Jim Copenhaver

Ancient History

I played soccer age 5 thru age 18 in the suburbs of Seattle.  That was back in the seventies when the Seattle Sounders were a big draw in the Seattle area.  I attended many professional games and still remember meeting many of the players.  My parents knew nothing of the game back in those days.  I was coached by a friend’s father who was from Poland and knew the game.

At age 12, I made a select team that was composed of players from the 12 teams that made up our local league.  We played against similar teams all around the state and we won the Washington State U-12 Championship in 1974!  I still have my trophy.

I continued playing through HS and was Captain of my HS team my Junior and Senior years.  I played center midfield. I also had a 4.0 GPA and high precollege test scores and had my sights on Medical School.  I applied and was accepted to the University of Washington in Seattle, specifically into their prestigious Honors Program, which was only offered to 50 students out of 6000 incoming freshman.  This was exactly what I had been shooting for academically.  I was very excited!

The bad news about this choice was that the University of Washington Men’s Varsity Soccer finished ranked 18 in the nation the previous fall and only lost two seniors to graduation.  They offered scholarships for those two positions to two high profile seniors from the Seattle area both of whom I played with in my younger days.  At walk-on try outs, over 130 players attended.  I was the last walk-on player cut.  I never considered the possibility of not making the team until it happened. No walk-ons made the team that season.  The team finished ranked in the top ten that year.  That was the end of playing competitive soccer for me.

Adult Soccer 

I did not play soccer again until age 40.  My son was 5 and we enrolled him into a local youth program. I was appalled by the lack of knowledge with the parent that had volunteered to coach his team.  I started coaching the next season and met another coach who was about my age who saw my touch and technique and asked if I wanted to join his over 30 Men’s team.  I did and loved it. I played every Thursday night for the next 11 years until I moved from Seattle to New England in 2013.

Coaching Soccer

Soon after starting coaching my son’s teams in 2003, I began attending our local soccer club meetings and found a few soccer knowledgeable adults but mostly just parents who were trying hard.  I took my first E License coaching course in 2005, which was the same year I was voted in as the President of our local Soccer Club.  We had about 150 players at the time.  I have taken the E License course two additional times with new groups of new coaches.

Immediately upon become the Club President I began developing relationships with neighboring soccer clubs including attending their monthly meetings.  Soon we created an alliance and started a new league to help grow local soccer.  We also created a formal association within Washington State and I also became President of that entity in 2007 as well as our WISL League Commissioner.  I remained in those positions until my departure in 2013. 

Within two years of creating our association, the number of players registered to play soccer more than doubled. Our league had about 1000 kids registered and was a major positive step in the development of youth soccer in our communities.  We wrote operating documents, official leagues rules, online schedules and standing, and a disciplinary committee.  That youth league continues to run strong today.

As you can’t run a league without referees, I completed a Grade 8 referee course in 2007 and became licensed in Washington State so that I could proctor young referees.  I took the course again in 2010 as a refresher.  At least 20 boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 18 took and passed that exam during my time as league commissioner.

As a primary organizer of youth soccer within our association I invested myself in learning about teaching, as I already had a good concept of soccer.  I was particularly taken by the methods used to develop Grand Master Chess champions in 10-12 year olds.  I consider soccer to offer the same level of cognitive challenge as chess yet in the soccer domain we focused so heavily on skills and speed but nobody was really writing about the cognitive and creative development.  

In developmental chess programs the outcome of each match is of little importance, what matters is the ability of the teacher to observe the decision-making abilities of the student and then use those observations to set up instructional activities specifically designed to improve cognitive skills. This process repeats and cognitive skills improve very fast.  Thus, accelerated cognitive development can run almost completely independent of a win/lose record.  Since the very day I wrapped my brain around this concept, I no longer pay much attention to winning or losing in developmental soccer.

This principle of teaching has been integrated into my coaching philosophy as well integrated into the entire soccer club culture I created.  Between 2003-2013, I trained over 50 teams or groups of players.  This experience ranged from 4-5 year olds to U-19 boys select. The local HS boys and girls teams went from barely scoring in games to consistent qualification for state competitions.  Soccer also rose to the most played sport in the HS with nearly 20% of the total student body playing HS soccer!

