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by Frank MacDonald
Our Family Tree, Ever Growing
Well over 50 years since he first began teaching the game, Mike Ryan’s force remains with us. Whenever you see practices with kids playing in threes, there’s a good chance that coach is one of the branches of a mighty ol’ oak known as Washington’s coaching tree.
It’s entirely possible that players and parents nowadays will be unaware of Ryan or much else about our state’s youth soccer history. But the fact remains that Ryan and other forefathers still rate as a strong influence.
Take Reece Olney, for instance. Olney played for Ryan on the state U23s back in the late 80s. Olney also played for another Ryan disciple, Debbie Barlow. Now in his 23rd year as coach of the University of Puget Sound men’s team, Olney has been using Ryan exercises for tactical instruction all the while, and scores of former Loggers are now coaching in the youth and high school ranks, and even some of their players are now coaching. You can do the math.
“It’s the common thread,” Olney says of those methods and drills, “that impacted hundreds if not thousands of players, stuff that’s stuck with me and it sticks with others, too.”
Immigrants Knew Best
When Washington Youth Soccer first planted its flag in 1966, few native-born adults of the state knew much about soccer, let alone could teach it. Those who were most steeped in the sport came from abroad, such as Ryan, who hailed from Dublin.
“Mike knew the game; he was an early expert and he played something like second division in Ireland,” remembers Barlow. “He started with the US Soccer coaching schools early on, and had his B license by the time he coached me.”
Barlow first crossed paths with Ryan on the University of Washington campus in 1974. He was the UW varsity men’s coach and she was organizing a women’s club program. Barlow would go on to play 13 years for Ryan, winning several national adult amateur championships.
Through her own USSF schooling, Northwest Soccer Camp and other activities, Barlow absorbed a great deal of knowledge over the years. She would coach both the boys and girls at Enumclaw High School and, later, other premier and school teams. All along the way she would regularly channel her inner Ryan, who was preaching tiki-taka long before Barcelona was perfecting it.
Be Like Mike
“Tactically, I coached a lot like Mike,” offers Barlow. “I believe in possession and passing. I never like wild kicking, Hail Mary stuff where you lob it down there and hope for the best.”
“I would say Deb was highly influenced by Mike Ryan,” confirms Olney. “Even though the game has evolved and changed, I still use his principles. I laugh because we still laugh about Mike telling us (both Barlow and Olney) to go ‘play in trees,’” the resulting effect of Ryan’s brogue on ‘threes.’
While Ryan was dispensing his know-how to Barlow on Montlake, much the same was happening on playfields around the cities. The post-World War II influx of immigrants was evident in many industries, but it was clearly having an effect in soccer’s development.
A Culture of Caring
In Burien, Dutch-born Hans Klein was volunteering as coach to his twin boys, John and Peter, and their friends. Among them was Peter Fewing, then just a seedling of today’s established Seattle University coach.
“Hans was a really kind, good-hearted guy who was committed to our team,” recalls Fewing.
Klein would approach co-workers at Pan Am Airlines for donations to team gear and uniforms. He would issue personal reports to each player at the end of each season (Fewing still has his) and host postseason banquets. And he was faithful, coaching the team in some capacity or another for 17 years, until Fewing was through college.
“I was very lucky; he was my first coach,” states Fewing. “He thought about every player on the team. He wanted us to play good soccer. He was big on sportsmanship. He did things right.”
More than drills and pregame pep talks, more than wins and losses, Fewing says Klein created a family atmosphere, of closeness and playing for one another. That’s foundational at Seattle U., where Fewing has won national championships at the NAIA and Division II levels, and is now coming off two tournament advancements at the Division I level.
“We’re creating a culture where there’s a strong brotherhood,” shares Fewing, “and I’m often talking to guys about both what the game can do for them, and what they are going to do for the game later on.”
Matt Potter was part of the Seattle U. resurgence, first as a key player for Fewing, then a summer camp instructor and later as an assistant. Potter has now returned to his hometown, Pasco, to coach the high school varsity.
Much of what Potter imparts at Pasco is passed down from Fewing.
For instance: “His pursuit of excellence in everything you,” says Potter. “We’re chasing excellence. At Pasco we talk about being excellent students and what ties it all together is being great humane, good people.”
Alumni are regulars at practices and games, much as they are for the Redhawks. At Seattle U. the seniors, not the freshmen, carry the gear, pick up trash and generally set the tone. That goes double for Pasco.
“You create that family atmosphere, you create a culture, an environment of doing it right and creating great things,” he notes, not knowingly describing both Fewing but also Klein’s hallmark.
“We’re getting success in a lot of different ways,” adds Potter. “A lot of kids are the first in their family to go to college. Our history is rich, and we’re trying to do it all. That’s pretty straight from Pete.”
Mike Ryan and Hans Klein both passed in recent years. Ryan’s bedside was surrounded by former players. According to Fewing, 10 of Klein’s long ago Pan Am Eagles attended his memorial.
And yet Ryan and Klein and many other forefathers of today’s vibrant, growing soccer community are very much alive, whether in memories of those youngsters of yesteryear or in the teachings of today’s training sessions.
They represent the trunk and many of the annual rings of Washington’s coaching tree, which continues growing and reaching still further, high into the sky.