Player-to-coach pathway fuels Ottawa TFC culture

OTFCcoaching

Ottawa TFC player-turned-coach Kaden Engbers. Photo: Dan Plouffe

By Ottawa Sportspage, For Ottawa TFC Soccer Club

Commitment. Passion. Hard work.

Kaden Engbers says the keys to becoming a successful coach are the same ones he learned as a player. And those lessons and attributes are even more applicable in life.

Engbers is a young coaching talent who’s philosophical beyond his years, but the 19-year-old is the perfect example of what Ottawa TFC Soccer Club strives to create in its player-to-coach development pathway.

Engbers started playing soccer with Ottawa TFC’s root club, Cumberland United, at age 3. He joined the competitive ranks and was part of the first group to train in the club’s Academy model, now gaining notoriety nationally.

While waiting to be picked up after practice, Ottawa TFC General Manager Pavel Cancura asked a 12-year-old Engbers to jump in and help out with a younger age group’s session.

Engbers enjoyed coaching right off the bat, so he kept at it. He was inexperienced and made mistakes at first, he recalls, the biggest of which was getting frustrated and yelling too much.

“Eventually, I started realizing it was a bit less about the player and a bit more about the person,” reflects the Cairine Wilson Secondary School grad. “Really, I just want to see young men and women succeed. I think sports is a great tool because of its team dynamic, and you know, you’re not playing video games, you’re actually doing something productive for both your physical and mental health.

“So for me, the most important thing as a coach is that I care for them as people, not just as players. I enjoy watching them grow.”

Engbers’ story isn’t the only one of its kind at Ottawa TFC. Club Technical Director Vladan Vrsecky estimates that 80% of Ottawa TFC’s coaches are “homegrown” products.

“Our players are aware of our values, and values are very big in our club,” Vrsecky underlines. “We try to choose some potential leaders who can start coaching the U5-6s, then youth teams, then maybe our Academy and beyond. It’s a really great way for them to share their passion.”

That’s certainly true for Engbers, who’s chosen to focus on coaching over playing.

“You’re only going to have so long a career as a player before your body kind of stops doing the same things it used to,” explains Engbers, who still suits up for Ottawa TFC’s men’s premier team while studying management at the University of Ottawa.

“But as a coach, once you develop those skills, you should never lose them, and you can just keep building on them,” he adds. “I got pulled in at first, but I fell in love with coaching immediately, and it’s been my passion ever since.”

TFC link further elevates club’s Coach Development Program

Engbers’ first formal step to becoming a coach was attending a 2-day course to get his initial licence. Ongoing education was crucial within the club’s Coach Development Program – a model into which the club has invested a lot of energy in recent years. The CDP includes classroom and on-field clinics, often directed by Cancura or Vrsecky, or high-level coaches from Ottawa TFC’s parent Toronto FC Academy, who visit several times each season.

Matched up with a more experienced counterpart, young coaches receive mentorship from a strong group of Ottawa TFC coaches who are collectively “the best in the province, if not Canada – bar none, I would say,” signals Engbers, who now coaches a U11 group and leads Ottawa TFC’s grassroots program (U4-U7). “All of them care so much, which just creates a culture here that you want to be a part of.”

That’s music to the ears of Vrsecky.

“It’s been really amazing to see this new generation of coaches emerge, to watch them go from being little players to now, OK wow, they are the leaders,” indicates the Czech-raised coach who’s been in Ottawa for six years. “We’re very proud of the coaches we have, though of course we’re always working to get even better.”

 

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