Can you tell us a little bit about your youth and collegiate playing careers? I kept playing in LYSA recreational or choice (you got to pick your teammates as opposed to being assigned a team and then play other teams that were formed the same way) programs until high school. At that point, I joined Lexington FC and played club soccer there for the rest of my youth career. I also participated in the KY ODP program and was a member of the KY State team for a couple years in the 1988 age group.
I went to Lexington Christian Academy from 1st grade through senior year of high school. In middle school, there was no girls team, so I decided to try out and play with the boys. I think this was one of the first times where soccer became more serious and the level of play was more competitive than just something I did on the weekends with my friends. It definitely took a bit for the guys to welcome me to the team, but after they realized that I could hold my own then they were all about it and some of them were my best friends through high school.
Once I got to high school, I wasn’t allowed to play on the boys team, so I went back to the girls team. While we had very little success as a team, it taught me a lot and it forced me to learn how to play every position, while still being creative on the ball and attacking whenever I got the opportunity.
I always knew I wanted to play college soccer, but looking back, was probably a bit naive about how the college recruiting process worked. I had some offers and opportunities to play at mid-major D1 schools as well as a couple D2 schools, but at the end of the day, I found myself at Centre College.
My college career wasn’t stellar and after a year of injury my sophomore season, I decided to walk away from the team my junior year. It wasn’t an easy decision, but even now I can say it was the right decision. I had a lot of life things going on off the field that were keeping me from playing at the level that I knew I was capable of and I really think that had I kept pushing to play then I would have ended up hating the game now.
Was there one singular time or event that made you fall in love with the game or did it just flourish over time? I can’t think of anything super specific that made me fall in love with soccer, it just became something that I began to make a priority more and more in my life. I loved playing with my friends and, after having some personal success with things, it became easy to want to play more and more.
At a certain point in time, I kind of realized that I liked playing soccer more than a lot of my friends and it was always something that I looked forward to at the end of the day. I literally used to keep extra clothes in my car and had no problem stopping at random pick-up games to ask if I could hop in. Probably not the safest move or one that I’d recommend, but it led to me meeting people from around the city that just loved the game and enjoyed playing it whether it counted for anything or not.
Even after I officially stopped playing, I still found groups of people at Centre to play small-sided games with and, at one point, my friends and I had a pretty solid group of people in Lexington that would descend on any open field we could find to just play whenever we could. Soccer just always seemed to be something that I was around whether I was on an official team or not.
When did you decide you wanted to become a coach and how long have you been coaching? I actually helped with some of the earliest Commonwealth Soccer Club teams while I was still in high school. It was never anything official, just a couple practices or games that I would swing by and help with whenever a coach would let me.
I had my first real club coaching job when I was at Centre. I worked with a CKSC team for a year and really enjoyed being a part of that. I took my E license while I was working with that team and it definitely started to creep into my mind that maybe I could keep coaching to stay around the game in a new way.
During my senior year at Centre, I didn’t coach, but I picked it up again right after I graduated in the spring of 2011 and I haven’t had a year where I wasn’t coaching in some capacity since then.
What has your coaching path looked like from when you started to where you are now? It’s been all over the place. I started coaching with the CSC U9 Academy right after graduation. Then I moved to LFC and worked with teams there for 3 years. I started working with KY ODP at that time and have kept doing that since then. Once I realized how much I loved having soccer back in my life, I also reached out to my former college coach about serving as a volunteer assistant with the Centre Women’s Soccer team. For me, it was important to complete my four years with that program, even if it was in a highly unconventional way, and I ended up working with CWS from 2012-2014. During this time, won multiple SAA conference championships and we reached the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time in program history. CWS would go on to reach the NCAA Final Four in 2015.
Personally, I wanted a change of pace and to be closer to some of my college friends so I moved to Louisville and started coaching with Kentucky Fire Juniors (now Mockingbird Valley Premier). I coached high school soccer there - one year as an Assistant Coach at Male and five years with Mercy Academy. The last four years at Mercy, I was the Head Coach and oversaw the whole soccer program.
