Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Coach Mike Johnson: Five questions with...

The Fine Arts camp isn’t the only camp happening on JU’s campus this summer. For those families that are coming down with a case of 'World Cup Fever', the university has the prescription with the Dolphin Soccer Camp.

Running the camp is Mike Johnson, who is in his 13th year as a head soccer coach at JU (seventh with the men’s team preceded by six with the women’s team). Since joining the men's team in 2004, Coach Johnson has taken them to new heights, most notably with back-to-back Atlantic Sun Conference Championships in 2007 and 2008, as well as a NCAA tournament birth in 2008. Additionally, he has coached 19 all-conference players, which include two “Player of the Year” award winners, and is the only coach in conference history to win “Coach of the Year” accolades with both the men’s team (2007) and the women’s team (2000).

The Johnson family is pure Dolphin through and through. Coach Johnson played for the Dolphins from 1981-1985, being named to the all-Sun Belt Conference team twice before playing professionally in the United Soccer League and the U-Sector Indoor League. Additionally, all three of his children have attended JU.

With soccer on the minds of every country on the globe right now, the Dolphin Network sat down with Coach Johnson to get his insight on the camp, the upcoming JU season and the progression of the sport in the U.S.

1. JU is hosting two soccer camps this summer. Can you talk about the differences between them and what the campers should do to get ready for them?
The first camp is our day camp for ages 5-12. This camp is designed to develop the techniques and skills required to play soccer. Each camper will be instructed in the proper fundamentals of dribbling, passing, first-touch control, shooting, heading and tackling. We will incorporate these skills into small-side games and fun training games.

The second camp, which is held in July, is for players that have the ambition and desire to take their games to the next level. This camp will provide training and a competitive environment that will allow players to develop both their technical and tactical skills. The players that attend this camp will want to start training three weeks early and several hours a day to meet the physical demands of the camp. During the camp there will be two 2-hour training sessions each day plus evening games.
2. The JU soccer program has seen tremendous success over the past several years. What do you credit this success to and what will it take for the Dolphins to once again return to the top of the Atlantic Sun Conference?
Our success started with a vision of being champions and winning championships. Winning is a byproduct of hardwork, dedication and a commitment to excellence both on the field and in the classroom and therefore, it is vital at this level to recruit talented student-athletes. We have been very fortunate to have brought in not only highly-skilled players, but very driven and committed players that wanted to be champions and great students.

In the last four years, we have won a Conference regular season championship and a Conference tournament championship; participated in the 2008 NCAA Tournament and beat Louisville in the first round then eventually losing to the University of North Carolina, the national runner-up, 1-0. During this time we have produced two Conference Players of the Year, numerous all-conference players and the National Academic Player of the Year. We also had the first conference player drafted by Major League Soccer and now have produced six professional players (the most in our conference) and one player reached the pinnacle in the sport by representing the U.S. National under-20 (and JU) in the 2010 World Cup in Egypt.

To answer the question of how do we get back on top, the formula is simple: Talent + Hardwork + Character = Champions. We need to continue to recruit talented, hardworking players that want to win CHAMPIONSHIPS and be great ambassadors for our program and the university.
3. Soccer is truly a global sport, and the JU roster is reflective of that. Can you discuss the recruiting process for perspective players overseas?
Our roster is very diverse, averaging 6 to 7 international players a year. Recruiting internationals can be difficult, as there is a lot more involved in the process, compared to domestic players. The international players must meet the same academic requirements as the American players to be eligible, as well as clear their amateurism with the NCAA, which can be time consuming to do based on the club structure in their countries. However, if these extra steps end up being a key component to the team’s success, it is well worth it.

We have been fortunate to have very good international players on our team and they have been good students as well. I think the key is knowing the systems that they come from both academically and soccer-wise. I was very fortunate to travel and train in Europe three times during my last years playing at JU and after graduation, and I have stayed in contact with people I met more than 20 years ago. I also played with and against some very good international players that have been great resources for our recruitment process. It is also easier now that we have had a string of successful international players, which then refer other players to our program.
4. Traditionally, the popularity of soccer in the United States significantly increases every four years when the World Cup is promoted and played. What do you think needs to be done for the popularity of the sport to be maintained in this country beyond the “World Cup bump?”
Yes, the World Cup. The world's biggest sporting event. There is nothing on the planet to compare it to. Countries all over the world compete in qualifying matches for four years to become one of 32 teams that make the World Cup. It is truly a global sport in which the final game is expected to be watched by six times more people than the Super Bowl.

The U.S. still considers soccer a lower-tier sport based on the popularity here, but great strides are being made. Despite being held half-a-world away in South Africa, the U.S. fans had bought more tickets than any other country for this event. Americans love a challenge and will get behind our National Team. Even non-soccer fans in this country will support the team, if for no other reason than patriotism.

A successful World Cup will generate more enthusiasm to the states and boost our growing domestic league Major League Soccer (MLS). This has already been happening with league expansion and the building soccer-specific stadiums across the country. But television and major corporate sponsorship is the key to a successful pro sport. The World Cup has the support of ABC and ESPN and all games are being shown live (which is awesome). The U.S. is also attempting to secure either the 2018 or 2022 World Cup, as we did in 1994.

First thing is first, though. For the sport to continue to grow in popularity in this country, the U.S. must have good showing in South Africa. Their match against England on Saturday is one of the most anticipated games in the tournament and would be a catalyst to increase the fan base here and put us in better standing to host the event in the future.
5. You have played professional soccer as well as coached a number of players that have gone on to play professionally. What advice would you give to younger players that are seriously considering pursuing soccer as a means to attend college and beyond?
My advice to any player that wants to play in college or professionally is to ask yourself, “how hard am I willing to work to make this happen?” If the answer is easy and you are willing to outwork others and to put in as many hours of training that is necessary to reach these levels, then you have an attainable goal. Setting the goal is only one step though. You must put a plan in to action by working extremely hard on developing the technical tools necessary to be successful. This will require thousands and thousands of hours working on your own or with teammates to develop your skills to the highest level. Work on the physical side of the game (speed, strength, agility, endurance, etc.) and when everything is equal, the intangibles will determine success or failure. Put yourself in the most competitive training environment that you can find and play at the highest level you can find. The game of soccer itself is the BEST teacher.

Don’t just watch high level games, analyze them. Find a top player at your position on the world stage to emulate and to want to be like. Be able to break down your own game from time-to-time to determine the areas you need to work on, and be willing to work on these things very hard. Develop your mental toughness and confidence, always believe in yourself because if you don't, no one else will.

As for college soccer, it is a great opportunity to play at a high level and create security for your future by receiving a degree. The United States is the only country that combines a university-level education system and high level soccer competition.
The Dolphin Soccer Camp will be held throughout the summer. For dates and more information, click HERE.
The JU Men's Soccer season begins September 1. For the full schedule, click HERE
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