Commentary

Kyle Beckerman embraces college coaching after two decades in the pros

For many soccer coaches, the move to NCAA Division I is long and arduous. They move from assistant to associate to head coach. They move from community college or NAIA to Division III and II. They move from state to state to state.

Kyle Beckerman moved directly from MLS to D-I. He moved from playing professionally to head coaching. He did not even have to move from Salt Lake City.

The 21-year professional, with 58 U.S. men’s national team caps that included starts at the 2014 World Cup, and a 2009 MLS Cup championship as captain, just completed his second year leading Utah Valley University. The Wolverines finished 5-4-0 in the Western Athletic Conference, 7-8-1 overall.

Not bad for a man who never took a coaching course, but was handed the reins in the middle of the spring season when Greg Maas – the only men’s soccer coach UVU ever had – resigned to pursue a business opportunity.

That lack of a license did not deter UVU from pursuing him, or Beckerman from applying.

The Maryland native played for many coaches during a career that included 14 years with Real Salt Lake. He retired in 2020 as Major League Soccer’s all-time leader in games played (498), games started (461) and minutes played (41,164) among field players. He was a nine-time MLS All-Star, a four-time team MVP, and selected as one of the league’s 25 Greatest Players of All Time.

Along the way, Beckerman played for many coaches. Some “with every license in the book” were good, he says. Some were not. Ditto for those without.

His plan after retirement was to decompress from soccer for a year, and figure out the rest of his life. Three months later, UVU called. Two weeks after that, he was hired.

He let Maas’ assistant coaches handle the final three matches of the 2021 spring season. They included Michael Chesler, a goalkeeper and Orem native (where UVU is located) who Beckerman knew from training a bit with RSL.

Beckerman held individual meetings with his players. Then he really got to work.

“We chipped away at what needed to be done,” he recalls. He read about coaching and leadership. He mapped out training exercises – many of them ones he felt were productive as a player. When the fall began, he led with confidence.

Yet coaching is different than playing. He jumps into practice games only when numbers are low – and usually only passing, shooting and Rondo, not intense small-sided games.

“When you’re in college, you take for granted how fit you are,” Beckerman laughs. “It’s so easy to lose fitness. Besides, I don’t have time to be injured.”

Like any experienced coach, he evaluates each session afterward, looking to improve. “It’s all about improvement,” Beckerman says. “We ask players to get better every day. That’s what I’m trying to do as a coach.”

Part of that improvement includes game management. It took a while, he admits, to get the hang of first-half substitutions. He’s learning the administrative side of coaching as well.

But some elements of coaching he’d never thought of before. He always took good nutrition for granted. Now it’s up to him and his staff to find the best place to eat on the road, or make sure the hotel provides appropriate meals.

“As a player you just perform in training or a game. Then you get your body and mind ready for the next one,” Beckerman says. “As a coach you’ve got a ton more things to deal with.”

Beckerman is also working with associate head coach Alex Yi, his teammate, along with the likes of Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley, on the famous U.S. youth national team that finished fourth at the 1999 FIFA U-17 World Cup. Beckerman, like Donovan and Beasley, was part of a new generation of American teenage soccer stars who skipped the college game and went straight into the pro game.

As Beckerman became the oldest player on RSL, he enjoyed watching younger ones join the team. So while he’s not unused to dealing with college-age athletes, his role is different. Part of his job is to make sure they enjoy the journey.

“A lot of them are already thinking about the next level,” the 40-year-old Beckerman says. “I want them to be present, to be here. They have to focus, work 100 percent, and be humble. And be good human beings.”

Utah Valley’s head coach has always modeled that. He’s a three-time winner of Real Salt Lake’s Jordan Guernsey Humanitarian of the Year Award. One of his projects, “Light the Rez,” brought solar energy to homes in the Navajo Nation.

Coaching takes time away from activities like those. But he will resume them soon – and include the Wolverine soccer program in his efforts.

Yet as much as he enjoys coaching, it does not completely rule his life. When he gets home, he says, “my coach hat comes off, and my dad hat goes on.”

He and his wife Kate are parents of a 4-year-old and a 18-month-old. In January, the Beckermans and their Utah Valley University soccer family will welcome a third.

Photos courtesy of Utah Valley Athletics

8 comments about "Kyle Beckerman embraces college coaching after two decades in the pros".
  1. humble 1, December 7, 2022 at 8:50 a.m.

