Eric Kissinger is a player’s coach, one that has enjoyed the best the beautiful game has to offer and has chosen to give back in a big way. He has the best of both worlds, playing as a professional for the USL PRO’s Dayton Dutch Lions and serving as a teacher and coach for the Miami Valley School in addition to serving on the staff at the Dutch Lions Academy. Essentially he has dedicated his life to growing the game and serving others as a coach and teacher.
He is someone that has built his entire career around hard work and determination. That immense effort has paid off big as Kissinger has made a name for himself in the Dayton area and beyond.
As a player, he has been with the Dutch Lions organization since the team first took the field in the PDL in 2010. He has been a “rock” for the organization, which has become one of the fastest-growing brands in the entire country.
As a coach, he has become known as someone who can get the best out of any player. He serves many roles: teacher, mentor, strategist, and motivator. Simply put, he has a bright career ahead of him on and off the pitch.
Powerful moments define careers and Kissinger has been part of some big ones, none bigger than facing off against MLS side Sporting Kansas City in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
“Walking into that big of a stadium, seeing the quality of the pitch, hearing how loud the fans were, it gave me goosebumps,” Kissinger admitted. “It was an incredible experience.”
Playing week in and week out in USL PRO is nothing to sneeze at either, considering the league is home to many great players from around the world.
But there are special moments that happen outside the glitz and glamor of professional soccer. One of those happened when Kissinger was an assistant coach at Miami Valley. It was powerful, a defining moment in the young man’s coaching career.
“I would have to say the district final game against Springfield Catholic. It was two very tough teams just going at it. You could feel the emotion emanating from the players on the field with every goal or tackle.”
But how did Kissinger get here? He made it because of a lot of people helped him, but none more important than his high school coach Mario Carrillo.
“The man is the consummate professional. He always holds himself to the highest standard of sportsmanship, professionalism, and quality, while expecting the same from his players. He understands that you may not be the most talented person out there, but as long as you give it your true best shot, that’s all he can expect. A very large portion of my soccer knowledge and what it takes to be a professional in all aspects of life has to be credited to him.”
That experience and inspiration has helped Kissinger become a role model for his own players and students, in essence giving back to the sport he dearly loved. The idea of “paying it forward” defines what Kissinger has become as a coach, giving back because he has been given so much. His players are certainly lucky to call Kissinger “Coach,” having someone who is still playing and contributing at a high level in the pro game.
Kissinger knows how important player development is and has created his coaching style as a result. It’s all about sharing lessons and experiences that players can learn from.
“The most valuable lesson I can share with my players is this: never give up, always persevere, and never hesitate to take action. So many kids are nervous because they are afraid of doing the wrong thing. But in doing so, they don’t realize that they don’t do the right thing because they hesitate to act in the process. Especially at the younger ages, take a chance, try a move, make a pass! If it doesn’t work out, your team may lose the ball, your coach may get mad at you, but it’s a learning process. Without trying things, you’ll never know what you are truly capable of.”
Playing and coaching for a great club like DDL is a privilege, considering the club is a leader in developing players. Kissinger has bought into their principles wholeheartedly, showing great belief in the academy system that is paramount in the European game.
“The Dutch Lions pride themselves on providing a high level of coaching. We aren’t going to teach the basics of the game just so we can play kick and run and beat teams into the ground at the youngest age possible. We teach the fundamentals so that we can create a possession-oriented style from a young age. From the youngest to the oldest teams in our academy, we play the same style. It doesn’t matter who the coach is or which players we have, each team will know the style that is expected of them and have the skills necessary to implement that. Since we are more of an academy as well, all the coaches know most of the kids, even if they aren’t on their team. It creates a sense of community that is lost when each team is an independent unit under a figurehead of a name.”
That consistency and commitment to excellence has made the Dutch Lions a “mover and shaker” in the world of Ohio soccer. The addition of a team in Cincinnati, along with an impressive operation in Houston, makes the Dutch Lions a force to be reckoned with on a national level. They are clearly at the pinnacle of the game and plan to add several more franchises in the coming years, creating an even bigger national and even global footprint.
There is no doubt that Kissinger will be part of the club’s growth and success moving forward. Kissinger and the Dutch Lions are a perfect pairing, combing passion and excellence and mixing that with high-level coaching and clear player development goals.
His growth is certainly aligned with that of the American game, representing a new generation of players and coaches that are bound and determined to make soccer “the next big thing” in the United States.
“America has an incredible untapped market of soccer players. Every time I see some of our football or basketball athletes, I think about how awesome it would be to have a target striker built like LeBron James starting for the U.S. National Team. I think that the potential within the next 5-10 years is promising. With MLS expanding and becoming a larger presence, kids are starting to be more aware of the possibility of a career beyond high school or college. We’re starting to see more kids want to play in college and even beyond. This will translate to a larger pool to draw from in the future. However, we need coaches that are willing to develop at the expense of winning sometimes as well. Lots of high schools just play kick and run because it’s their best chance to win. That’s not going to help anyone develop or get better throughout their career.”
So Kissinger is aware of the challenges he faces as both a player and coach, but he has the tools necessary to be “the next big thing” himself.
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