'Little tips lead to more confidence' (Q&A with McGuire Cup-winning coach Tobias Bischof)

Interview by Olivia Ruiz

In July, Massapequa Arsenal became the first New York team since 1959 to win the McGuire Cup, the U-19 boys national championship that launched in 1935. Massapequa Arsenal coach Tobias Bischof, who is also a Massapequa SC director and the associate head coach of the Hofstra University women's team, spoke with us about his coaching philosophy, the differences between coaching women and men, and how he'd like to see the American game evolve.

SOCCER AMERICA: Where are you from and how did you get involved with the sport?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: So I’m from Germany, from a little village called Winterstein. I played soccer as long as can remember in Germany.

SA: Did your family play soccer?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: Yes, my grandpa played soccer, my dad played soccer. I think that’s probably the reason how I got involved in it, because my dad played every Sunday.

SA: What inspired you to start coaching?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: In the beginning, it was just to help out. I played on the first team and there were kids who had a trainer or a coach but needed more, so I helped out and I liked it, actually.

SA: Who are your coaching role models?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: I don’t really have a coaching role model. There’s not one coach where I think, “I want to be like him.” You take pieces from everybody, you learn from everybody, and you try to become better in your craft. That is always what I did. This could be coaches in the professional level. You can watch film and see how they act and take pieces from them. Or it could be pieces from a youth coach in one of the clubs that I work for. You can take pieces from a lot of different coaches at a lot of different levels.

SA: How is coaching in the U.S. different than coaching in Germany?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: In the U.S. it’s about intensity. Everything is just a little bit faster, a little bit more aggressive, a little bit more intense. In Germany a lot of things are more slowed down and I think the training is more about technique.

SA: What about your coaching style has changed since moving to the U.S. [in 2002]? Have you tried to be more intense or emphasize technique?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: I try to take what I brought from Germany to the U.S. and then make little adjustments. I try not to lose what I have, but try to become better and take the best out of both worlds.

SA: Is a focus on intensity an attempt to make up for a lack of a deep soccer culture?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: I definitely agree with that. The intensity here is a make up for the ... how do I say, the deeper knowledge of soccer. In Europe the game is lived more, the game is breathed more, kids watch soccer constantly and therefore learn about soccer constantly through not just training and coaching but through TV, radio and all those other outlets as well.

This helps kids make technical decisions because they constantly see how their idols get through certain problems on the field. And because they see it from their idols, they try to find their own ways of doing it. Whereas in the U.S., the kids have to live through those challenges, they have to find their own way and now because they don’t see it as much on TV, they get their leadership more through trainers and coaches and lose their own way of finding solutions.

SA: What are the differences between coaching women and coaching men for you?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: It is the same game, but it is different. From a coaching perspective, the men have to respect you. As long as they respect you as their coach, they’re good to go. Women have to respect you as well, but to get the most out of them, they have to believe in you and trust you.

Tobias Bischof (Photo courtesy Hofstra SID)

SA: How do you feel about the role of the American university system in developing women’s and men’s professional players?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: That’s a very interesting question. For me, I work with youth but I work with with a college program, too. In college it’s a different story. In college, people are called “student-athletes.” They are not “athlete-students.” That means school comes first and the athletic side is the second part of their life. Therefore it’s a little bit hard to use the American university system to actually develop professional players. To do that, the athletic side has to be a little bit stronger and has to take the main role for those student-athletes. It’s a very tough question.

I don’t want to say that the university system is “in the way” but there have to be adjustments to help develop professional soccer players in the U.S. There was a talk a year ago about changing, on the men’s side, the schedule from the fall being the competitive season for college sports to having it be a year-round season where you play in the fall and the spring.

I think this would allow colleges to be more involved in developing professional soccer players because a week only has seven days. You play two games in a week, you have one off day and you then have four days left to develop soccer players. Now, from those four days there are two days lost again just because we play the game the day before. So there is not a lot of time to actually develop professional soccer players right now. With a change to fall and spring, and playing one game a week, would give coaches more time to prepare soccer players for the next level.

SA: Interesting. But since the competitive season hasn’t changed and because you’re a college coach, how do you emphasize the balance between academics and athletics in your coaching? Do you let the players themselves handle academics without mentioning it?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: Well, what are we trying to accomplish here? For me personally, I would like to win championships. That’s always the goal as a coach. However, maybe my second and more important goal would be to develop a human, a player, a person. And therefore I have to make sure the kids who we have at Hofstra do the right things academically. We have a great support system here which I am involved in but I try to push our players to be the best athlete as well.

You do this in training by creating a competitive training environment, recruiting players who help our environment and help to fulfill our goals. At Hofstra the goal is to be a good student-athlete with a winning mentality and be ready to compete and do your best in everything, in life. It’s done by a lot of communication and by engaging with our players and trying to have them strive to reach their higher goals. And it’s also about trusting the people you work with to do their job.

SA: How do you address a player who suffers from lack of confidence?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: No. 1, you have to talk to your players from a young age. You have to make them believe that they can do it. An easy step to achieve that is to simplify the game for them. Give them little tips for what is easy for them to do on the field. Play quicker, fewer touches; it makes the game easier. Movement off the ball makes the game easier. If you address those little things, the game becomes easier for players, they are then more successful in their play and therefore they become more confident.

SA: What did you tell your U-19 boys at halftime before they won their title championship game [a 3-1 win over St. Louis Scott Gallagher]?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: We lost the first game of the tournament in the 93rd minute and the biggest challenge was focusing on what was ahead of us. Right after the game I got them together and I said to them right there, “The sooner you get over this loss, the quicker you give yourself a chance to get to the final and win the national championship.” And when we got back to the final, we were super prepared. Three minutes into the game we scored.

My philosophy for my youth players is that the most important goal is the second. If you score the first, that’s fantastic, but if you score the second goal, you can put the team away. If you’re down 1-0 and you score the second goal to make it 1-1, you have the momentum. So that’s what I said at halftime: you have to score the second goal. I told them it’s 45 minutes of hard work and if they put in the work, they will be successful. Work hard, believe in the system, you are prepared, you can do it and find a way of doing it.

SA: If you had a magic wand, how would you improve American youth soccer?

TOBIAS BISCHOF: I just wish that MLS and the NWSL keep developing into the best leagues they can be and that our youth can, from an early age, want to be around the sport of soccer, drive to be the best soccer players they can be and have their ultimate goal be to become professional players. That would be my dream.

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