Monday, November 15
Called upon by his children and their friends in 1989 to coach their team, Dan Raczykowski took it upon himself to learn how to coach the game to provide those kids with the best possible experience he could. Thirty years and many lessons later he’s still on the sideline providing that guidance for the youngest out there just stepping on the pitch.
“I started coaching in 1989 when my older kids wanted to play soccer and we could not find any coaches in Cheney willing to do it. I was instantly nominated by my kids and their friends to do so.”
That has led to quite the adventure.
“I did not know anything about soccer so I did what any dad in this predicament would do, I started asking for help. Now, the internet wasn’t really around much in those days so I had to check out books from the library and watch games on tv and take notes.
“To say we had a great team would be stretching it. We had a team that was like sponges absorbing everything that I could come up with from reading and the tv. I heard about a coaches training clinic being sponsored by a guy by the name of Manny (Faridnia) and after doing a thorough background check on him I decided that yes he knew way more about soccer then I did,” he said with a chuckle.
“So I signed up and took several training classes through him until I finally got my E-license and then D license through him and his program sponsored by Shadow (now Sounders). I admired Manny for what he had accomplished with the Shadow program, giving kids an opportunity to play at the next level. With Manny’s training and advice I started the first Premier club in Cheney called the Cheney Flash, which went undefeated for five years. When I felt like I could not give much more to the kids I turned them over to the Shadow organization to a new guy named Kevin Moon. Yes, he was new to the program at one time. Kevin had a gift with coaching the girls that has served him well over the years. Later on we merged with Cheney Storm.”
Obviously, coaching soccer was not Raczykowski’s full-time job, and he has been in and out of the coaching ranks off and on over the years and taken on teaching several sports. In those early coaching years though, his work did provide a unique learning opportunity.
“In the early 90’s my work took me overseas where I was working with a company called TYCO to distribute our products we manufactured. While working with one of their companies in Great Yarmouth, England I was invited to go to the tryouts for the Great Yarmouth men’s professional team after work so decided to go since I had nothing else planned and watch and see if I could pick up on anything that I could bring back to my girl’s team.
“It ended up that several players were out sick so I was asked if I wanted to play. I was a bit intimidated as I had only played with my U12 girl’s team. I did my best that night and was asked to come back the following night. This went on for several days, and I learned so much from this experience and decided to come back to reality – home – and teach the kids what I had learned. This was the start for my passion for the game of soccer.”
That has been a constant passion for him, along with basketball and baseball. That’s something he has also incorporated into his coaching style.
“I also really like basketball and found that the two sports have many similarities that help me coach both sports. For instance, I teach diamonds, triangle positioning and give-and-gos, all of which create plays both on offense and defense. Defense is similar in that at certain times we press really hard and use body positioning to push the offensive player out to the outside lines to form traps or double teaming. Also at times we back off to give room for them to make a commitment and then close the gap. Defensive body positioning is basically the same wide stance and moving side to side and forwards and backwards. Passing is basically the same, also we go out wide to the side lines and cross over to the opposite side or do close give-and-gos.
“I feel pretty confident that if a player can play soccer they can definitely play basketball. Baseball doesn’t lend much to soccer or basketball but we play it just for fun.”
Coaching is not just a sideline occupation though, according to Raczykowski, who says that many of the philosophies crossover to the workplace as well. As the COO of Unifire, a locally-based company that provides equipment and management consulting to first responder and military organizations, he uses teamwork and leadership lessons on a continual basis.
“Everything I teach on the field is almost a direct result of my work and vice versa. And this is what I try to put in my kids’ heads. What we do on the field leads to how successful we are in life, no matter what career paths we choose.
“I have had the honor of working with the world’s most elite soldiers, police officers and firefighters for almost 40 years doing training and this is how my company went from starting in a 4×8 foot closet to holding over 13 Billion dollars in government contracts before selling and going public two years ago.
“I was the president of our company for 37 years and I chose to be the COO when we sold so that I could spend more time teaching and coaching. I teach our staff that with hard work comes rewards and what we do with those rewards is up to us. We work as a team utilizing each person’s strengths and recognizing our weaknesses and complimenting them with someone with strength in those areas. As a team we are all on the same page we can move mountains but as individuals we will have many hurdles to overcome.”
And having educated himself on coaching, Raczykowski does go back to one of those books he has discovered to help instill life lessons for his young players.
“Every child that joins my team gets a book called What It Takes to be Number One by Vince Lombardi. There are so many life lessons in this book that will help them dig in deep and fight for what they want in life and on the field. Lombardi has a saying “You have to be smart to be number one in any business.” And another one I like is “running a football team is no different than running any other kind of organization – an army, a political party or a business. The principals are the same. The object is to win – to beat the other guy.” And also, “winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.”
And though he may not be there when these life lessons come into play as these youngsters under his tutelage grow into adults and begin applying those lessons to everyday life, he is enjoying the early stages of how those building blocks are paying off on the field.
“I love to see the kids build confidence in their abilities and watch their faces when they actually figure out that ‘wow I really can do this and I am really good at this!’
“I believe that given the right encouragement and training we can change the outcome of many kids’ lives whether that’s in sports or day-to-day activities or interactions with others. All kids develop at different stages/ages. A player that might not be a superstar today may indeed ay be one tomorrow. So keeping things fun and getting them to want to learn the game and staying with it long-term I have found gets the best results overall.
“Some of my rules when they hit the field are only positive comments to each other are allowed and we work as a team not individuals. Within a few minutes I get them to forget about the stress of the day earlier and concentrate on just having fun learning the game. Watching them develop a positive mind set is extremely rewarding for me.”
And now that he has a game plan for coaching youth soccer, Raczykowski is also trying to create one for himself away from the pitch in one of his other passions… hunting and fishing. Animal behavior, though, is proving to be a little trickier to manage.
“I am an avid hunter and fisherman and love to camp and hike. I hate it when I am not successful hunting or fishing, which makes me want to work that much harder and figure it out. I look at it as a problem that just needs to be solved, that might mean spending more time finding them or figuring out their patterns etc. I have in my head I expect to win.”
I guess a few more trips to the library are in order… though now that the internet is more widely available – YouTube.