Last year marked the first time a club from Tennessee won a U.S. Youth Soccer national championship. Coached by Ronnie Woodard, Tennessee SC’s U-18 girls lifted the Francis J. Kelly Cup and Woodard was named the 2016 NSCAA National Coach of the Year.
Woodard (née Coveleskie) started coaching after playing goalkeeper at Duke (1988-91), where she captained the Blue Devils and was the program’s first scholarship player. After serving as assistant coach at Charlotte and goalkeeper coach at North Carolina State, Woodard was the head coach at Vanderbilt for nearly a decade, before arriving at Tennessee SC.
Ronnie Woodard on …
I walked into my coach Billy Hempen’s office after my last exam in my senior year at Duke University. I was unsure about my future plans. He said something that struck close to the heart: “Ronnie, soccer has given you so many opportunities and shown you so many different places of the world. Now it’s time for you to give back to the sport. A great way to give back to the sport is to start to coach.” I was 22 years old, my first team was a U-11 boys team.
enjoyable thing about coaching
I love having the opportunity to empower young girls to become strong women. It’s really important to me, being part of that Title IX generation, that we help grow the sport and that we help create strong female leaders in our communities. I think sport does a lot for a girls' confidence and teaches them great leadership abilities.
Least enjoyable thing about coaching
Being away from my family when I’m on the road with my team.
Your influential coaches
The first would be Eric Vaughter, he was my goalkeeper coach in ODP and he was my college goalkeeper coach at Duke. He taught me an awful lot about persevering and a work ethic and mental toughness in general. He taught me a lot of the intangible qualities that I still hold today and teach my team. Of course, Billy Hempen, who inspired me to give back to the sport. Finally, there is Robbie Church, who hired me for my very first assistant coaching job and I’ve been blessed to have him as a great mentor, leader and one of my best friends as I’ve gone through my entire development as a young aspiring coach to the dinosaur that I am today.
Biggest mistake youth coaches make
Please stop yelling. Please stop getting very emotional on the sidelines making the events of the game into personal attacks.
Your advice for youth coaches
Try to solve the tactical and technical situations that are causing the problem on the field -- instead of only addressing the effort of the players.
I think that we’ve all been really guilty of getting caught up in the emotion of the game, but it’s really important that we ground ourselves and force ourselves away and have the ability to sort through the happenings of what’s going on on the field at that time, what your team needs to do better, and then how you can fix that at halftime and address the situation moving forward.
Start teaching and stop yelling. That’s the biggest thing that I try to implement in how I coach, how can I be a leader and teacher without being a dominating force on the sideline. How can I make sure that my players hear my message instead of dread my message.
“The 99ers,” which is the story of the 1999 Women’s World Cup team and the follow up is “Dare to Dream: The Story of the U.S. Women's Soccer Team,” another documentary about our women’s national team. Every time I watch that I get chills and tear up. I can remember watching it first hand and experiencing every part of it.
“What Drives Winning” by Brett Ledbetter. I love the leadership model that they teach through that book and I try to implement that with my team as often as I can. It makes me realize that soccer is more than Xs and Os. It's leadership and characteristics that are important for champions to possess.
And “Rookie: Surviving Your Freshman Year of College Soccer” by Dan Blank. It’s really insightful and every young woman that is about to start her freshman year of college should get a copy of that book. I actually give that book to all of my graduating seniors.
If you had a magic wand
Instead of running off children because of the high cost of youth soccer and travel demands, implement opportunities for our younger players and our socioeconomically challenged athletes to be able to afford soccer at a young age. I want to see more young kids from all backgrounds coming together and having a more balanced approach to their development. Specifically, young girls. I would like to see more young girls running around in our rec programs, and then going into our select programs and going through the process. I want more and more of our female athletes kicking soccer balls than what we see now.
The team that just graduated and went off to college, I had them for four years, and so we started our journey when they started their journey in high school. Watching them grow from these 14-year-old girls into young women who are moving on to college. Those girls have brought me so many memories that I still smile whenever I think of them.