working with. A good coach has a pretty extensive coaching library of matches that he or she can study, break down, critique and learn from. I really didn’t know the extent of how much you had to really prepare and spend time playing and coaching, as well as spending time with people that know a lot more about the game than you do so you can pick up things from their experience.”
ussoccer.com: How does it feel to see players play at the senior National Team level, having coached them at the Youth National Team level?
JP: “It continues to motivate me. I still work for scouting for the Women’s National Team program, so it’s pretty thrilling to know that you had some input into the full senior team, and you get to share in their successes just a little bit. For example, if you see a player that maybe you took a little bit of a risk recommending and you see that they’re able to do the business; that is particularly encouraging. It motivates me to keep a sharp eye out and continue to work hard in that process.
“Whenever your national team does well, I think every coach in the country that is involved in youth development can feel a measure of pride because they are definitely a piece of the puzzle. If the competitive environment isn’t good at the younger ages, then our National Teams will struggle down the road. It’s always cause for celebration when you see a player that you had direct influence over or input on do well for the senior National Team.”
ussoccer.com: Are there specific attributes you see in your players that lead you to believe that they could, over time, become successful coaches?
JP: “I believe having an inquisitive soccer brain is an important attribute. If the player is looking to solve the problems that the game presents them, then I think that’s very helpful. There has to be a passion for the game, because coaching can get pretty discouraging if you don’t have an intrinsic love for the game. Also, a player’s leadership abilities: can the player impact a variety of types of players around them? Is the player able to effectively communicate their ideas to others? Additionally, is there industry about them? Are they willing to put in the time that it takes to become a good coach?”
ussoccer.com: You worked as a technical reporter for FIFA during the 1994 and 1999 World Cups. How have you seen the game change at the international level since then?
JP: “To me, the big thing is just how big the game has gotten, and how much money is involved in it. Back in 1994, teams were showing up and people would say “Who’s this guy?” or “Wow, that’s a good player!”, but now, with all the games on TV and all the money being pumped into the sport at the highest levels, the game is just so much more part of the culture. Soccer really has a growing significance in the culture of every country.
“All of the advertising dollars that have gone into the sport have really had an impact on how available and accessible the game is at the highest level. At the same time, there used to be such variety in the way that countries played and now, just because of how much players are traveling abroad to play in the biggest leagues in the world, there’s more and more uniformity in the styles of play. The money that is involved has really had an impact on the sport in a global way.”
ussoccer.com: In addition to coaching, you also work as a professor at Maranatha Baptist University. How does that experience differ/relate to coaching, and how do you juggle those two responsibilities?
JP: “Coaching can be a full-time job at times. Because I’m in the classroom, maybe I can’t spend as much time coaching as I want, and vise-versa. That being said, I feel the load is manageable, although the fall makes for some seriously long days! Thankfully, I’m no longer teaching courses for the first time—it gets a little bit easier as the years go along. I find being in the classroom and teaching a lot of coaching theory enhances my actual coaching, as it’s constantly making me think about how I can get better as a coach.
“Also, a lot of the courses that I teach contain players that I’m currently coaching, so there is an extra burden to get it right, both practically and in theory, as my life is on display for them every day. If there are inconsistencies between the courses and my coaching, it can make it a little more difficult for the players to take it in. I find it quite stimulating to be able to both coach and teach. Of course, I’d like to be able to be in a position to specialize in one, but for right now, this is where I’ve been called to serve, so, onward and upward!”
ussoccer.com: Off the field, you participated in an outreach trip to South Africa in 2010. What was that experience like?
JP: “We took a mixed group of the men’s and women’s soccer teams from Maranatha and spent three weeks out serving with various missionaries and local churches and used soccer as an outreach tool. It was a really thrilling experience. We were there in the three weeks leading up to the World Cup, so obviously there was so much excitement in the country for the game at that time. It provided a unique opportunity to use the sport of soccer as an outreach tool. We got to see some pretty amazing places and spend time with some pretty amazing people, so hopefully we were able to make an impact in their lives.”