The Bay Area Breeze is a women’s soccer team that originally played in the Women’s Premier Soccer League and joined the W-League in January of 2013. The USL W-League is a North American women’s developmental organization. The W-League is unique in that it is an open league, giving college players the opportunity to play alongside established international players while maintaining their collegiate eligibility.
Vicki Linton was hired as Head Coach of the Bay Area Breeze in April. Prior to taking the head coach position Linton, who is from Australia, coached the Melbourne Victory in the Australian W-League, ran a National Training Centre program, and was the U17 Australian Women’s National Team Head Coach.
Examiner: What is your soccer playing background?
VL: I started off playing when I was six years old in Australia. All the kids around me one day were signing up for soccer and I went home to my mom and asked if I could sign up to play soccer. All my friends on the street happened to be boys. I didn’t realize that when I went to sign up I was the only girl in the whole club and the whole league. I went from there and played from six years old with the boys until I was in the U13’s and then came across into girls teams. I continued to play and played for an Australian team at the World University Games in 1993. I actually came across to play at the University of Massachusetts in 1995 for one year. It was through an academic exchange program. I wished I could have stayed longer but I had to return home to graduate.
Examiner: You came over through an academic program and were able to play for the University of Massachusetts? What a great opportunity.
VL: I was a walk on. My intention was to find an academic program where I could also play soccer but obviously it was luck really or fortune that allowed me to play. I just knocked on the coaches door a couple of days after arriving at the University. I arrived in January, so I was lucky to have the Spring semester to actually work through eligibility and whether the coach was interested in me.
Examiner: In your youth when you learned soccer through playing on the boy’s soccer clubs did you feel that helped you learn assertiveness? Or did your skills sort of roll forward at it’s own pace?
VL: At the time obviously you don’t know any different. It’s just what it is. Looking back now at my playing days, and as a coach today seeing other players come from that type of environment I think it certainly does help. There are a lot of girls who grew up in those sorts of environments. You’ve got to have certain characteristics and ability to be able to enjoy those environments.
It probably made me a better player and it’s actually a shame that at twelve years old you get kind of pushed across to the girls. But from six to ten years old it really doesn’t matter. Girls and boys play together at young ages now. For myself it was a good experience, it gave me an opportunity to play because at the time there were no girl specific teams where I lived.
Examiner: What shifted you into coaching? Was it related to injury, age, opportunity or all the above?
VL: All of that actually. I was twenty-four, not professional at the time and playing on our National Women’s Soccer League in Australia. At the same time I was involved in a coaching accreditation program and coaching a junior elite training program when the injury occurred and I couldn’t continue playing. After the injury my professional path went straight into coaching. More coaching, I love coaching, and went from there.
Examiner: What are some new challenges/adjustments/duties for you in the role as a professional league head coach?
VL: The Bay Area Breeze is a professional team in a pro/am league.
Examiner: The W-League has two tiers one is a pro/am feeder program and the other is professional?
VL: The W-League itself is a pro/am league. The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), has eight teams and only professional players. The W-League is a separate league, has twenty-something teams across the country and has been around for twenty-five plus years.
Examiner: So the NWSL has only eight teams and are professional players. Are players in the W-League paid to participate?
VL: The Bay Area Breeze is the only professional team in the league so we are allowed to pay our players. Other teams in our league aren’t professional but teams can provide for their players.
Examiner: So what are the new challenges/adjustments/duties for you in this role?
VL: It’s not dissimilar to the coaching duties in the W-League in Australia that I was doing. From an administrative stand point it’s different. Instead of working for a federation sporting body, where the focus is on doing all sorts of things, I work for a privately owned club. Everyone in our organization is fully focused on this one team and getting us out there to perform. I’m really enjoying working in an environment with like minded people that are focused on helping the Bay Area Breeze be the best it can be. It’s quite different working for an owner rather than a federation. It’s a more intimate involvement. It’s a great opportunity. The Bay Area Breeze is a young club in its third year. It has great potential and I’m finding enjoyment in coming in to help guide that vision, giving it substance and direction.
Examiner: The team played a twelve game schedule between the months of May-July. Player’s need to have other jobs to sustain their income. Some player’s balance their professional careers playing in Europe. How far in advance do player’s begin arriving in the Bay Area and begin practicing as a team prior to the W-League schedule beginning?
VL: We have a real mix of player’s with us. They are on a six month contract and live basically on what we provide for them. However that’s six months out of twelve months of the year. For example in the other six months some players may do coaching, or personal training or other sorts of things. During the season, so they maintain those jobs during the off season some players work. Players graduating from college arrive at a different time than players who are already living here in the area. The W-League is really interesting in that some player’s arrive in March and others in May after graduation. This also limits our preparation. The league basically caters to the college players. It’s played in the summer months, and the schedule is completed by July 31st. Because we are professional we don’t have freshmen, sophomores, or juniors but they play on other teams.
