Photo by Sounders FC U23
To Sounders FC U23 Head Coach and General Manager Darren Sawatzky, there is a clear difference between "coaching" and "educating" players. Sawatzky is adamant that the latter is more important, as it emphasizes the development of the player instead of the success of the team.
Sawatzky has a long history of coaching and competing in the Northwest. After playing for the Seattle Sounders in the USL, he joined the team's coaching staff in 2006. He has attained a USSF A coaching license, and recently finished the training for a Elite Formation Coaching License, which required the completion of a 16-month development course.
"We are truly a player development platform here with the Sounders U23," Sawatzky said. "I finished and passed the French Formation License last year, and what I learned through that two-year process is that everything before the professional game is about educating and preparing players for the next level.
"In the U.S., for the most part, we coach rather than educate at young ages, and this has to change for us to catch the rest of the world in player development. As Americans, we win sometimes when we shouldn't based on our mentality. That should never end, but making sure the education on how to play the game at young ages is in place is so important. We cannot sacrifice the education of the player for winning, but anyone that says developing players has nothing to do with winning, shouldn't be competing at sport. We can do both in the U.S., and once the majority of coaching in our country goes this direction, we will win at the highest levels."
DeAndre Yedlin, Jordan Morris and Jonathan Campbell are just a few of the players who have played and developed under Sawatzky. Overall, over the past four seasons, more than 45 players from the Sounders U23 program have signed professional contracts. Watching these players improve under him and make the jump to the next level is what drives Sawatzky to continue coaching.
"I have been educating and coaching for a long time, so I have players playing in all leagues across the U.S. and around the world," Sawatzky said. "Talking to these players about life and the game of soccer as they grow up as friends makes the process meaningful and fun. With the U23s, these players are college-age kids eating Top Ramen and fighting for gas money, you really get to see who they are. When they make it to Sunderland in the EPL, or with Sounders FC in MLS, or Cincinnati in the USL, they recall the struggle here and appreciate it. That is the reward.
"Players need to train and compete to get to the professional game," Sawatzky added, "and trying to jump straight from youth and college soccer to the highest level does not work in most cases. Players need repetitions and competition and incremental levels. The PDL is great for this."
Sawatzky has led the Sounders U23 team since 2012, but his duties and responsibilities do not stop there. Sawatzky is the general manager of the Sounders Women, and he also is the head coach of Major Indoor Soccer League side Tacoma Stars.
"Indoor soccer is a completely different game. It is exciting and entertaining," Sawatzky said. "The players that play the indoor game refine their technical abilities, and their speed of thought and their speed of execution under pressure grows at an incredible rate. I think Jamael Cox from Burlingame [Dragons FC] and Derek Johnson from the Sounders U23 really benefit from the indoor experience."
While Johnson has improved from his time with the Stars, Sawatzky thinks there are a handful of players on the current Sounders U23 side who can take their game to the next level. Those players include Guillermo Delgado, Jeff Caldwell and Paul Christensen, among others. He is eager to watch each and every one of his own "move up the ladder."
"Our goal with the Sounders U23 is to move players on and win games in that order," Sawatzky said. "Our training is designed for players and groups of players to get them ready at the positions they play through a particular philosophy and methodology.
"We have a couple Western Conference Championships in the past few years, but watching the players excel with the U.S. national team, in MLS and abroad are really the moments we enjoy the most. Our job is to help them move on, so when they do, it is great to watch them."