Welcome to the Coaches Series, a catalogue of interviews with coaches in all settings from strength coaches to specific sport coaches. First up in the series is Jim Conroy from Soccer Scholar US-based in Ireland. Jim was undoubtedly one of the biggest influences on my soccer career and for that I’m forever grateful. I wanted to catch up with him and see how things are going and also gain some coaching gems from one of the best soccer coaches around. Enjoy!
JC – Jim, its great to catch up with you again. For anyone unfamiliar with you and your story can you tell everyone what you coach, where you coach and give a brief description of your coaching history?
Jim C – Jonathan, thank you for involving me in this interview series. I coach Soccer Scholar students in Ireland, I started coaching student athletes 22 years ago. We had a small program in Colaiste Ide in Finglas, Dublin, Ireland. As the years went on the program grew from 25 students in one class to 100 students in 4 classes. To date we have seen over 400 students offered soccer scholarships to colleges all over the USA. For some unknown reason Colaiste Ide discontinued the program last year. I decided to take an early retirement and set up my own recruitment business (Soccer Scholar) to continue to help student athletes follow their dream of soccer scholarships.
JC – Not too long ago we were putting the finishing touches on a book together, since then you set up “Soccer Scholar” and went on a recruiting trip to Memphis. How did it go?
Jim C – I set up Soccer Scholar USA back in the end of October 2015. We had 5 or 6 players turn up every Sunday from 6 to 7pm in Glebe North’s ground in Balbriggan. After a few weeks the numbers grew to 14 or 16, at the end of November I decided to commit to a trip to The John Talley Recruitment Tournament in Memphis, Tennessee. This was a tournament we had played in for the previous 14 years as Colaiste Ide and won on nearly all those visits. Was it too much to expect from a group of lads that only got together to train for one hour a week from the end of October to the 16th of March to go out there and challenge?
When we arrived in Memphis we were scheduled to play seven games in five days. We played three pre tournament and four tournament games. We arrived in Memphis on Tuesday, March fifteenth at 11pm, trained on Wednesday the sixteenth at 1pm and played Rhodes University that evening at 7pm. The game ended 1-1. On Thursday March seventeenth we played the University of Memphis, a team we have never beaten in all our previous visit’s. Unfortunately we came out on the wrong end of 2-1 defeat. On Friday March eighteenth we played Memphis City FC, the newest team in the semi pro league in the US. We were beaten 2-0. On Saturday March nineteenth we played two games in the John Talley Tournament. We won our 1st game 3-1 and lost our 2nd 2-1. On Sunday March twentieth we had to play a semi-final game at 8am to qualify for the final. We won the semi-final 4-2 and went on to play in the final at 1pm. In the final the lads ended up winning 1-0 to lift the trophy. A remarkable achievement from such a small group of inexperienced players. Very well done lads. Scholarships to follow.
— Soccer Scholar USA (@soccer_scholar) March 22, 2016
JC – What would you say is your best attribute as a coach?
Jim C – Honesty and the promise to give my all.
JC – What do you like to emphasize when you get a new group of players in order to bring them together?
Jim C – Hard work, commitment and dedication, you will only get out what you put in.
JC – How important is strength training for young soccer players looking to go on a soccer scholarship to the USA?
Jim C – This is very important in my eyes. Being strong and conditioned is something that Irish players really need to work on before going on scholarship. American players are all athletes before they become soccer players. This is the one area that American players really have an advantage on Irish players.
JC – What was your biggest coaching challenge and how did you overcome it?
Jim C – I would have to say this new group I put together with Soccer Scholar. Down through the years I had lots of individual challenges but I also had lots of support around me. With this new group, failure was never an option for any of us. Fail and it would have been the end for my new venture. Success has given me the confirmation I needed to put everything into Soccer Scholar. Long may it continue!
JC – What other coaches/people were major influences on your coaching style?
Jim C – I would have to say I have a very unique style of coaching. I still do all the basics. I also use repetition until its perfect. I’ve never wanted to be like any other coach.
JC – What is the biggest life lesson you have learned from your years of coaching?
Jim C – Never give up on anyone. Everyone deserves a second chance and don’t judge a book by its cover. This sport will always surprise you.
JC – To any young coaches reading this interview, what advice would you give them as they begin their journey?
Jim C – Be honest, very hard working, learn to understand the game and the needs of the individual players. Lastly, trust your gut instinct.
JC – In your entire coaching experience what memory makes you laugh to this day?
Jim C – Thinking back there are so many. One memory in particular that stands out was our very first visit to a college in Georgia. While our players were having the freedom of the campus, I was in the Dean’s office talking about how good our students were. As the Dean was talking I noticed through the window behind him that four of our “good students” were on the tennis courts. They were playing football tennis on the tennis court, nothing wrong with that you might say, but these guys had their jocks down around their ankles while doing so! Happy memories.
JC – That story brings back memories alright, thankfully I didn’t make it to the tennis courts that day! Jim, I really appreciate you taking the time to be part of the coaches series and best of luck with Soccer Scholar, already on the right track. Good coaches will always find success.
— Soccer Scholar USA (@soccer_scholar) April 12, 2016