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Ex-Sounder brings pro experience to Island
When Darren Sawatzky takes the field with his soccer players, he sees his role as much more than that of a typical instructor.
“When you’re coaching, you’re educating,” he said. “It’s more important to put the pieces in place so winning comes later. If a younger person doesn’t have any character, it doesn’t matter what kind of athlete they are. It’s important to put their role to the community first, that’s just my philosophy.”
It’s that kind of philosophy that the Mercer Island FC was looking for when the MIFC brought on the former Seattle Sounder as its new technical director. As technical director, Sawatzky will work with MIFC coaches, train players and coach a boys U11 team and a girls U13 team. He comes to Mercer Island after working as technical director for the Sounders’ Academy system, where he helped scout and recruit talent.
Sawatzky said he took the position because he felt it was time to get back to doing grassroots coaching and, with friend Aaron Byers on the MIFC board, the opportunity presented itself.
“At the select level, there are a lot of beginning coaches looking to get better at what they do. I have education experience I can pass on, and hopefully that translates to the players and will be fruitful,” he said.
Sawatzky grew up in Federal Way and Highline, and says he “has pretty much coached and played at every level in the U.S.” His playing career boasts stints with MLS teams New England Revolution, Dallas Burn, Colorado Rapids, the Sounders and the Portland Timbers, with Sawatzky finishing his career with the Sounders.
He has developed an extensive coaching resume, coaching the Sounders U23 Premier Development League (PDL) team. During his four-year tenure as head coach at his alma mater, Jefferson High School in Federal Way, the Raiders won a 4A state championship in 2005, while Sawatzky was coach of the year. He has coached various soccer camps with his MLS teams, served as training director for the Highline Heat Soccer Club in Burien and was an assistant coach at UW and also the Sounders.
A big part of Sawatzky’s education background is rooted in the MLS/French Football Federation Academy coaches world-class training program, a 16-month development course Sawatzky is participating in and will finish in November. He is working toward earning his Elite Formation Coaching License, which Sawatzky describes as a top-tier license that takes into account the minute details of each player to increase player development.
“It’s like doing a master thesis,” he said. “It basically trains you on how to form pro players between the ages of 13-18, which is how they produce players around the world and which is different than what we do here. It’s related to making sure the maximum potential of a child is reached as they grow into an adult. It’s much bigger than X’s and O’s.”
When asked what kind of adjustments he’ll need to make going from working with U23 players to those of middle-school age, Sawatzky said the focus will shift from finishing a player’s development to continuing it.
“With youth, it’s not about coaching, it’s about the education of the player, and really, the education of the individual player is much more important than winning or losing,” he said. “I feel a responsibility to help raise the level of how to educate and coach soccer in this country. If I can help one coach get better at what he does, it will help the level of soccer in the U.S.”
Ultimately, Sawatzky says the goal is to help raise good kids who put their role to the community first.
“What’s most important is the growth of young people. It’s most important helping that young person grow up and be a part of the community.”