Meet the Coach: Q&A with Michael Dickey

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In anticipation of the upcoming start to our very first Girls Camp, we sat down with the head coach Michael Dickey in order to get to know him even better. Coach Dickey is a world-renowned coach with experience coaching the U.S. U-14 and U-15 Girls National Team, as well as the U-17 Women’s National team, but he’s much more than that.

Where most people  measure our success by our own personal achievements, Coach Dickey is a person who enjoys being able to help others and watching them grow as players and people. Born in the U.S., but raised overseas, Coach Dickey was absorbed by the passion of soccer and used that as a fuel to drive his life on and off the pitch, always wanting to be better. After his playing years were over, he says that passion has modified into a new joy.

“I started helping someone, and I really found it to be just as exciting as playing – to be able to help others. So I got into it, and I became really passionate about it, and it became my… became something that I wanted to do,” Dickey said.

Check out the full Q&A below, and don’t forget to sign up for your opportunity to train under one of the best known names in the game this summer by visiting our Camps Page.

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Q: So, you have an amazing coaching resume, having coached some of the top teams both at the local and international level; coaching the USSF U-17 national team that got a silver medal at the 2008 World Cup, and numerous other teams, but we still don’t know too much about who the man that is the coach. Tell me a little bit about yourself as a person. Who you are.

A: I’m a person that’s very worldly. I’ve seen a bunch of different places throughout my life. I lived in Asia for 11 years, Europe for 16 so I’m really interested in what’s going on in the world. I like to travel, I like to meet new people, and I’m always curious about what’s going on in the world in the soccer scene. I like to do outdoor activities. I enjoy mountain biking and you know being outside at the beach.

Q: How have all of your travels affected your coaching style?

A: I was initially introduced to the sport was when I lived in Taiwan. So the first time I’d seen soccer was watching some of the Thai and the Chinese who lived there play that peaked my interest. Initially, that’s probably how I got involved in the game, because I had seen somebody else play it. I was able to see how passionate they were, and then when we moved to Germany when I was 15, again just being immersed in a culture where soccer was the primary sport. I saw how passionate everybody was about it- seven days a week. You know, year round, and well it was something that always intrigued me and it was one of the reason of why I am still involved in the game today.

Q: How old were you when you were first immersed in soccer?

A: We left the U.S. when I was four and I think I was about eight years old when…It was the first time that I had ever really seen the game or individuals playing soccer. I’m not sure I saw a complete game, just individuals playing soccer.

Q: And how exactly did you get started? Did you just start playing around with your friends?

A: Yeah, just playing around with my friends, and watching others play. At that time Pele was was quite a big deal, and he was making his entrance into the North American Soccer League, so he was doing some promotional videos about the game and his life. So, I think I was in the P.E. class in elementary school I was watching him and I became passionate about how passionate he was about playing, and how much fun he seemed to be having. It seemed like something that I wanted to do.

Q: And how did that passion help you grow?

A: I think it was primarily the drive to be better, to be able to, as a player, always striving to be a little better than the next guy, and later on when my playing career was over when I was involved in coaching, just wanting to win at the games. So, just having passion to always wanting to be better. I think that bleeds over into my coaching as well, and players. You know, I want kids to enjoy the game, but I also want them to have passion for wanting to be better.

Q: Ahh, well while we’re on your coaching years. What are some of your favorite moments from those years.

