Winning Emphasized More in High School
The pay is nothing to brag about, the pressure is immense, the season is rushed and the competition, many say, is second-rate. But if you ask Kevin Smith if he prefers coaching high school or club soccer, he doesn’t hesitate.
“High school soccer, that’s my love,” said Smith, who has been the boys’ coach at Fountain Valley High for the last five years. “It’s so exciting, so intense.”
It’s also exciting when you have a winning program. The Barons, winners of only five games two years ago, won 22 last season and reached the Southern Section Division I final. This season, Fountain Valley is 8-5 and one of the county’s better teams.
Smith will be the first to say the main objective in high school soccer is to win.
“I put a little more pressure on myself to win games when I’m coaching high school,” said Smith, who also has coached club soccer for the last five years. “It’s good to build a winning program and have a winning season. In a club season, I’m trying to develop players to go to college. In high school, the bottom line is results.”
Smith said a losing program translates to losing players to other schools.
“With open enrollment, it makes it that much more important to have a winning program,” he said. “If I live in the Ocean View [attendance area] and I’m thinking about going to a school to play soccer, I might think about going to Fountain Valley now.”
Smith, who coaches the under-16 girls’ team for the South Coast Soccer Club, said his goals are less team-oriented on the club level.
“In club, you’re looking to teach,” he said. “You also teach at high school, but the season’s so short that it’s much more thrown in. You don’t have time to work on every player’s skill level. In a club season, you can work on those little things because you’ve got extra time.”
Extra time spent with players also means extra money for Smith, who says he makes about three times more as a club coach than he does as a high school coach.
“The money is a bonus,” said Smith, a substitute teacher at Fountain Valley who is working on his teaching credential.
High school players often choose to participate in other sports during soccer’s off-season. Smith said he often works with a more dedicated and talented group in club soccer.
When Smith took the head coaching job at Fountain Valley he was a graduate assistant at UC Irvine and a club coach. He said his move to the high school level surprised some of his friends.
“I took the job because I think you get more experience being a head coach at a higher level,” Smith said.
When Smith played at Edison seven years ago, he said only one of his teammates and he played club soccer.
“The average player is much better now in the high schools,” he said.
Still, Smith said the average high school player does not compare to the average club player. Last year, Smith was an assistant coach for the under-19 boys’ Mission Viejo Pateadores.
“Virtually every player on that team got a college scholarship,” he said.
But every player on the Pateadores also played high school soccer. Smith said he believes most club players will continue to play both.
“They want to play high school soccer because high school sports is getting too big,” he said. “It’s also good for the club players because they get a different kind of competition in the high schools. Some guys are role players on their club teams, but they get to be the stars on their high school teams.”
Smith sees both sides, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I enjoy being around the game,” he said. “It’s a part-time job doing what I love. I’d rather be on the field than behind a desk.”