Mike McNeill eats, sleeps and breathes soccer, but his time as a player is almost up.
The goalkeeper for the men’s soccer team is finishing his athletic collegiate career in his junior year, but refuses to let the game go. McNeill, who was accepted into the 2012 NCAA National Career in Sports Forum, which will take place from June 7 to 10 in Indianapolis, has high hopes of becoming a college coach.
As a goalkeeper, McNeill knows firsthand how crucial goals are, which is why he will stop at nothing to score his dream job of becoming a soccer coach. The acceptance into the forum brings him one step closer to this goal. McNeill plans to graduate Fall 2013 and wants to take advantage of anything that will aid him in achieving his goal. The summer conference is the perfect tool to help him further his soccer career, and McNeill is more than happy to utilize it. The forum is meant for student athletes who want to pursue a career in coaching or administration, but it will also give him the chance to network with other people who are exploring careers in intercollegiate athletics.
“Obviously as a kid everyone has an aspiration to be a (professional athlete), but realistically not everyone gets to be it,” McNeill said. “I’m a student of the game. When I’m not watching, I’m studying it. I just enjoy soccer and I want to be around it for the rest of my life.
McNeill’s father, George, saw early signs of his son’s love of soccer. He wasn’t surprised when McNeill expressed his desire to become a soccer coach; he would have been even more shocked if it was anything else. Soccer has been a part of his son’s life for so many years that he felt it was only natural he would want to keep it that way for many years to come.
“As soon as he started playing, he just fell in love with the game and he’s just been obsessed since he was 6 years old,” said George McNeill. “We never had to push him about having to go to practice or travel to a game. I think he’ll make a really good coach because he loves the game so much.”
Former players entering the coaching realm is nothing new, but many times their strengths are overlooked. The criticism on some coaches is their lack of personal experience in the sport. Many coaches emphasize the mindset of preparing for war when inspiring their players for games. The experiences of a coach who has played the game and can relate can lead to greater success inspiring the team because the coach knows both sides of the game.
Experience beyond watching is a critical facet that can strengthen a coach’s resume. The knowledge that McNeill has gathered during his soccer career, playing the game since grade school, will make him even more comfortable transitioning from player to coach.
Since receiving a medical redshirt last season, he has seen the game from a perspective that he was not used to: the sideline. This has helped him see the game from the sideline as a coach. Though frustrating, the experience strengthened McNeill’s passion for both playing and visualizing the game as a leader.
That passion is what pushes him to better his play and his mind. Even when he’s not playing, he studies the game and learns about different plays and leagues in different areas of the world.
“He’s always inquisitive and you can always tell when a player is just there to play or when a player is there that is in tune and wants to know what we’re doing and why,” said Joe Hunter, head soccer coach.
The same ferocity to learn can be seen in his demeanor during game time. Former teammate and aide to the men’s soccer team, Jorge Calderon, has no doubt that McNeill can take on a coaching role because he has so much knowledge and passion for the game. Calderon, who has played two seasons with McNeill at SF State, can remember looking back at his goalkeeper and being motivated to try harder by seeing McNeill’s own intensity to play.
“He’s intense and demands the highest quality of soccer,” said Calderon. “He’s a leader and a good person to look at when things aren’t going so great.”
Calderon believes that the traits that make McNeill a great player will translate to him becoming a great coach. Leadership and motivation is what drives McNeill as a player, but the ability to have those qualities spill over and affect other people is what will separate him from the average coach.
McNeill’s potential to be a great coach is palpable, but Hunter hopes that he learns from his experiences and excels beyond past coaches.
“I would hope he continues to keep his personality in check but would take a little of what I presented and what other coaches that he’s had and blend that into his own style,” Hunter said. “That’s what I think makes a complete coach.”