Featured Coach: JJ Wozniak of California Odyssey
Our Featured Coach series continues with an interview with J.J. Wozniak of California Odyssey Soccer Club.
Wozniak currently serves as the club's Director of Coaching and has over 19 years of experience at all levels. He also has many years of playing experience, including spending time as a goalkeeper with the Los Angeles Galaxy during the 1997 MLS Playoffs.
You can learn more about his experience in the game by visiting his official California Odyssey profile.
1. Who is your favorite professional player to watch, and what is it about his game that intrigues you the most?
JJ: I can honestly say that to name just one favorite professional players to watch is incredibly difficult for me. I have several and I think it's due to the fact that they all have something that stands out in my mind as being consistently impactful during the match when I watch them play.
For those that don't know, I was a goalkeeper and although there are several GKs that I rate and love to watch play, my favorite footballers are field players and it's probably because I always dreamt of being a magician on the field or a world class striker.
Two players that I will mention that I thoroughly enjoy watching include Andrea Pirlo for just how easy he makes the game look (he is simply amazing on the ball, possible magician?) and for his ability to play at such an insanely high level for so long. Thomas Mueller would be the other for his ability as a soccer player but more notably for me, his competitive drive, his desire to win, and how passionate he plays the game since I know we are getting his best effort every time he plays.
2. What are the major characteristics that you try to instill in your players in order to help them strive to become a complete soccer player?
JJ: The major characteristics that I really try to instill in the players that I coach or am around are identified in the players that I consider my favorite players to watch. I constantly push players to strive to be the best but more importantly, strive to be the best all the time. Compete to be the best, compete to win!
Consistency is a word that I do not throw around lightly and I know my players hear it a lot of from me. I think they recognize the importance of proving their ability every time they step on the field, either for a training session or a match. I am no different than most, as the four components of the game are huge for me and I believe in hard work will pay off.
But I am most pleased when I work with players and teams that establish themselves at an extremely high level and they are able to stay at that level or even attain more. To me that consistency is massive, not only in soccer but in life as well.
3. Is there a specific individual training drill that you would recommend for all youth soccer players?
JJ: There is no specific individual training session that I "recommend" for all youth players but I always make sure to have all of our teams within our club (and the teams I coach), no matter their age, spend time each session with the ball and the technical component of the game.
I know that isn't a major revelation but I do know that sometimes this does get overlooked and players miss opportunities to become even better on the ball. The younger the player, the more work individually with the ball. As they get older, I like to spend time working on technical aspects with the group. I also like to run sessions that deal with transition but most notably sessions that focus on the team and individual transition from attacking to defending (we had it, now we lost it, how do we respond?!).
We want the ball, we don't want to defend, so I like to challenge my players to make defending a priority. It simply has to be important. And of course, sessions that end with chances to goal, all players love those types of activities.
4. What gives you the most satisfaction as a coach in terms of player and team development?
JJ: For me personally, I gain my most satisfaction as a coach in terms of player and team development when I know the age appropriate development plan for each team has come together extremely well and that the players and team are performing consistently well in both training sessions and matches.
I also get a lot of satisfaction when I know my players are having fun, enjoying themselves, and they WANT to come to training sessions. Everyone loves the matches, coaches included, but the top coaches are the ones that have the energy, passion, and love each and every time they are on the field, including the training sessions.
That is where the real work gets done and where all the players will get better. If the players want to be there, you have done well for yourself as a coach.
5. What is the most influential piece of advice that you've received that's helped you throughout your career?
JJ: Wow, tough question to answer because I have been extremely fortunate to have been around some amazing coaches both as a player and as a coach, so it's hard to say just one bit of advice was the most influential.
What I do know is that I have been around a couple of coaches that consistently said "there is beauty in simplicity" and I really try to stick to that when it comes to preparing training sessions (and planning for matches) for my players and my teams. We can all get caught up in trying too hard to come up with this unbelievable training session, something nobody has ever seen and for me, that has a tendency to lead to rough sessions with players that are confused. Don't complicate things is another way to put it.
I am also thankful that I was around a lot of super organized, very well prepared coaches that always said how important it is to be that way and I know those traits have been a major part of my coaching career.