    Top class individual.  Always my favorite MLS player to watch as he embodied the American style of play that coach JK vaporized in his 6 years.  You never mess with KB on the pitch.  TV never told the story you had to see him play in person.  Since I am on a college soccer kick now - I've alao seen him coach games live.  UVU are a good watch - they pick up talent from RSL academy and as far south as AZ as RSL's academy still has roots there.  Beckerman's trajectory as a coach and his commemts are interesting.  He's kind of a Frank Sinatra type - does things his way I mean.  He jumps right into college coaching - no USSF credential required.  Smart dude.  Keep it going!   

  2. Betty Lisec replied, December 7, 2022 at 5:20 p.m.

    Agree,  a class act and one of my favorites!

  3. R2 Dad, December 7, 2022 at 9:38 a.m.

    Would love to hear more about the discussion around merits (or not) of the licensing aspect of this decision. Maybe the US is ready to waive/ modify the coaching meta to encourage pros to coach?

  4. Ben Myers replied, December 7, 2022 at 2:27 p.m.

    The more mature national soccer associations in Europe and South America require some coaching license, usually the equivalent of the USSF A license.  Iceland requires ALL of its coaches to have A licenses, even coaches of very young players. That's why a nation of less than a half million qualified for the World Cup in 2018.  To require less reinforces the continued underdevelopment of our players.

    College soccer is not under the purview of USSF. Neither is high school soccer.  But both programs provide a platform for typically 60 to 70 days of coaching in a season, 5 or 6 days a week, far more intense than most USSF youth programs.  When I told an old friend (B license) of mine who coached club youth soccer that it must be great to get kids in the spring after all the training in the fall on their high school teams, he said "NO!"  Then he said that many of his training sessions focused on UN-learning bad habits acquired playing high school ball.

    The USSF and the NSCAA, now known as United Soccer Coaches, have made some progress in harmonizing their coach licensure processes, a good thing.

    I say we need more coaches with licenses attained from courses conducted by well-qualified instructors.  And then we need a process, like all other sports, to weed out the Type A often abusive screamers who are coaching only for themselves.

  5. frank schoon replied, December 7, 2022 at 8:13 p.m.

    Ben, coaches who are assholes get a license to coach in order to get into the system for that are the requirements to coach these days.  Look at all the aholes who were fired in women's soccer ,in the past couple of years, they were all licensed and well qualified. No , having a license is no guarantee for good coaching.


    Having a license is no guarantee for better technical players. This is why our soccer after 50 years is still Turbo, athleticism and size. 


    As far as mature countries having a license program is no prove of having better technical youth/players. Just look at the 3rd world countries , Africa, and second world countries where kids can't afford shoes have much better skills than ours.

    Cruyff stated licensed coaches are bane to good youth development and blamed the poor youth development at Ajax to licensed coaches, for they are too Programmed, too theoretical, aren't good enough to demonstrate. The problem with forcing coaches to be licensed is that those who lacks in many of the mechanics is soccer can coach, only fot the fact they have a license.

    He also stated coaches who are licensed prefer to move up in the ranks because of ambitions and therefore like to win and player development takes second place to their own ambitions.

    I would much rather have a kids team coached/trained by a couple of guys from Jamaica whose experience is tons and tons of street ball ,teaching them all 'inside details' of the game than some stiff with a coaching license .


  6. Ankl Brkr, December 7, 2022 at 7 p.m.

    Networking and cronyism at its best. Ridiculous to see this continues to occur in the modern game at the D1 level (and pros too). I'm not knocking KB, he's probably a good dude and knows the game. However, being a head coach at any level requires a certain amount of pedagogy background and experience. What? You played professionally... straight to the top. Meanwhile coaches across the country are grindin' every day and never get a shot. Who you know is more valuable than what you know. It'll never end either. 

  7. Mike Lynch, December 9, 2022 at 3:30 p.m.

    Thanks for sharing Dan. I've always been a Kyle Beckerman fan because of the way he played and carried himself ... let his feet do most of the talking. Looks like he is approaching his next adventure much the same ... let the results do the talking. With such a long and successful career, he has more than a license level of experience of what worked, what didn't worked. I do think engaging some formal coach education as his time permits is a good thing, too, as a professional in any profession is charged with constantly learning and collaborating with the leaders in their field. I believe his pro player experience waives him into the higher levels automatically which should then engage him for the few areas he may feel his pro player experiences didn't provide in depth. 

  8. Wooden Ships, December 11, 2022 at 7:10 p.m.

    I'm not aware of any pedagogical proof of efficacy, in most endeavors, other than what these endeavors purport. 

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