A Coach In The U.S. spotlights international coaches who have made successful careers in the U.S. with YESsoccer.
From Spain and now based at Kingdom Soccer Club in Michigan, Mario Zuniga Gil tells YEScoach ID Director Chris Andrew how he made it in America.
Tell us about your background and how you got into coaching?
I’m from Spain, from little beautiful city in the South called Granada. When I was a kid, because of a problem I had in one of my femurs I couldn’t do any sports for a while so I was never a good player. Although, one day I realized how much I loved soccer from the outside, from a more analytical perspective, and I started to spend a lot of time watching and studying it. Then, after a few years I decided wanted to make soccer my job, and that’s when I started coaching and getting my coaching qualifications. Right now I hold a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation and Interpretation and a UEFA A license.
Why did you choose to coach in the US?
At this point, it’s impossible to find in Europe the coaching opportunities that the US can offer. Here the structure of the clubs is very different and that allows you to work as a full time; I consider myself a coach and nothing else, so coming to the US was a great opportunity to spend all my time focused exclusively on what I love.
What is your coaching philosophy?
If I had to pick a word I would choose “positive”. I strongly believe in constant positive reinforcements, for me that’s the way to have players trust you and be confident, and that’s what will lead them to get better, perform well and enjoy soccer. I also believe in making players feel thrilled for what they are doing, making them love the team they play for and setting individual and collective goals that will motivate them to keep working hard to get there. In practices, I try to create an appropriate context where players can explore, think and make their own decisions rather than telling them every single thing they have to do and how they have to do it, without letting them use their brain. I believe they will grow much more as athletes and as individuals this way.
Tell us about your current club, role and responsibilities?
I moved to Kingdom Soccer Club in Kalamazoo, Michigan about 3 months ago. I exert as Girls Director because in the US I have discovered how much I enjoy coaching girls (before I didn’t have the chance to do it because unfortunately in Europe girls don’t play as much - but that’s slowly changing); and also as Director of Futsal, since the club just built a futsal court and they wanted someone who had worked with that sport before to start developing the program.
What is next for you and your own personal development in the U.S.?
Kingdom is a great place where to work at right now and I look forward to the upcoming months, because I believe there’s a lot of human potential on it and I can see things going really well for us. At this point all I want is keep getting better as a coach and keep being able to work in the job I love.
What do you remember most about one of your coaches when you were young and playing soccer?
I had a few coaches (soccer, futsal, basketball) and I don’t have great memories from them. When I talk to other fellow coaches they usually come up with the same, maybe because bad memories remain over good memories, but also because I believe now coaches understand better what’s really important in the process and how they should treat a kid.
How long have you been coaching? What lessons have you learned along the way?
I’m 25 and I’m about to start my 6th season. I’ve learned everything because when I first started I knew literally nothing, and now, even if no one is ever done learning, I feel I can do a good job developing the players and the teams I coach. The most important lessons would be on being patient, doing the right thing no matter how bad things look or what people say, because soccer is not a 100 meters race, it’s a marathon. If your players see that you are putting your heart and soul in what you do, they will always trust you and follow you.
What is your number one goal as a coach? How important is winning to you?
For obvious reasons, the age and the level of skill matters a lot when answering this question, but of course in youth soccer developing should always be over winning. It feels great to win and I absolutely love it, it’s addictive somehow, but as a coach I need to make sure I keep calm and make my players understand what we are trying to do there and what’s the really important thing. I feel that, most of the times, players understand this much better than parents.
What do you do to improve your abilities as a coach?
There’s a lot of ways (reading articles, looking at videos, watching games…) but in the end I feel the best way to learn is watching other coaches coach, because that makes you ask yourself a lot of questions, and when that happens it means you are progressing. Talking to fellow coaches and sharing experiences is also extremely important.
Who has been the biggest influences on your coaching style and career? Who are your heroes?
I never dreamed of being a player, so I always looked up to the top coaches and tried to learn from them. Therefore, my “heroes” (I don’t really like that word) are coaches. I have studied and listened to Jose Mourinho a lot, but I’m also a big fan of Diego Simeone and Manolo Preciado - this last one was a Spanish coach that always worked in small clubs, but I was really impressed with the way he coached his teams and the values he showed. He died from a heart attack a few years ago.
How long have you been coaching for and what is your ultimate goal? Where do you see yourself in 10 years? What is your dream job?
My ultimate goal is to get to college soccer or professional soccer. In 10 years I see myself working in one of those, hopefully. My dream job is the one I have right now; that doesn’t mean I don’t want to keep progressing and getting better at it. As long as this last thing is happening, I don’t care where or under what title.