Q & A: Woodside SC Director of Coaching Zak Ibsen
Note: NorCal Premier Soccer regularly sits down with an influential figure in the youth soccer landscape to pick their brain about a variety of different topics that are relevant in the current soccer environment in the United States. For this edition, we spoke to Zak Ibsen, the Director of Coaching for Woodside Soccer Club. A former U.S. international, Ibsen played professionally in Europe before returning to the country to help kick off Major League Soccer’s inaugural season. During his time in MLS, Ibsen made over 100 league appearances, winning two MLS Cups before ultimately retiring with the San Jose Earthquakes following the 2002 season.
NorCal: How are things going over at Woodside SC?
Ibsen: We have wonderful supporting group leadership teams, we have a specific curriculum and methodology, our business model is very simple, we do what’s in the best interest of the player. We love our club and we love our coaches, but our business is centered on that one common philosophy: what’s in the best interest of the player.
NorCal: What is it like right now with COVID-19 shutting down youth soccer everywhere?
Ibsen: When I was young, we used to knock on people’s doors in Germany and beg them to try out. I was running through town for two weeks straight, doing workouts in the middle of the plaza when it was 10 degrees out, because we had no access. That’s what this reminds me of, in the absence of high-level quality coaching, you have to do it for yourself. That’s what our era was like. This is a good time for the players who are highly-motivated to figure it out, as coaches, we can give some guidance, but not everything is going to be shown every day. I always tell my players that you have to do more than just go to practice. And now you can’t even go to practice.
NorCal: Did Woodside SC have a plan heading into this situation?
Ibsen: As a club we didn’t have a plan, just like everybody else, we cancelled practice on a Thursday and found ourselves in a situation. The first week, we didn’t really know what to do, but last week, I created a Youtube channel to post short videos to educate parents. The coaches are using zoom…we’re just kind of making it up as we go but just trying to support the player. We’ll stay involved and give them structure, but it goes back to the families, we’re their soccer families, but they go back to their real family each night. We’re just making sure to provide content and access to the players that want to keep on going with their training.
NorCal: So how is Woodside SC navigating this situation?
Ibsen: There’s so many great coaches nowadays. I’m like everybody else, just learning and observing every day. Some clubs have purchased access to an app that designs training sessions, I think that’s really cool, that social element is really important that the players stay connected, I miss that environment of being at the field and being able to teach tactics to the players. For me it’s all about being a part of the growth process. My wife kills me for saying this, but I would coach for free. I really do wish coaching was free, that we could just do it for the love of the game, but at this point it goes back to digging deep and finding out how you can improve your craft on your own. The app or the video or the session planning, those things are all super valuable but at the end of the day you get to be on a field with whatever equipment you have.
NorCal: What can you recommend for youth players during all this downtime?
Ibsen: What are the areas of practice that are important for players to work on by themselves? For me, that was fitness, that’s what kept me in the game way longer than players who were more talented. So I tell my players not to get out of shape. Sometimes you have to sacrifice immediate results when you’re working on your strenthg and speed because you are fatigued during the season. These are things that take time, you have a short-term loss and a long-term game: Strength training, speed training and fitness. Players can also work on mastering their non-dominant foot. A player who won’t want to sacrifice 1-3 training sessions of lots of failure — you use your left foot for an entire training session and you’re going to experience a lot of failure. But here, you can just practice with your non-dominant foot 30 mintues a day.
NorCal: I know things are uncertain right now, but what does the future for Woodside SC look like?
Ibsen: It’s very interesting, I feel very fortunate that our club doesn’t really care how big we are, there’s no pressure to adopt a business model that’s shiny and new. We’re going to pay our coaches as much money as is left, we’re going to offer refunds to everyone who wants one. When this is all over, we’re going to be left with all the highly-motivated players who just want to be out there. This moment in history reminds us all that life is about teammwork. I think what everybody misses is that daily training environment where we’re all working towards a common goal. If we apply those values to normal society, I think we’re going to figure this thing out sooner rather than later.