Soccer in the inner city represents a different world, a world that Matt Safar of Uniontown, Ohio knows very well. Safar, the head coach of Akron Garfield’s boys and girls soccer teams, has embraced the diversity of the beautiful game found there. His high school squads resemble the United Nations with players from Laos, Mexico, Palestine, Vietnam, and Japan participating in a program that has gone leaps and bounds under Safar’s expert tutelage.
“It has been the most unique experience that I ever had,” Safar declared. “We have people from all walks of life. We try to bring them together with a common goal. For many it is the one positive thing they have in life, something they cherish.”
Players from different religions and cultures coming together to play the world’s most popular sport is something quite special to see. It doesn’t matter if they are white, African-American, Muslim, or Buddhist, everyone feels welcome and accepted, joined by a common objective.
Many coaches would turn down a challenge of coaching in the inner city, but Safar never shies away from doing what is right when it comes to soccer. It is a special vocation, especially when you do it because you love the game. It certainly isn’t for the crowds as many games have only 2 or 3 spectators, but it is important to his players.
“For many, the last game they will ever play will be the last game of their senior season,” Safar concluded. Safar is also active on the premier club side of the game, serving as the Girls Director of Coaching at Challenger Crew Juniors. The name states the obvious, that Challenger is an affiliate of the MLS Columbus Crew.
“The reason why I coach is to help players find something positive in life,” Safar continued. “Whether it is hope, friendship, skill, or confidence. I want them to have success, to see a smile.”
Educating players and parents is a big part of the coaching business. Safar points out that player development is a process, one that requires patience.
“If they stick with it, the sky is the limit,” Safar commented.
He is always looking for opportunities for his players, hoping they get more exposure. But he understands that the cost of premier soccer is prohibitive for many.
“It shouldn’t cost as much as it does today,” Safar said. “It should be inexpensive or even available at no cost.”
Having free soccer would make a difference in the game on a national level and would surely pay dividends for the national team programs in the long term. The academy concept has been mentioned as a solution to this issue and while Safar admits it is a great idea in principle, a lot of kids are still neglected and not seen.
“Until the emphasis is not on money and how we look,” Safar continued, “we will not reach the heart and soul of the sport.”
Safar believes the men’s national team is off to a good start under Jurgen Klinsmann, mainly because he has a style in mind and an idea of where he wants to be.
“As a country, we need to find our own identity and style,” Safar remarked. “In the past we have tried to copy someone else or try to play soccer like every other sport.”
Again he reminds us that it is a process and that we need to be patient and let Klinsmann collect results with time. It takes time to build a program with his own players; he needs time to scout, evaluate, and teach the next generation of American stars.
And those stars will have the challenge of facing off against the world’s best. Safar happens to be a big fan of the Brazilian national team. Their flair and confidence on the ball is well documented.
“Their transitional attack makes other teams look foolish,” Safar said. Players like Ronaldinho, Neymar, Ronaldo, Robinho, and Robert Carlos represent what is right in the South American game, a style that is all about maximizing potential on the ball.
“I tell my players that when they have the ball at their feet, they have complete control. They have what the defender wants.”
Just another lesson from an expert coach who has devoted his life to the beautiful game. It has been a life dedicated to helping his players reach their goals, whatever they may be. Thanks to coaches like Matt Safar and programs like Challenger and Akron Garfield, the sport is growing and thriving in NE Ohio.
Korrio understands it is your passion for coaching kids that drives you. We also know that the less time you spend dealing with administrative, communication and automation hassles, and the more time you spend on the field, the happier you’ll be. And because you play a crucial role in our children’s lives, we want you spending as much time as possible coaching our kids. Korrio offers a modern approach to coaching by allowing new ways to communicate and develop a community on and off the field. Congratulations to the ISN Star of Coaching this month!
Be sure to check out Korrio’s new “Parents Spring Soccer Season Survival Guide”. It has excellent tips on how to prepare for tand thrive in the hectic spring season.