Examiner: So all the players on the Bay Area Breeze are out of college?
VL: They may not be full time professional players but they are supporting their ability to play soccer and that’s what the Bay Area Breeze is wanting to provide.
Examiner: With the twelve game schedule and players participating in different leagues abroad, are there team building skills you utilize to bring the team together mentally and physically?
VL: This is my first season coaching the Breeze. This season was a little different and not an ideal environment. I arrived for the job mid-April six weeks before the league started. We didn’t have our squad until the final week before the first game of the season so it was a challenge in regards to doing those sorts of things. We didn’t have lot of prep time. I’m a full time coach so now I have this off season to prepare, organize and put some things in place for next year.
In regards to the challenges and differences from my environment in Australia to here is that the players bring with them different skill sets, mind sets, training from all the different colleges and/or clubs that they were playing in. In Australia it’s quite different in that through our system, certainly as a national team coach, the players all across Australia have gone through similar training so when they get onto a national team there’s a certain expectation of what they know, mentally, physically and how they will play.
So that’s a real interesting question for the Bay Area Breeze in the W-League. There are certain things that you can do in regards to bringing them together through team building. I brought them together through physical training which is a team builder and also we had sessions where people came in and did certain things. Those were great opportunities for team building and setting the culture. Other things which helped with team chemistry and bonding was all the players lived together in one apartment complex. I also started a leadership group which is part of how I was able to implement certain things within the team. The leadership group did a lot of things socially and that actually works pretty well.
Examiner: Mental skills training is a large part of any top tier sport. What types of mental skill routines do player’s engage in pre-game and during games? I assume each player has her own routines. As a coach do you provide this training for players?
VL: There were one or two players that I had individual chats with around goal setting before the season. Then a couple of other players highlighted that this was something they thought they needed to focus on. So I tried to work with those players a bit. We didn’t do this as a whole group. I’ll be honest in Australia it’s something we actually have time to do because I was with them all year round and it was part of the program. But with the time frame you have in the W-League it’s very difficult. I found it very interesting that the player’s came in with different sorts of mind sets and routines. Although different for each player, they all have routines.
A simple example is music in the change room. As a coach the interesting part of this is what type of music, who wants it loud, who wants it lower even though music is often part of a routine. It took the players a little bit of time to feel comfortable with what I was asking them to do pre-game and feeling comfortable around each other to do their own thing to prepare.
Examiner: The team creatively has made itself visible in the community through soccer tournaments, school visits, youth league jamborees and a fun “Soccer Walking in San Francisco” video. What are some upcoming events that the public may be interested in keeping an eye out for?
VL: We hosted a viewing party for the U.S. Women’s National Team game against Mexico and we are looking to do another one on October 20th when the U.S. National Team plays Australia. The last event we met at Kezar Pub which is a venue just across from where we play at Kezar Stadium but the venue is to be announced, check our website for more information.
We are also holding some youth clinics during Winter break and Spring break. Player’s who are living in the bay area make public appearances at soccer clubs, or training days and people interested in this can contact the Bay Area Breeze office. We have ongoing announcements of Bay Area Breeze activities through our website, Facebook, and Twitter.
Examiner: Will the leagues schedule be the same next year or will there be additional games?
VL: The league schedule is fairly set in the months of May-June. The game schedule comes out in December. We are looking to have some Spring games.
Examiner: Do you have any favorite stories, quotes or tips that inspire you as a soccer coach?
VL: I was quite impacted the one year that I played at U. Mass by my soccer coach, Jim Rudy. I was coaching the Boston Renegades in the W-League in 2004 and came back to Massachusetts for an alumni game for the first time. I only played for Jim Rudy for one year, but to see him with the generations of players that still have such affection and admiration for him, and we could all play together because we’d been coached by him was really great. And as a coach that encouraged me. I coach a lot of youth players and then you see them move on and play at higher levels that’s always encouraging as a coach. I feel fortunate to not only coach good players but good people and it’s a privilege to be part of that journey and story.
Examiner: It’s a nice reward for your efforts and providing a vehicle for these players to come through your system for a certain period of time and know that you’ve helped them to reach the next level.
VL: They will get there anyways but that’s why it’s a privilege. I think that’s what’s fun about youth coaching they generally soak it all in and you see them grow up. That’s fun too.
Examiner: Vicki thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule for this interview.