A: Initially, starting out coaching. Probably the first group that I ever coached was a high school team, and it happened to have my sister on it so I have really fond memories about those days. I really didn’t know anything about coaching at that point, but I enjoyed the game, and you know I was just learning how to coach. So, yeah that’s the initial memory that I’m really fond of. Then, later on as I progressed through the ranks, going to coaching school and having mentors that were more experienced than I was, help teach me, help guide me. Then, later on going to shadow and watch them coach their teams, and coaching the national teams that they were coaching at the time, and watching them work. Seeing how they interacted with their players and the type of exercises they did with their players, and then eventually to  starting the Olympic development program in Europe for Americans. I have a really fond memory of that because at the time there was really no pathway for Americans living overseas to really find out what was going on in the United States and getting in a program which players in the 55 state associations all have access to but Americans living overseas didn’t really have that. So that’s a really fond memory. Of course working at the regional level, with top level players and coaches. I have strong memories about that. I am currently still involved at the regional level with it. Of course, one of the biggest highlights is coaching for the national team, being able to be an assistant coach at the initial U-17 women’s world cup under Kazbek Tambi. That was the first ever women’s world cup that ever took place, so I was there. That was very unique , and it is a very clear memory for me. Winning the Nordic cup in 2010, with the U-16 women’s national team. I have a very strong memory about that as well. The great players and great players that I worked with. And… it was 2009. I was a guest coach for the Indian women’s national team. They asked me to go over there as a guest coach and I said yeah. A couple of weeks over in India, and working with their women’s team, and helping them prepare for a really big international tournament, which they wound up winning. So, that’s a really fond memory. Very unique from my career.

Q: Wow, yeah. That must have just been an amazing experience.

A: Oh, it was…. I can’t even put it in words. It was a time my jaw just dropped from what I saw and just how much they needed help from someone who just had a little more experience. So, I thought that was one of the coolest experiences I’ve had as a coach. And I’ve really loved teaching other coaches. You know, I’m still working for the federation as a national staff coach. So being able to to work with coaches all over the country and they’re not all American coaches. They’re coaches that come from all over the world that want to take some of our federation courses. So, being able to help them and mentor them. I’m really fond of that because I feel like I have a bigger impact on a larger number of players by coaching their coaches. I really enjoy that. Being able to help them, and it’s actually helped me become a better coach by being a coach of coaches.

Q: How does that differ from coaching players or a team?

A: Well, with coaching coaches, it’s not about winning any particular game or winning a season. It’s about giving them a framework of which to work under or within, and help them formulate, “Listen, this is what you do. You’re already a coach and how can we simplify it so it becomes a little easier for you and you can work within that framework.” You know, showing them how to do lesson plans, how a fluid session should run. When I put it together, one of the things I’m looking to do, “Am I trying to solve everything in an hour and a half, or am I trying to chip away at it a little bit at a time to try and help these individuals or this team become better?” And giving them ideas, and just letting them bounce ideas off of you because a lot of us coaches we don’t have many people to talk to that we can have as mentors. There are a lot of times alone on an island so within that week, you’re able to help them kind of see the game possible a little bit differently or maybe simplify it a bit more for them so they don’t overthink it.

Q: That seems like tremendous work

A: Yeah.

Q: But transitioning back to coaching players, what has it been like coaching the different U.S Women’s National Teams that you’ve coached? Looking back on it now, from the outside in, what was that like?

A: Well when you work with a regional team or a national team, you’re obviously working with players that are superior in a lot of different ways than others.  Maybe a lot of them are faster, stronger. Many of them  are much better with the ball. A lot of them have a great idea of what the game should look like and then mentally a lot of them are a lot stronger. They deal with adversity a lot better than your typical soccer player when you have that mixture it’s very exciting because it seems like everything is going faster. The games are going faster. You’re processing information quicker, so you as a coach, you have to be on top of your games as well because you have to be giving them ideas that they haven’t already thought about. You have to give them different techniques and where to apply it, in ways that they haven’t before. And you have to continue to challenge them mentally as well because some of them are so used to being the best, and all of a sudden they’re surrounded by players that are of equal caliber so you’re helping them deal with these issues of not being the best player every single moment. So a little bit psychologist, but it’s exciting and just a lot faster and challenging. It’s similar to when I coached professionally in the USL. You have to be really on your game. You have to be prepared. You have to have a long term vision of what you want it to look like, and you have to be able to put the players in the right spot where you can bring out their qualities. Some of them, the players that you have all play the same position, so how do you put the best players on the field at once. You have to find out where they fit best for this particular team, and that’s not easy. Not everyone is cut out to do that.

Q: It sounds like it’s not a simple job to be on the coaching side.

