College Soccer

Assisting a college soccer professor

Photo: Courtesy of Haverford Athletics

Last year, I wrote an article for NSCAA Journal about my time as Haverford College’s assistant men’s coach and the requirement for each player to write a post-game review of their play titled “Are Your Players Doing Their Soccer Homework?” It focused on a small aspect of my seven years working with Haverford head coach Joe Amorim.

Joe retired in 2009 after twenty-six years. Since that article ran, I have received many emails from former players and local coaches who shared their own wonderful memories about Joe and asked that I write about my time coaching with him.

Describing my time with Joe is both easy and difficult. It’s easy because I can use words such a brilliant, smart, and numerous other adjectives to describe his coaching, training sessions, and who he is as a man. It’s difficult because I know how many lives Joe touched throughout the years.

A coach’s coach

When I first began coaching with Joe two things kept going through my mind during our first preseason.

  1. Joe had to be the most quiet and soft-spoken coach in the country.
  2. Wen he did speak, his succinct coaching points exactly summed up what we were hoping to teach in that session.

His coaching points always came at that crucial moment of play, or as we’ve heard in the coaching schools, “the coachable moment.” When Joe blew his whistle, the players knew to freeze, and the coaching points he made were always brief and to the point. He planned all our training sessions with a great deal of thought. He would ask me and the other coaches for input, but the final touches for that day’s training came during his daily walks through the edge of campus. If you needed to see Joe an hour before training you had to look in the woods, where he found solitude. Both Joe’s undergraduate and master’s degrees are in philosophy, and I know he valued that time alone. He spent that time walking campus to rehearse in his mind the activities and tactics to be used in training that day.

Haverford College has such high academic standards that “recruiting” was extremely challenging. Occasionally, I would think to myself what college soccer in the area would be like if Joe was coaching at one of the bigger schools with scholarships to offer. Yet I never heard Joe talk about a desire to coach anywhere but Haverford. He considered himself first and foremost a teacher of the game of soccer, with all its associations for life. I know he felt a deep sense of honor to be head coach of a program with such a storied tradition. The honor he felt meant his own high principles and those of the program and college were never to be compromised. Coaches wore ties and dress clothes on game day, and our players traveled that way — no exceptions. The players knew never to be late for a bus or training and expect to play. All coaches had to except the fact that occasionally the team would lose talented players who studied abroad during their junior year, because our players are students first and athletes second.

Joe encouraged me and other assistants to offer ideas about any aspect of games or training. For Joe, coaching at Haverford was the same as any other faculty member: He was teaching young men how to do something, which in their case was how to play a game. These young men would learn to play the game at a higher level than they had ever been exposed to prior to arriving at Haverford. And he was as good a “soccer professor” as there was anywhere. If you got Joe alone and asked him, he could quietly speak about the differing formations and styles of play of most of the world’s national teams, clubs, leagues and especially his beloved Sporting Lisbon.

An uncompromising defender of soccer played the right way

Compromise is one thing Joe would never do as Haverford’s head coach. He knew the history of the program and that he was the guardian of that honored legacy. He never used inappropriate language or raised his voice to our players. He knew the words he chose to critique their match play or training were meant to teach. And believe me, those words had an impact on our players.

We always played out of the back because, as Joe used to say, “If four defenders and a keeper cannot advance the ball downfield on a 75-yard wide field against one or two attackers, you shouldn’t be playing college soccer.” I remember one home game against our rival Swarthmore College in the season finale when we were up one nil late in the game. Joe refused to simply put 10 players behind the ball and “smash mindless vertical balls” downfield or not play out of the back. You always played the right way, every game, no matter what the score or opponent. The right way meant no vertical balls and keeping the ball on the ground.

In training or in a match, the players needed a good reason for playing a vertical ball in the air. After every game the entire team had to give a “cheer” to the other team as a sign of respect, no matter what the final score. To this day, whenever I am at any college soccer game, I still expect to see the teams circle up after the final whistle and loudly say “Rah Rah ABC College.”

One of my many favorite moments with Joe would happen every preseason when a freshman would attempt to shoot on goal from distance, hitting one-time balls. Joe would bring the team together and announce that “if you can hit one-timers and score consistently then you shouldn’t be at Haverford, you should be at Real Madrid, etc. So take a preparation touch!”

Another would be before we played rival and fellow Quaker school Swarthmore. He would wrap up the brief pregame scouting report by telling the players, “For next two hours, this is the one time that it’s OK if at all times you don’t play with a Quaker spirit.” It took a second or two before all the players understood and smiled.

Teaching about soccer — and life

Every October during fall break, Joe would take the team to another part of the country to play two games. We had games in Florida, Colorado, Texas, California, Tennessee and Georgia. Joe always made free time available for our players to see the various cultural sites. He knew our trip was more than just about soccer; it was also a learning experience for his young men. These trips always reminded me of how much an influence Joe had on his players. After the games, we would have several former players, some who lived in that area and others who had traveled a great distance waiting to see Joe with their families. I could see in their eyes and hear in their voices just how much it meant for them to play for Joe.

During the off-season, I would spend some time with Joe in his office helping arrange recruiting visits and other aspects of running a college soccer program. In his office you would find Joe quietly sitting at his desk listening to a Portuguese radio station softly in the background, getting updates about his beloved Sporting Lisbon team while doing paperwork. His players and former players visiting in the area would stop in. Many seniors would tell me privately, now that their college careers were over, how much they would miss playing for Joe. After much work and thought, they had become what Joe wanted them to be: “students of the game.” As seniors, many of them finally realized after some thought just how much Joe had shown and taught them about soccer and life.

When I think back about my seven years with Joe, I have so many wonderful memories that it’s impossible to list them all. The respect that he showed me, his players, staff, fellow coaches and the people at Haverford College will last forever. I know that life is about constant change, and that all coaches come and go. But for the many former players and coaches like me that were touched by Joe, college soccer will never be the same without him.

(Ed. note: A version of this article previously appeared in the NSCAA Journal.) 

One Comment

  1. His Soul Still Burns!

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