Monday, November 22, 2021
Coach Lynden Smithson has served as a prosecutor for the City of Spokane for 19 years, but his work on the sidelines has been his most satisfying service in the community.
“Some of the most gratifying times in my life have come from coaching. I have been asked to be a referral on college and job applications, I have been invited to high school graduations and I have received letters from players telling me that the things we did on the field helped them become successful young men.”
That’s quite a statement. And it comes from an individual whose coaching inspiration comes from a background in which he initially played the game amidst inexperienced coaches before reaching the collegiate level.
“When I grew up my coaches had very little experience with soccer. They did their best and provided outlets for us to play and work on the game, but the tactical knowledge was lacking. I played in college and realized that I was surviving on my physical traits and that my soccer knowledge was not as great as the players around me. Other players had learned things in junior high and high school that I was introduced to in college. As I gained experience I got better but I realized that I would have been a much better player entering college if I had better coaching while growing up.”
Despite that, Smithson was earned a spot with Division I San Diego State, where he had some great experiences, including some training sessions with USMNT legend Eric Wynalda.
“He was living in LA and would come down on occasion and practice with us when he didn’t have anything going on with the USMNT. A couple years later he headed to Germany and played in the Bundesliga.”
Although it was a return to his native hometown, the Tacoma product from Bellarmine Prep would later return to western Washington after his junior year, ending his playing career to attend the University of Washington and begin a professional career path that included a law degree.
But, that soccer passion was still there.
“I decided after law school that I wanted to coach and give younger players a better foundation than I had growing up. I pursued coaching licenses to ensure that what I am teaching has a foundation in the game and is beneficial. I worked my way through the D and C courses and received the B license in 2009.
“My career has kept me from coaching full time but if I ever step away from the law, I would like to pursue a position as a coaching director and I might chase that A license,” he said with a smile.
“I have coached for about 20 years now, I’ve coached boys from U6 to U18 premier with several clubs in Spokane, but I have been with the Sounders for three years.”
In addition to his personal youth soccer experience, Smithson also took applies lessons he has learned from his off-the-field experiences for his coaching.
“The biggest carryover from my professional life to coaching is that hard work will pay off in the end. I try to push the players to be better every practice. We should gain skill and ability from each practice. College and Law School were difficult at times, it was more of a marathon than a sprint, it was much like a soccer match. There were lots of small successes and some failures along the way, but by working hard I accomplished my goals. I try to instill this in my players.”
And it has worked.
“Players that I have coached in the past are adults now and it is humbling to see what they have accomplished. Most of them have gone on to pursue professional degrees and some have returned to coach the game they love. I have coached against former players on many occasions now. I have had many players tell me that what they learned on the pitch they put to use in the classroom to get through college and the same work ethic they have put into their job.”
Smithson also applies a lesson learned from one of his teammates in high school, a son of a former Argentina international and professional player that was a star on his team.
“One of my coaching philosophies is that kids need time to be kids. I do not believe that the only way for a kid to be successful in soccer is to play year-round. I believe kids should take some time away from the game to recharge and find their passion for the game.
“I developed this philosophy after running into a high school teammate in college. He was a year younger than me but he was one of the best players I played with in high school. My friend had great technical abilities but was also the smartest person, tactically, on our team. I thought for sure he would be playing at a Division I team in college. I happened to run into him about four years after high school, and he told me he stopped playing after high school because he was burned out.
“He had played year-round for about six years by the time he graduated and the expectations to go on and play at a higher level had gotten to him. Once he became an adult and no one could compel him to play, he just walked away from the game. He started playing for the local community college after a couple years out of high school.
“I was totally surprised to learn all of this. My experience had been totally different and I was in love with the game by the time I graduated high school. I was amazed that someone who had the abilities of my friend wouldn’t pursue the game after high school.
“Once I started coaching, I told myself I would never allow one of my players to reach that point where the game became a chore or that they were no longer hungry for the game. Every player is different and some will play the game every day from a young age, but there needs to be the opportunity for players to take time away from the game but come back to the team and feel welcome.”
And his desire to coaching continues unabated.
“I just get my inspiration from the players progressing and getting better. I firmly believe in developing players and keep competition in perspective. Winning is great for the parents but if some players are left out of the equation, just to win games, development suffers and that’s not acceptable.
“I tell the players that it takes our whole team to win and I try to instill a confidence in the player and his abilities but also a confidence in each other’s abilities. The players need to rely on each other and work hard for the other players on the team. Our current team has seen great strides over the past year and we rely on each other to work hard in practices and in games.
“Coaching gives me a sense of accomplishment and I enjoy passing on my knowledge to the players. I enjoy presenting concepts that are new to the players then working to better ourselves and use the concepts in games. I like seeing the progression of players and the team as a whole. Hearing the players start to adopt the language of the new concepts as the concepts start to take hold helps affirm that we are on the right track.”
And if coaching was not enough to fulfil his passion, he continues to also still play.
“I loved the camaraderie of college soccer but my lifelong friends have been developed on teams here in Spokane as an adult. I have played men’s and co-ed soccer since law school. The co-ed teams I have been on have been some of the best times in my life. We have traveled to Las Vegas, Seattle and Yakima to play in tournaments.
“Seeing families of my friends grow over the years and coaching the kids of my good friends is very fulfilling. Soccer has given me a close knit group of friends but also a community to belong to. Soccer has also given me the drive to be successful in life.”
Despite a busy professional life and a full slate of coaching and playing soccer Smithson still does get out for a bit of fun away from the pitch. You would think maybe trips down to his home state would be in order – especially this time of year, – but instead it is off to the snow.
“My family and I recreate outdoors a lot, we ski and snowshoe in the winter. We hike in the summer and go into the woods to camp and ride side-by-sides.”
I think it is safe to say that Smithson is now fully a Spokanite and will be here developing players for many years to come.