Gary Williams knew very little about soccer when he began is coaching career over 25 years ago. Now as the head coach of the Fort Worth Youth Soccer Association Bulldogs (FWYSA), he finds himself at the center of a very successful team.
It all began when he inadvertently volunteered to be the head coach of his eldest son’s youth soccer team. Williams told the organizers that he might help with coaching his son’s team, despite his inexperience. That was all they needed to hear to give him the job.
“I looked over at the guy, and glared at him thinking, ‘Oh, you son of a gun,’” Williams recalled. “These five-year-olds are all looking up at me, and now … I guess you got your coach.”
The FWYSA has over 200 recreational and select teams playing today. The Bulldogs, who currently play for the Division I U10 (under 10 years old) Recreational League, were undefeated this year going into the North Texas Soccer Tournament of Champions.
The Tournament of Champions was held the second weekend of December and was cancelled after a few games, due to rain and cold weather. The Bulldogs won one game and lost one game, but did not have the opportunity to win overall.
In the regular season, they have outscored their opponents 76 to 2, maintaining this level of dominance for five straight seasons. The Bulldogs didn’t even miss a beat when as a U8 team they moved up one age group to play U9 teams. They still won – to the tune of five straight championships.
Williams’ coaching style is unique, in that he teaches his players the details, the ins-and-outs of the game, rather than just the basics.
“He’s more of an educator than a coach,” said Michael Sanchez, father to one of the Bulldogs.
“You’re educating these players to be players, but not necessarily to play soccer. And he teaches them, not just fundamentals, but also technique, tactics, and formation.”
Despite his humble beginnings, Williams went on to learn the intricacies of coaching through his experiences at coaching schools in Fort Worth and Dallas. From there, he got a coaching job at Paschal High, leading the girls’ team from 1996 to 1998.
“I left Paschal with a team that was 21 and 2, and fifth-ranked in the state,” Williams said.
He credits much of his coaching knowledge to Oscar Burciaga and Alex Pantarotto, two Argentinean players from the University of North Texas, who encouraged him to continue coaching early in his career. One of the most important things he took away from them was what American soccer players needed to focus on to be their best: technique.
“They were talking about, in the US Soccer Federation, they have their four pillars: technique, tactics, fitness and psychology,” he recalled. “What they said was … ‘We want to try to reorient the four pillars of soccer for American players: technique, technique, technique and technique.’ And, I took that to heart.”
Through this coaching philosophy Williams and the Bulldogs have achieved monumental success. He has been coaching boys like his own son, Cole, and Sanchez’s son, Nolan, since they were four years old; and leading them to win games and championships. He has even parlayed his recreational team players into an academy team, the Strikers, that hopes to qualify for the North Dallas Chamber of Commerce Association Classic League – one of the top academy leagues in the country. He is confident in his players, because he knows the talent he has.
“This was a blessing of players, because the reality is, you’re no better than your group of players,” Williams said. “They need good coaching, but you have to have good athletes, too.”
Williams knows that he’s not only teaching his players the way of the game, but also important life lessons.
“I’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way,” he said. “They have to do with learning that there’s always teammates in life, that hard work pays off, that there are always rule-keepers, there are always rules, there are always opponents, and that one can’t really get along without the other.”