To Mike Lynch, sports is the closest experience to combat. They’re both filled with pressure. They demand a variety of physical and mental skills, combined with intense decision-making.
They create deep bonds. The difference: Athletic contests are not life-and-death situations.
Lynch should know. A former United States Air Force Academy all-region player, then an assistant coach there, he has long experience in both worlds. He followed his father’s footsteps into the Air Force, growing up as a military “brat” all over the USA. In fact, he’s the sixth generation of his family to join the military. An ancestor fought with a German-speaking Union volunteer militia from Ohio in the Civil War.
Lynch fights his battles now on the sidelines of Belmont Abbey College. When he arrived as head women’s coach at the North Carolina campus in 2011, his goal was to “graduate leaders committed to excellence and virtue, and compete for championships.”
He’s done both. Abbey teams have been recognized by United Soccer Coaches for excellence in academics (nine consecutive years) and sportsmanship/ethics (eight straight). They’ve played in three NCAA tournaments, and eight conference finals (winning two). In 2018-19 they earned the Pinnacle Award for scholastic achievement, fair play and athletic accomplishment.
Now Lynch has a bigger platform. Last month he was elected to United Soccer Coaches’ national board of directors. His role as vice president puts him on a path to the presidency of the 30,000-member organization in 2027.
Through many roles—as a youth and Olympic Development Program coach in Ohio, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska and North Carolina— Lynch has preached this philosophy: “Soccer feels as real as war, but it’s just a game. Character development is as important as competition. They’re complementary, not either/or. Strong character with athletic skill helps you reach peak performance. If you do the right thing, the results take care of themselves.”
For example, Lynch says, when a ball goes out of bounds his Belmont Abbey team does not do what many do: race to pick it up before the referee makes a call.
“If it’s theirs, it’s theirs. If its ours, its ours,” he explains. “We’d rather win because we have better tactics and are in better shape. We don’t need extras like that to win.” He is not a fan of tactical fouling. “You don’t play at your best if you’re trying to skirt the rules.”
His teams do not shy away from physical play. He understands that—especially with boys and men’s teams—yellow cards are inevitable. However, he does not want his players to amass them for retaliation or dissent.
He and his staff are “very upfront” about their expectations while recruiting, Lynch says. “We want to make sure we’re a good fit. Some players’ behavior is hard to change. But we try to show (recruits) that we’re not competing at a lower level. If we don’t win, it’s not because of our standards. It’s because we’re not switching the ball enough.”
Lynch brings a unique perspective to his new role at United Soccer Coaches. For the past six years, he chaired the organization’s faith-based coaching community.
Though primarily made up of Christian coaches, Lynch says that the group welcomes anyone for whom “faith forms the basis of how we coach,” including Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others.
From colleagues, he says he learned about how fasting during Ramadan affects players, and the role of diet in the Jewish tradition.
“You don’t have to be a coach whose faith informs your coaching to do the right thing,” he says. All coaches everywhere face ethical dilemmas every day, he adds, from putting players back in a match after an injury, to taking advantage of an obviously bad or incorrect referee’s call.
On United Soccer Coaches’ board, Lynch says his role will be to ask questions like “are we doing no harm?” That includes areas like concussions (at Belmont Abbey, he examined medical data and made changes in the team’s approach to heading), and issues raised by the recent Yates Report on abusive coaching relationships in the sport.
Another area: “How can we make sure that professional standards are part of coaching education, and that they’re monitored and acted upon?”
He is “excited by this opportunity. I want to ask the right questions, listen to the needs of members, and help everyone in it be the best we can be.”
(Author Dan Woog also serves on United Soccer Coaches’ national board of directors.)
It is always nice to see a coach who has character, bolstered by his family history of dedication in the military along with a belief for the betterment of his fellow man. This is what I like about the American culture. Whenever I'm in Holland driving around with my wife, I bring the subject up that our military is so intertwined in our society and culture as well as unbounded acts of charity in the US which is not found in Europe, due to the lack of church influence in the lives of Europeans. You tend get this feeling when you see all those graves of American boys who sacrificed themselves in Europe in WW2. My relatives just can't believe how charitable Americans are towards each other, helping people in need and want; for instance building a home or collecting money to buy a car for someone in need.
Many Europeans due to the socialistic nature of their govt's have lost that feeling of helping out others, which for us is no 'biggy'. I first came upon the American feeling for helping others reading about the Old West, where the pastor would enter a saloon asking gamblers for money to build a
church or when a gambler lost all his money receives a collection from his fellow gamblers for food and train fare to get him home wherever he's from.....
Mike's example of his players not going after the out of bounce ball is very honorable. To tell you the truth, it never even entered my mind as a tactical trick to waste time. I'm too competitive and see soccer as a beautiful game that by winning using tricks demeans it for me, if I had to cheat this way. That's why my players will never grab their opponent jerseys and if I see one do it , I will make it very plain saying," keep your paws to yourself". Personally , I think it should be a red card offense, for you have no business grabbing players. If you get beat, you get beat, learn from it but not cheat from it.
I didn't realize there are coaches that Mike has experiences with do this kind of thing. I think this is where giving a good example of character 'bolstering' not 'building' for I'm sure when he recruits ,he picks players that learned have good character traits from their parents along with giving a baseline to go by.
It is beyond me to spend time of thinking cheating tricks to win, for there is so much the youth are doing wrong technically and tactically during the game to look at that often I don't know who scored. When a coach has to go that route to win, then these are not the type for they are not in it for making the player better.....
Bravo! Go get 'em, Mike!
How players behave is how their own coaches behave. I've even refereed pretty much the same players, one a HS team and one a club team, in consecutive futsal games and one was very poorly behaved from the start of the match and one team was fine throughout but each team had two very different coaches.
Regarding any faith-based coaching, I find little if any difference in discipline between religious colleges and those not aligned with a religion and that is rather sad and pretty much an indictment of the athletic departments of the former. Maybe they should do some soul-searching? Perhaps Mike Lynch's faith-based coaching group can make a difference with colleges?
It's doable as I find a HUGE difference in discipline between religious, private high schools and public schools. The religious schools pray before the game and treat pretty much everybody with respect.
Best of luck to Mr. Lynch in his new position. I like his approach. The topic of character expectations and development in youth soccer, an interesting one. For me, severely lacking. I left two clubs, one twice, before I found a club and HS for my player that held players to a high standard and developed their character. This made the formula work. If my player's soccer career finishes after HS, at least he will have been held to high standards and maybe even developed some good character he would otherwise not have. My son's current and former club is under the US Club Soccer umbrella, he previously played in clubs under the USYS umbrella and has also played in AYSO in other states. The concept of standards of behavior and character development are areas that all three youth organizations can significantly improve. US Youth Hockey has a terrific template. Google 'US Youth Hockey ADM Principle\ and you will see something you've never seen in youth soccer. ADM = American Development Model - they don't use the Russian or Canadian model. Their program is based on the acknowledgement that the USA is unique, and cannot just copy from abroad. They have quants and have been remarkably successful with the ADM, you can look that up too if you care to. Have nice day and best of luck again, Mr. Lynch.