A: It’s not. You really do have to be a lot sharper, a lot more prepared than normal. You also have to see, when you are working with the youth national team, you have to know what are you doing to prepare them now for the future because at the end of the day the most important thing is what’s going on at the senior level. For the players that are playing at the world cup. For the players that are playing in the Olympics. Just doing everything you can so that, to make sure that they can enter that world with a lot of knowledge and a lot of good ideas.

Q: So what do you find so enticing about your job? Why coach?

A: That’s a good question. I don’t know. It wasn’t planned. That’s for sure. Out of college, I was a recreation major and I was a pretty good soccer player, and I liked playing, but I really didn’t plan on coaching. I just happened by accident. I was asked to help out with a team, and I started. Initially I was a little reluctant because I was working and I was still playing at the time. But I relented and I started helping someone, and I really found it to be just as exciting as playing- to be able to help others. So I got into it, and I became really passionate about it, and it became my… became something that I wanted to do. I found that I was better at this than most things I did, so I really wanted to pursue it.

Q: When you’re out there coaching, what’s it like? What are you feeling? Is it adrenaline, excitement?

A: Yeah, for example, over the weekend we had state cup going on, and several of our teams were playing in the finals. I oversee all of the teams, and someone asked me, “Are you nervous?”, and I said, “No, I’m excited.” You know, it’s fun to be in this position where two really good teams are playing against each other and to see if we prepared well enough to be better than the other team. It’s just exciting to watch them compete, and see if the work that you’ve put in, if that’s helped them achieve what they want to do. To win the game. So, I find it exhilarating to not only coach game days, but for me it’s even more fun to coach practices. Just to motivate, and you know put together exercises which will help the players play the game better when they’re playing 11v11.

Q: And watching that development, and knowing that you helped them out.

A: Right, right. It’s fun because everything is competitive, and training  is well. You have a bunch of mini games going on.

Q: So something a lot of people probably want to know,  what’s your coaching style like?

A: I would say that I’m a combination of a player’s coach- where I feel like players feel comfortable communicating with me, and giving me feedback- and at the same time, I can also be very passionate and authoritarian at times. I push player to try harder and be better than they are. So I have good relationships with my players, but also I will push buttons based on what I think I need to do to get them to play and perform better.

Q: And switching over to the upcoming camp what are you most looking forward to?

A: Well I’m excited because I don’t believe they’ve had camps for girls out at Casa Grande yet, and I’ve been out to the facility, both teaching for the federation, and also at an ID2 camp for US Club. So I know that area, and I know the people. I’m excited about going out there. I’m excited for the first camp for girls to be out there for the first time, and getting to see what kind of talent is signing up and taking part. You know, naturally I want to work with good players. I want to work with motivated players that want to improve, players that aspire to play at a higher level, but I really like the setup of the camps out there, and the players that [are at the Grande] currently. It’s a professional setting, with top notch fields, and facilities, and I know that the places where the players stay are very comfortable, the food is excellent. So I’m looking forward to it and I’m just really curious to see what kind of talent we’re going to have at our camp.

Q: Do you have any goals for the camp?

A: My goal is to inspire. That’s one. I want players to be better, to address certain techniques that I feel are valuable for players to be good soccer players. To be able to give individual feedback to all of the players that are participating in the camp, answer their questions, and give them ideas about what they can do when they go back to their school or their club setting. And see if that helps. Also, I want to watch them have fun. At the end of the day, soccer for me has been a fun game and I want it to be fun for the players as well. I hope that they can come and have fun and learn and when they leave they feel like they have some better ideas about the game, and then they can bring them back home to their club team.

You know, I’m just happy to be able to do this for the players that are coming, who are interested in coming to the camp. I’m deviating away from what I’ve done the past few summers, working at the regional level to try something new. I’m excited about this venture as well to see what kind of talent will be coming out to this camp.

Q: Well thank you very much for your time Coach Dickey. It’s been a pleasure, and we look forward to seeing you next month for the camp.

A: I’m looking forward to being there too.

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