On the club side, I started coaching one team at KFJ and then slowly started helping with a second team. Then I got to coach two teams and started working part-time in the office on social media, website, and general communications stuff. Eventually that role continued to grow into a full time position as the Director of Communication which meant that I could afford to solely focus on soccer as my full time job.
In March 2020, we made the decision to re-brand the club and I oversaw that process which was another incredibly challenging thing, but also something that really makes you reflect on where you stand as a coach when it comes to the big picture items like: What does your club represent? How do you want to be known in the community? What values are important to you as a club and an individual?
While working through all of those questions, I was given the opportunity to become the Girls Director of Coaching for Mockingbird Valley Premier and, after some careful consideration, I took on that job and the task of growing our girls program at Mockingbird. Alongside a handful of incredible coaches, I created and oversaw our Girls Youth Academy where we sought to create an entry level program for younger girls to start learning more about all that club soccer had to offer.
Unexpectedly, the position of Centre College Women’s Soccer Assistant Coach opened up for the first time in over a decade and I decided to throw my hat in the ring for a chance to go back to Centre (again) and work with one of the best D3 women’s soccer programs in the country. I officially started in this role in February 2021 and we’re in the midst of a spring season for the first time in school history.
Did you have any role models in the game when you were a player? Were there any other coaches or individuals involved in the game who inspired you as a player and/or inspired you to become a future coach? Who were they and what inspired you to look up to those individuals? Like most coaches around my age (both male & female), I absolutely loved watching the 1999 Women’s World Cup and that was definitely a turning point for my soccer fandom. That entire team was special in so many ways, but as a center midfielder, Michelle Akers was always the one that I paid extra attention to - the ferocity that she played with no matter how beat up she was was definitely inspirational.
Growing up, I had some great coaches that helped me along the way when I was still figuring out what it meant to be serious about soccer. Coach Pete Akatsa was always someone that I loved having in my corner. My middle school boy’s coach, Jimmy Johnson, is someone that challenged me a lot on the field and the whole Johnson family is still my own family’s pseudo-family that we visit during the holidays.
When I finally started coaching, I was able to work with Michelle Rayner, Megan Skinner, and Kimberly Vaughn. All three of them were and continue to be fantastic resources for me and they definitely have helped support me in my coaching journey and teach me how to become a better coach along the way as well. Watching each of them coach and seeing how they handled themselves on and off the field definitely made me see the potential for coaching to be more than just a part time gig on the side.
Can you share about your experience coaching at all different levels, club, ODP, high school and college? What are some similarities and differences? Do you change the way you approach coaching and alter your style of coaching depending on the level? Can you share a little bit about how you do that? A lot of coaching for me has just been taking advantage of any opportunity to do so and being willing to try working in new environments as often as possible. It’s been super valuable in terms of my own coaching education for me to try and coach at different levels and in different environments as often as I can. Every time you work with a different group of players, how you approach things is going to change in little ways.
For me, coaching is about meeting players where they’re at and helping them reach their goals. When you’re working with different players, that starting point where you all begin is going to be different so that always has to be taken into account. I don’t think you change who you are or what you expect of the players, you just readjust your plan on how to get them to that goal. The set-up of the training session changes to create the right level for the group you’re working with and the tactics become more simplified or complex based on the team’s level of understanding as well. I don’t think that I really change who I am or my thoughts on how I want to coach, I just change the details to make it more applicable to that team.
Overall, I’d highly recommend coaching at different levels and in different environments - it’s a great way to challenge yourself as a coach and an even better way for you to learn more about what parts of the game are most important to you. It’s easy to get in a routine with a team and having those days where you go coach someone else or coach somewhere else can help keep you on your toes. I’ve really enjoyed working with different groups and at different levels, especially during the same season, because of how it keeps things fresh and it really makes me aware of the details that I can shift between training sessions (size of activity, timing, numbers involved, etc.) to make things work for different groups.
