Interview With Rookie and Soccer iQ Author Dan Blank
Football.com recently conducted an interview with Rookie: Surviving Your Freshman Year of College Soccer author Dan Blank.
Dan is currently the Associate Head Coach for the University of Georgia Women's Soccer team and has written other books such as Soccer iQ, Soccer iQ - Vol. 2, and Happy Feet.
You can check out his Amazon author page for more details on all of his books.
1. When did you first get involved with the game of soccer? Did you start playing at an early age?
Dan Blank: Just before my seventh birthday. My dad picked me up from school and asked if I wanted to be on a soccer team. I said yes and we drove straight to practice. Practice started and I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, but an hour later I was hooked for life. I never wanted to stop playing. From that day forward, soccer trumped everything else.
2. And what made you decide to get into coaching?
Dan: My coaching career is nothing more than a happy accident. I took my Air Force Officer's Test on May 1, 1991 and was waiting for my results to come in, so I figured I would move to Pittsburgh for a few weeks and then be on my way to Officer Training School. I lived in a total dive with a friend of a friend, a few blocks from Pitt. We had no hot water and no air conditioning and the place was absolutely infested with cockroaches. Three weeks turned into six weeks and there was no word from the Air Force and I was out of money and couldn't find a job to save my life.
Then I went a few days without eating, and that's not an exaggeration. I literally hadn't eaten a crumb in three days. It was miserable. The next morning I woke up with a cockroach crawling across my chest and that was my breaking point. I totally freaked. I called my college coach, John Cunningham, just because I needed someone to talk to. It turned out that his camps were starting that afternoon, so he invited me to come work three weeks of camp. I jumped at it when he promised me air-conditioning and three meals a day. In the second week of camp I was assigned as an assistant for Jim Regan, who was also the head coach at Wheeling Jesuit College. We had a great time coaching together. Toward the end of that week, Jim's assistant at Wheeling resigned. Jimmy needed an assistant and I needed a job. 24 years later I'm still coaching. And I still haven't gotten my Air Force test results.
3. What is the biggest thing that freshman soccer players struggle with the most in making the transition from high school to college?
Dan: The biggest reality check is that the pond just got a lot bigger. A lot of these kids were big fish in high school and club, but when they get to college, everyone is a big fish, and a lot of those big fish won't ever step on the field. When you graduate high school you're leaving U-18 soccer and jumping into U-22 soccer. That's a huge leap. The game is a lot faster and more physical and the younger players aren't always willing or able to adapt to the new demands as quickly as they need to. When you make that leap to college, you need to be mentally and emotionally prepared to reinvent yourself as a player so you can meet the needs of your new coach.
4. Do you think that incoming freshmen truly understand the commitment that is necessary to excel in college soccer?
Dan: A small percentage of them get it, but when they first arrive, most players really have no idea of how much time their college soccer career will eat up. It's not just practice. It's also weights and video and study hall and team meetings and treatment and tutors and long travel weekends. College soccer is a job. If you don't absolutely love soccer, it's difficult to devote so much of your week to it. Being a college athlete means saying no to a lot of the great social experiences and hearing all about them from the non-athletes. If you can't make peace with that, you're going to struggle. Most players adapt to this new lifestyle, but few of them understand it until they are actually living it.
5. Playing time can be a big issue for players just entering college. Some of these players go from playing every minute of every game to never stepping on the pitch. How can players better cope with this transition?
Dan: The first thing they can do is accept reality before they commit to a college program. Because I coach at a big university, there are tons of players who want to be on our team, and every one of them thinks they are good enough. The reality is that every kid on our team was the best player at her high school or club, and on any given weekend, ten of them don't even get to travel. To play for us, you may have to beat out a kid from the national team, and those kids are national team players for a reason - they're damn good. When going through the college selection process, the best question a prospect can ask herself is this: Do I want to be on a college soccer team or do I want to actually PLAY college soccer. Experience has taught me that they'll be a lot happier playing soccer than watching it. So do your homework, be realistic and find a program that gives you a genuine chance to get on the field.
I have this grand delusion that every club coach should sporadically bench one of his players for one game with absolutely no forewarning. Then after the game that coach would ask the player, "How did you like not playing?" Of course the kid would hate it. Then the coach would say, "Well, that's what it's going to be like if you aren't realistic about your college choice." I think that would help put things into perspective real quick.
Once they are a part of a team it's a different story. The coach is going to pick the players he feels will give his team the best chance of winning. If you're not playing, then the reason is that you're not good enough - YET. So many players waste so much energy focusing on a decision they have no control over - playing time. They'd be much better served by focusing inward and concentrating on becoming the best possible player. Part of that just comes down to paying attention. The coach is always telling players what he wants. He's always feeding the answers to you. You have to be smart enough to take them and apply them on the field. When a player is ready, the chance will present itself.
One of the worst things a player can do is check out mentally and just start going through the motions. You can't give up just because you didn't make the travel squad for the first trip. Things change, so you've got to keep grinding. Here's a great example from our program at Georgia. Back in August we took our 22-player travel squad on a trip to California. This past weekend we took 22 players to another away match. Six of the players on the latest trip weren't on the travel roster for California. That's a pretty big percentage. You can't feel sorry for yourself just because things don't go your way right out of the gates. Just stay patient and keep doing the very best you can and be ready for the day when your chance presents itself.
6. What advice would you give to a freshman player that is trying to find the best way to fit in with his new teammates?
Dan: Compete! The returning players, particularly the seniors, want you to show that you can add value to the team. If you truly compete with them, they'll respect you and that's the first step toward fitting in. Too many freshmen are so worried about upsetting the returners that they never compete. That's a really bad idea on so, so many levels. Also, show up fit! This sends a message that you respect your teammates enough to do your work over the summer. If you show up unfit, you're going to be labeled a joke. No one will take you seriously.
7.Soccer iQ was your first book and is now an Amazon best-seller. Why do you think it's so successful, and did you expect the response?
Dan: Soccer iQ is successful because the material is genuinely good and it's presented in a really easy-to-read fashion. It 's very straight forward and the chapters are brief and sometimes it's a little bit funny. When I was writing it I sort of knew that I was on to something with massive potential. I realized that I was writing a book that coaches would want their players to read, and that's a pretty good business model. Word-of-mouth has been great, which is really helpful because I've literally put about 3 hours of a marketing effort into it. I like writing books, but I have no interest in doing the work to sell them. It's nice when they catch fire all by themselves.
The response to Soccer iQ continues to amaze me. Every week I get a few emails from people telling me how much they enjoy it and how it has helped their kids or their team. I can't ask for better than that.
8. Any ideas on what you're next soccer-related book will be?
Dan: I'm excited that Everything Your Coach Never Told You Because You're a Girl is now available as an ebook and will be out in paperback by the end of October. The early feedback I've gotten on it has been sensational! That book means a lot because it gave me the chance to write about a group of people that mean the world to me. It's so cool to have the opportunity to tell their story. I've already gotten emails from people saying who their favorite 'characters' are and how much they enjoyed rooting for them as they read the book. I actually got two separate emails from women in their 30s saying how the book has inspired them to dust off their cleats and start playing again. How cool is that!
I'm releasing another book - this one is specifically for coaches - called Possession. Hopefully it will be available by Thanksgiving.