It was my use of a written and published developmental curriculum to unity teaching across teams and ages that allowed our local community players to quickly move beyond the skills of the players in the neighboring communities.  The impact of player skill development over time was significant with multiple players in the club moving on from HS to college soccer.  Six months after moving away from that community, I was inducted into the local HS Coaches Hall of Fame (despite never coaching a HS team!).

Wolfeboro Youth Soccer

When I arrived in Wolfeboro in the fall of 2013, I found a community youth soccer program that was recreational based with a few adults attempting to create more ‘advanced’ training in the older players through Seacoast Mountaineers.  These attempts were too isolated and limited in focus to amount to a significant shift in soccer player development in the community.  Most kids were being taught by parents that had little idea on what to teach, let alone how to teach it.  Most were teaching the wrong stuff but fortunately they were not teaching it well! 

In the winter of 2013, I presented a proposal to the local Wolfeboro Parks and Rec Department to start training kids in larger groups and giving parent volunteers more resources and assistance in teaching the fundamental principles of soccer.  In short, I wrote a developmental curriculum for the Wolfeboro community for U-6 thru U-12.  After considerable debate they cautiously agreed to make the change.  Thus, youth soccer in the Wolfeboro community transitioned from a recreational program to a developmental program in the fall of 2014.  We started offering spring soccer in the spring of 2015.

I also attended several Mt Washington Valley Soccer Club meetings and spoke with Cory Halverson from revsunited on the phone several times back in those days because I knew within 1-2 years the quality of play would improve in Wolfeboro and be on par with neighboring community club soccer.  We played an occasional friendly in 2014 and 2015 to see how well we were doing at catching up. 

The number of Wolfeboro youth players that sign up to play soccer in the fall has remained constant since I arrived to town.  Parks and Rec usually get about 60 U-6 players, 60-70 U-8 players, and about 60 U10/12 players.  The transition from recreational to developmental in 2014 had little impact on fall registration numbers.  

We introduced spring soccer in 2015 and registered about 45.  For spring 2016 we had about 60, and this spring we jumped to 85.  

Fall 2016 was the first season we created a formal traveling soccer team (U-12) and participated in NHSL play since adopting a developmental curriculum.  As Wolfeboro Parks and Rec is not administratively recognized by NHSL, revsunited in Alton agreed to create our Wolfeboro team in their registration software and allow local players to register and be rostered on this team.  This activity was very well received by players and families.  

For spring 2017, we have created a U-10 and a U-12 traveling team.  For fall 2017 we were planning to create U-10 and U-12 traveling teams for boys and girls.  We were planning to run them through revsunited.  The creation of Seacoast United North based out of the Nick will impact this plan.

My Coaching Philosophy

I want kids to have fun playing soccer and to be interested enough to want to learn to play it better.  I teach by asking questions and allowing experimentation to reveal potential answers.  This method seems to get kids to practice consistently and gets them engaged in the learning process.

The cognitive side of soccer is often neglected from training in favor of technical and tactical repetition and speed of play.  The ability to recognize and exploit vulnerabilities of the opposing team, the ability to make adjustments to their strengths, and the ability to play with creativity and deception is just some of the cognitive skills that can be developed.  Since the brain cannot solve a problem it does not see, vision skills are integrated into my training sessions.  Small sided soccer is excellent at allowing young players to see the problems more clearly and more frequently so that the learning process is greatly accelerated.

To me, learning the game of soccer is an exciting journey of exploration with each new chapter becoming more interesting and engaging then the one before.  Learning is fun and challenging for kids when presented in the right way.  Creative play is easy to kill when performance is too highly prized at the young ages.  

I focus on developing players that are happy on the soccer field and look forward to every opportunity to play.  The style of play is technically sound with ball movement faster than opposing teams are comfort playing.  1v1 skills are superior on both sides of the ball.  All players play all positions in just about every game.  Vision skills are well developed ready for developing brains to crunch all that data.