In what ways did you further your knowledge of the game while playing as well as once you began your path to coaching? How has that helped you grow into the coach you are today? I started attending coaching courses as soon as I began coaching, so in a formal way, that definitely helped me learn to understand some of what it means to be a coach. Beyond that, I think a lot of any coach’s coaching education comes from being on the fields and actively trying to improve along the way.
I attended and still try to attend a lot of training sessions for teams that aren’t my own. Watching other coaches work is an incredible way to learn, so when I wasn’t on the field I tried to pay attention to what the coach was doing and why. There were things that I liked and things that I didn’t like, but that helped me start to formulate ideas as to what I wanted my own training sessions to look like.
When it’s safe to travel & meet in large groups, attending coaching events like the United Soccer Coaches convention or the KYSA Learning University are great ways to continue to grow as a coach. They’re also fantastic opportunities to meet new coaches that come from different backgrounds and have different viewpoints on the game.
Can you share one or two of your favorite and/or most meaningful coaching moments? The successes are easier to highlight than all the little moments that led up to them, but there’s no real way to put an entire season and/or team into words. I’ve been really fortunate to have a lot of really cool soccer things to look back on, so just choosing a few is definitely a challenge, but here’s are a few highlights.
With KY ODP, going to Holland was absolutely a highlight and that entire trip was eye opening. Travelling in general is something I enjoy, so to be able to travel as a coach and learn from the coaching staff at Feyenoord as well as the other KY ODP coaches on the trip was an awesome experience.
On the club soccer front, winning State Cup with the Kentucky Fire Juniors G99 Premier Red and then again with the KFJ G00 Premier Red team in back to back years was pretty exciting. Both trips to the Midwest Regional Championships were tons of fun and being able to advance to the semifinals with the KFJ G00 Red group made that trip even more special.
Winning the 6th Region Championship with Mercy Academy this past fall is a memory that I’ll look back on fondly for a long time. That group of players had been through their share of ups and downs even without trying to play in a COVID year, but their ability to persevere and their performance in that championship game was definitely one of my proudest coaching moments.
What impact do you hope to have on the game and one those who come after you? I hope that players that played for me learned to love the game of soccer because that’s when you know that they’ll be willing to give back to it later. I want them to enjoy their time on the field, at training and games, and to understand that giving up your time for something bigger than yourself is worth it.
It’d be awesome to see some of them on the sidelines coaching and there have already been a few of them hopping in with younger teams to help out, so if anything I did helped show them that coaching is something worth investing in then I’d absolutely take that as well.
What message do you have for young people, especially women, who want to start coaching? Dive in and give it a try! You’ll never know what you can do in any career path if you don’t truly commit to it. I was privileged enough to have a support system around me that allowed me to jump into the deep end of coaching even when it wasn’t the most lucrative position and when it meant I might need to have an extra job or two on the side. I know that’s not the case for everyone and not having that type of support system can make committing to the time that coaching requires a challenge.
On that same note, it’s up to you to grow your network and create your own support system of coaches, both male and female, that are able to support you, challenge you, and guide you through the early years of your coaching career. Be willing to try new things and meet new people, you’ll never know when someone you randomly met along the way might be the exact person you need down the road.
Lastly, coaching education matters. If you have the opportunity to go learn whether it’s a formal US Soccer course, a United Soccer Coaches diploma, a random one-day clinic at a local college or university, or a webinar from someone on the other side of the world, take the time to invest in your coaching education. If you expect your players to remain dedicated to improving their skills then you must remain equally committed to growing as a coach.
If you could go back in time and share some advice with your younger self, what would you say? The plan you make for yourself isn’t always the plan that you need. Your path will be windy and have plenty of ups and downs, but it’ll be a path all your own. Learn to control the things you can and understand how to accept those that you can’t.
If you put in the work, even when there’s no immediate reward or opportunity on the horizon, you’ll be ready when your time comes. When that time comes, seize the opportunity and make sure that no one can ever question why you got that chance.
Be willing to lend a hand to those beneath you because those above you were always willing to lend you a hand when you needed it. Your job is not just to blaze your own trail, but to clear the path so the next person can follow. You’re going to benefit from those that came before you, so make sure the next generation can say the same about you.