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Don’t Call Him ‘Coach’

The winningest coach in NCAA soccer says game belongs to the players

By Jay Martin as told to Amy Wimmer Schwarb

Ohio Wesleyan celebrates its victory over Calvin during the Division III Men’s Soccer Championship in San Antonio in 2011. It was the second national championship for Jay Martin. OHIO WESLEYAN UNIVERSITY PHOTO

ROLE: The men’s soccer coach at Ohio Wesleyan University for 38 years, Jay Martin started out coaching men’s lacrosse, too, and tackled student hazing issues on both teams when he first arrived. This year, Martin, also a kinesiology professor, won an NCAA Innovations in Research Grant to develop tools that help coaches assess hazing on their teams. HIS STORY: With a career record of 657-124-61 and two Division III national championships, Martin is the winningest men’s soccer coach in the NCAA. LESSONS LEARNED: His team plays home games at the Jay Martin Soccer Complex, but in soccer, he says, the coach’s job is to stay out of the way.

I’m not a good soccer player. I never was, I never have been, and, at this point in my life, I never will be. I tell that to my team and everybody who cares to listen. I think I started twice in college – there was an epidemic on the team, and I had to get on the field.

I know I’m going to sound like a communist, but I’ve never played football in my life. I played soccer and basketball and baseball in high school, and then when I went to college I played soccer, basketball and lacrosse at Springfield College in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Basketball was probably my best sport. After I left Springfield, I moved to Munich, Germany, and played professional basketball for about four seasons. When I moved to Munich, I was in a soccer culture. Basketball in Europe in those days was not a big sport at all. In preseason we played soccer for fitness.

While I was in Munich, I got to know Helmut Schoen, coach of the German national team when they won the world cup in 1974. He and I did nothing but talk about sports – not always specifically soccer, but about sports. He was a great sportsman and obviously a great soccer coach. 

Those were the days of Woody Hayes and all those guys – “my way or the highway.” Helmut Schoen was way ahead of his time in terms of how he coached the best players at the time. He was so the opposite of those guys.

I’m not a “my way or the highway” coach either. It’s the players’ team. I’m there to help them get better. One of my philosophies – and a lot of coaches get mad at me when I say this at clinics – but I don’t feel coaches develop players. Only players develop players.

All of our young coaches think the answer to coaching success is the x’s and o’s. I can’t tell you how far down the list those are.

I’m going into my 39th year in August, and every year I see coaches who don’t have a good relationship with their teams. If the players aren’t confident and they aren’t having fun, it isn’t going to happen. That’s just how it is. As a coach, if you take fun away, you’re not going to do any good.

Don’t call me “coach.” When I was young, my father, like many fathers, was my coach in little this and little that. And when I went to high school, I had a coach named john barker. Their influence, along with Helmut Schoen’s, was very important to me. And until I get to be in their league, I don’t deserve to be called “coach.”

The thing I like about soccer is once the game starts, it’s all about the team. My job is training and practice, and then I might as well go sit in the stands once the game starts. The decisions in the game are made by the players, and the consequences of those decisions happen immediately. They get this great feedback, this understanding about consequences.

I’m not a social scientist, but I think that’s a really good lesson for our students: When you make a decision, and we lose the ball, and we lose the game, it teaches you to be accountable for your actions in life.

Soccer is different than a lot of sports, where players are told exactly what to do. The decision-making in those games is more geared toward the coach and not the players. I want our game to be more geared toward the players.

We won a national championship in 2011 in San Antonio, and over 140 of our former players came down on their own dime to cheer us on. They had a really good experience – an experience that complemented their academic mission at Ohio Wesleyan. 

In the end, that’s what counts. The fact that we win a ton of games – that helps, too.

About Champion

Champion magazine goes behind the headlines and beyond the scoreboards to celebrate the unique connection between Americans and college sports. Champion is published by the NCAA.

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