Coaches, find your pen and paper. It couldn’t hurt taking notes as you read this …
Longtime Davis High girls junior varsity soccer mentor Robert Smith sat down with The Davis Enterprise to talk about his 17 years on the Blue Devil pitch.
What comes across in Smith’s on-field style and personal philosophy is golden for any would-be youth coach. It’s an approach that even the most experienced coaches could learn from.
“It’s about the players. It’s really their team,” Smith explains. “It’s not my team. Sure, I’m a member of it, but I want them to take pride in their accomplishments. … The players are the ones doing all the work.
“It’s a character-building thing, too. I want them to have a lot of fun — isn’t that the purpose of playing? Why else would you be out here?”
Smith, 66, broke into Devil soccer under retired coach Allen Carlson. Carlson spent one season as JV coach with Smith by his side.
Carlson — whose varsity teams went on to win four Sac-Joaquin Section titles — once said of Smith:
“When I get a girl up from junior varsity, I know three things about her already: She’s a team player, she has great skills — whether natural or acquired — and she will have learned the game front to back from Bob.”
Over the years, Smith’s teams have been formidable, sometimes perfect.
His Blue Devils have had three undefeated seasons, and in 2010 his girls allowed zero goals the entire campaign.
“I don’t know the overall record since I’ve coached, but I have to admit we inherit players from as many as three club teams and they’re usually very good coming in,” Smith says. “We get some terrific players from AYSO, too. Frequently I have no idea what the backgrounds of my players are …”
He just works hard from day one to put the right pieces of his annual JV puzzle together.
Starting from a three-forward style that has made North Carolina the envy of the women’s collegiate soccer world, Smith says he’s not against making adjustments based on the abilities of his charges.
“We usually have a enough talent that we could play any (style), but North Carolina has always impressed me,” Smith continues. “It’s a pretty demanding style.”
But at DHS, that can mean 10-0, 14-0 even 18-0 games in which Smith’s full roster gets a lot of experience. The coach can mix and match lineups and go deep into his bench, giving Blue Devils the opportunity to not only get playing time, but try new positions.
Smith says, however, even if scores were 1-0, the same opportunities would come on his teams. It’s a learning process, after all, the coach says.
Smith is a Stanford graduate who grew up in Reno, where he and his wife of 43 years, Toni, were high school sweethearts.
The Smiths’ daughter Lindsay is a former Davis High field hockey and lacrosse JV coach. Lindsay was the reason Smith got involved coaching soccer.
“It’s the typical Davis story,” Smith says with a chuckle. “Your kid starts out in AYSO and they’re looking for warm bodies to coach …
“I had no experience at all coaching soccer. When I was growing up, there were no opportunities at all … which I regret because it would have been a great sport for me.”
Once involved — he coached with John Spurr early on — Smith began to take coaching classes and attending clinics. He and Spurr created a U14 competitive team (what is now Davis Legacy Soccer Club was embryonic) and his interest — and acumen — evolved to the point that he applied to coach the JV team.
“That took a while,” Smith laughs again. “I applied three times. The first time a UCD kid got the job, for one year. Then Allen got the position and I helped him. When Allen went to varsity, I applied again.”
The third time was the charm.
With its season-ending win over Elk Grove on Wednesday, the 2013 Blue Devils finished the season 19-1-1.
“It’s all about respect,” Smith concludes. “I tell (the girls) you don’t have to be best friends with the people on your team, but you have to respect them as teammates.”
Watch Smith at practice, or during games: He is calm and calculating, with instruction that comes with complete attention from his students.
Watch his Blue Devils play. The girls get it; they have worked hard in preparing for the games. They’re having that good time that Smith believes is a key to winning.
Got it. Coaches, put your pens down.
Notes: Smith is a retired civil engineer who still consults from time to time. Away from soccer, he enjoys tennis and golf and is committed to yoga. … Daughter Lindsay followed in Dad’s footsteps as an engineer and works for West Yost Associates. … Smith’s assistant for 10 years has been Tim Gbedema. The Kenyan and Smith also coached together for Davis Legacy.
— Reach Bruce Gallaudet at email@example.com or 530-747-8047.