When injuries open up new doors, discovering Coach Chris's soccer journey

From Midwest to New York City, a closer look at Coach Chris soccer background brought you by Thomas Gerbasi

When injuries open up new doors, discovering Coach Chris's soccer journey

Coaching soccer is usually the next step when players retire from active duty on the pitch, either by choice or necessity. It’s a way to keep involved in the sport when playing every week isn’t a reality anymore. 

Then there’s Chris Early, who began coaching when he was still in high school.

“I was a senior and I had an injury at the time,” Early recalled. “I broke the growth plate in my knee and partially tore my ACL, so I wasn't playing, but I still wanted to be involved with the club. And the club had a program for five and six-year-olds that I started helping out with, and the coaching director saw that I had a knack for it. And then that next summer after high school, he gave me a U-11 girls team that I did really well with. And then from there just kind of kept working my way up.”

coach chris

Early didn’t stop playing, either, though injuries cut short his time at San Bernardino Valley College. As for coaching, that journey was just getting warmed up.

“It was just the ability to give my knowledge,” he said when asked what made him gravitate to the other side of the soccer experience. “And one thing that makes me a good coach throughout the years is my ability to connect with the kids and understanding that each kid learns differently. It's not the way it used to be where you pretty much yell at the kids and tell them to do what you're told. Some kids really aren't learning that way. Some kids do like it that way, and some of my former players that are playing at big Division I programs right now, they wanted that hard style, but some kids don't learn that way. And I had that ability to adjust to each kid. And for me it was very rewarding and that was the biggest thing for me - being able to show a kid, based on my experiences and my knowledge, how to do certain aspects of the game and then seeing them do it and seeing the joy on their face. Being able to accomplish some of those things is the biggest thing for me. And I'm very, very competitive. And so just being around it, being a part of the team and helping them achieve their goals, has always been a big piece for me.”

The resume is impressive. Whether at Northwestern State University, Iowa Wesleyan University, or a number of youth clubs, Early earned the respect of his players and his peers while remaining a part of the sport he loved. And once the Minnesota native and University of Iowa graduate landed in New York, there was no question that he was going to continue to coach in one way, shape or form. 

Total Practice 7

Enter BetterPlayer, where Early wasn’t working with kids anymore. Now he was coaching adults who weren’t trying to earn a scholarship or a pro contract. Was that an adjustment?

“(My experience) helps me, for sure, with BetterPlayer because a lot of my experience is working with teams, but throughout my coaching career, I also worked with Coerver Coaching, which is basically technical skills training. Some smaller clubs that don't necessarily have professional coaches will bring the program in to work with their teams, but a lot of it is like summer camps. And then throughout my experiences with Coerver and a couple other programs that I've worked with, I've developed my own technical skills training programs and things that I've done with my younger teams. But it translates very, very well to BetterPlayer because those programs are all about getting players comfortable on the ball, and once you're able to help the players get comfortable on the ball, that's when you can start to implement some of the tactical sides of the game.”

That’s when the universe opens up, because now you’re becoming a soccer player. 

“If every player’s only thought process is, ‘Okay, I need to have a good touch, I need to have a good touch, I need to have a good touch,’ then they get the ball and they're trying to figure out where to go with it, and the chances are they're not going to be successful. Whereas if they're getting comfortable on the ball, they're not necessarily worried about their first touch anymore, they're starting to worry about, ‘Okay, where am I going with the ball once I get it right?’ When they’re at that point, they start to see more success on the field. And so the technical skills training that I've done really translates to BetterPlayer.” 

chris chin

But is the tough love, Midwest old school coach still there? Kind of, but in a good way.

“I like to pride myself on being a nice guy, but I am a different person when I'm on the soccer field, and the same goes for coaching,” Early laughs. “I'm very loyal to my players, I'll go to hell and back for them, and I do everything that I can to prepare my players to be successful on the field. And the one thing that I ask all of my teams, I have a player meeting before every season and I say, ‘What are your goals?’ And if their goal is to win the state cup, then I say, ‘Okay, then I'm going to facilitate the environment to do so; we're going to have standards and we're going to get there.’ And seeing their hard work and training and their commitment pay off in a game and seeing them be successful and seeing the joy on their faces, it's that same sort of rush that I got as a player. Seeing those players be successful and seeing them achieve their goals, it's an incredible feeling, man. It's really, really awesome.”

Early feels the same way about BetterPlayer. Maybe it’s a goal being scored in a scrimmage, a clean tackle in that same scrimmage, or hearing that one of his players joined an NYC Footy league and won a title…or even a game. Everyone in BetterPlayer has their own story, motivations and goals, but whatever they are, Early believes he can make a soccer player out of anyone.

“Absolutely,” he says without hesitation. “And it's just like with anything, right? It all depends on their level of commitment, their drive to get better. If they don't really care, then it's tough to get them to buy into some things. It's all about attitude, it's all about the willingness to put in the work, and I can certainly facilitate an environment that is going to get you from scratch to being a good soccer player, but it really is all about the player and their desire to get there. I can give you a thousand drills to do that will help. But if you're not putting in the work in order to get there, then that's on you. I’ve taken over some teams in the past where they haven't been great, but I've gotten every single player to buy into the process and we ended up being very, very successful in winning some state cups. And a lot of those players are Division I athletes now.”

by Thomas Gerbasi