Wednesday, November 1, 2023
A coach in the club for many years now Mike Pellicio holds two completely different positions as a director in the Sounders Junior Program and head coach of the Men’s First Team. Pellicio’s focus centers on the similarities, however, between the two and is the model for his role as a grassroots coaching director in the region as well.
A native of San Diego Pellicio came to the northwest via the Sandpoint Strikers and later joined the Spokane Sounders staff, coaching the Shadow Men’s First Team and serving as the Boys Director. After a brief respite in which he began his pursuit of a career in teaching he has returned to the club in the new dual role because of his internal draw to the game and the sideline.
“With most competitive soccer players, when you stop playing, there’s a huge void in your life. I’m always going to be connected to soccer, as a player, fan, whatever. But coaching certainly drew me in early on. I had and continue to have a fascination with tactics in the game. How themes come and go, roles evolve, and most all who is unwilling to adapt. That’s always been so interesting to me. There was an invisible hand guiding me toward coaching as my time as a competitive player was coming to an end, for sure.
“The tactics may have pulled me in, but at this point it’s the culture and relationships that continues to give me so much enjoyment. I really love seeing teams come together and form. I love watching players improve and overcome obstacles. The whole process, whether it’s as individual players or as teams, is so much fun to be a part of.”
And by working at the beginning of the soccer pathway and the start of the post-youth career path Pellicio gets to experience that process at two drastically different points of life.
“Well, obviously the age is quite different. So the type of coach behavior will change from session-to-session, since we’re talking about tying shoes and locking ankles in SJP and then talking about pressure cues and lines of confrontation with the first team.
“But all players actually want and need the same thing. They need to enjoy themselves, they need to improve, and they need to feel that their coaches care. So, in those senses, players from either program are going to keep coming back or decide against coming back for the exact same reasons, which I find to be pretty neat.”
And the reactions of the players are primarily where he draws his inspiration from.
“Really basic things. Players improving. Players having fun in training. Those things don’t get old.
“It would be fun to say Johann Cruyff or Sir Alex Ferguson, but the truth is it’s just the smiles of players achieving what they’re hoping to achieve, not quitting at the earliest hurdle, and being productive members of a team.”
That attitude combined with his knowledge of the game tactically has also led him down the path as a coaching instructor with US Soccer, taking on the role of a grassroots coaching educator for the inland northwest.
“I was asked to go through the steps to become a US Soccer educator probably because I was simply around enough soccer that they figured they’d just formally put me to work educating other coaches. I don’t know how I got the opportunity but it’s a good fit for me, specifically in our community.
“The coach educator role comes in handy big time with the SJP coaches, since we have to run a coherent program with everybody pulling in the same direction. We have to have a game model, a style of play, a philosophy, otherwise it’s just a bunch of adults telling kids to boot it somewhere.”
Guiding individuals into a shared direction and plan is something that is heightened even more as the Shadow MFT coach as he has to bring college players and top youth prospects from numerous programs around the region and beyond – some of whom did not play in the club and have experienced different playing philosophies – together in the shortest of time frames into a team.
And he has found success doing so. This past year the squad won the Evergreen Premier League (EPLWA). He previously coached the Shadow MFT in 2018 and 2019, taking the team from a fourth place 2017 NPSL Northwest finish to a division championship in 2018. He was recognized as the Northwest Coach of the Year for his efforts.
“Man, the men’s first team is such a fun program. It’s enjoyable on a competitive side, because outside of the USL-2 teams, it’s the best amateur men’s team in the northwest. And the access that our best youth players have to the environment is invaluable. If you’re a top player in Spokane and you want to measure yourself, go ahead. It’s right there. That’s a unique feature for youth players in a market of our size.
“I also feel so happy that the MFT allows me to remain a part of the lives of some of these players into the ages where young men need a little guidance, friendship, and some people who actually care about them in their lives. That player-coach relationship often ends when players move on from their youth careers and the program allows for me to keep that bond with them in those vital years where they’re just figuring out who they want to be in life.”
And if coaching young soccer kids, young adult players and first-time coaches was not enough he also works as a teacher during the day, currently serving as a substitute in the region.
“Teaching and coaching are similar and maybe even the same, once you get down to the details. I already said it before, but it needs repeating: caring about your players or students is irreplaceable. I’d take a coach or teacher who cares every time over one who isn’t invested.”
When he is not doing some form of teaching or coaching Pellicio enjoys working on himself and enjoying music. Though you will probably catch him quite often taking in local college games as he follows the careers of his former players.
“I enjoy fitness. Mostly strength and conditioning. I’ve strangely kept it separate from soccer at this point, which is probably good for me in terms of balance.
“I also love hip hop music. I’m actually going to see Nas, Wu Tang, and De La Soul this week with a friend who was my teammate in recreational soccer when we were ten years old. And the men’s first team road trips are dominated by different generations of hip hop being shared in the vans, so there’s some overlap there, definitely.”