The #NSCAAla Experience

Every year, I look forward to the NSCAA Convention that typically is held in an east coast city, but with it coming to California this last week, I definitely had to jump on the chance to attend it in my home state. I mean if it were in another state I would have probably attended it anyways, considering I have traveled to multiple conventions in the past years, most recently the Indy convention and the Philly convention.

For myself like many other coaches, my experience started on Thursday, when training sessions started at the LA Convention Center. After a mid-morning flight from SMF down to LAX and a quick Uber ride over to the Ramada, which would be home until Sunday for me, I was ready to get over to the convention center.

Once I got to the convention center I checked in, where I would receive my badge for the weekend, some goodies like a shirt and other convention related stuff, I was ready to make my way over to the demo fields where most of my Thursday would be spent watching some training sessions, while meeting some friends who I haven’t seen in sometime.

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The NSCAA Convention weekend isn’t just about the coaching education side of things it is a time to catch up with friends and network with others in the same career path as myself. The first coach I caught up with was my old head coach who I worked with as his assistant when I was Gabe Bolton, head women’s coach at Cal State Stanislaus. At that time I was also introduced to the women’s coaching staff of Fresno Community College.

A few hours later my running partner and friend Alexia, Head Women’s Coach at Arizona Western College, arrived and made her way to the convention center. For the whole weekend I would spend plenty of time with her and Rod Underwood, who arrived on Friday morning.

Thursday night, after grabbing dinner at Tom’s Urban, Alexia and I headed over to the exhibit hall which had soccer vendors promoting various products ranging from soccer balls to soccer related technology. The event that night would last from 6PM – 9PM, I know most people would think how could someone spend 3 hours around vendors. Like I mentioned before, the convention was more than just soccer it was about catching up with a lot of friends from the soccer world. This was the case as we spent all 3 hours walking the exhibit hall talking to people, meeting people and getting free stuff from vendors.

Below is a photo of all the swag I picked up on Thursday night.

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After putting in some steps and walking about, it was time to call it a night for Thursday as Friday and Saturday would be packed with meetings and taking in more soccer and connecting with friends.

When Friday rolled around, Alexia and I started the morning off with a run which we also did on Saturday and Sunday morning before heading out of town. Saturday morning we ran around the LA Live area and took in the sights without all of the soccer hustle and bustle going on.

Friday involved more training sessions, the MLS Draft and meetings during the morning then heading over for a Sports Management World Wide networking social in the evening, who I would be joining on Saturday for a panel discussion regarding cutting edge technology.

As noon rolled around on Friday, it was time to head over to one of the main events of the weekend … the MLS Draft. Here we would see some familiar faces, and enjoy the moment when these college players would hear their name called and the future of their professional career would begin.

After socializing at the network event, Alexia and I connected with other former Cal State Stanislaus assistant coaches, Jenny, Dom and the one that got away Roman (he never coached at Stan State, but he did play there). Jenny received the Western Region NAIA Coach of the Year which she was presented on Thursday night.

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Later in that evening, Rod joined us with his close friend and former teammate Osh, who is the Technical Director  for the Welsh FA and Assistant Manger of the Welsh National Team. With some late night fun, it was time to call it a night before starting another day on Saturday.

When Saturday morning rolled around it was time for another run with Alexia, before heading to the convention center. Saturday morning consisted of a successful meeting with Mark, president of Bow Net.

One of the better sessions I was able to attend during the event was by John Pascarella who I would be sitting with at the panel later in the day. His topic was on goalkeeping, which involved technical warm-ups to tactical play and decision making.

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During the time out watching sessions I was also able to catch of with SRFC Academy Alumni and one of my former youth players Will Dubay, who now plays at Loyola Marymount University. His college team was one of the teams being used for one of the training sessions that afternoon.

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My role of presenting and being part of the panel would begin at 3PM, so I made my way over to the JW Marriott where the panel would take place. It was an opportunity to share my experience along side with other panel members John Pascarella (Head Coach, Des Moines Menace) and Matt Martin (Portland Timbers Head of Domestic Scouting).

As the Saturday started to wind down and same with the convention itself, it was time to grab some dinner, this time we headed over to Yard House also in the LA Live area. After grabbing a bite, we would head back to the Convention Center to watch some of the 4v4 Tournament which is a convention tradition, played by coaches who attended the convention. We didn’t go to play, but rather just to watch and enjoy the rest of our time out there before the Sunday travel day.

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With the trip wrapping up it was time for an early workout before heading over to LAX for a morning flight back to Sacramento.

It was another fantastic trip down to LA for the convention and cannot wait to attend the the NSCAA Convention in Philly from January 10 to the 14, 2018.

Ghana Day 5: The beautiful game

So with the official footy events completed and a late flight on Thursday, we had the opportunity to do some sightseeing and experience Ghana as much as we could before heading back to our various homes in the States.

What we did on Thursday is best told through the photos I took throughout the day …

Our first trip was to the beach, where we walked around, grabbed some lunch where people came by hawking some items to us, which paid off for them and us as we were able to get some goodies to take home, while those guys made their cash.

While having our lunch we were treated by some kids doing some acrobatic dance moves. However, the highlight of the entertainment was by the guy with his guitar playing some Bob Marley jams for us.

After spending a few hours beach side, we headed downtown where we could do some shopping to pick up  more souvenirs to take home.

The highlight of the day had to have been when we traveled to the neighborhood of San Maria to donate some soccer gear to local players. The two clubs that presented shorts and jerseys to the players were Sacramento Republic FC and New York Cosmos (NASL).

With our time in Ghana running down it was time to say our thank you’s to our host and head to the airport

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Farewell Ghana … Taking the steps up to board the plane … img_1428

And here I am in Holland for a layover sharing my time in Ghana … What an amazing trip and place to visit. Thank you to the people of Ghana and the GFA (Ghana Football Association) for inviting us to experience your beautiful country and make new friends through the beautiful game.

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Ghana Day 4: This is Ghana!

Today was another amazing day in the beautiful country of Ghana. Rather than using so many words let me share more photos as the day move along and the final whistle blew for the combine …

Morning run … Check

Breakfast … Check

Now let’s get to the fun stuff. From the hotel to the fields for the final day of play we took a different route, passing two buildings; a half completed soccer stadium and Ghana’s version of the White House.

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The outside of a half completed stadium. The project ran out of money and is on hold until more funds are raised.

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The Flagstaff House, which is like our White House in the United States.

Once we got to the field there was some pick up soccer being played.

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See those stones, those were set up on each side of the “field” as their goals. Who needs all of the fancy stuff.

The games then played and a lot of good action was seen allowing the various staffs to take a final look at each player they needed to. After the final whistle, the group photos between the staff and players took place including some interviews about the last 3 days for the cameras.

After the matches it was time to head back to the hotel for a quick bite, before we headed to the Avenue neighborhood of Accra to watch two 2nd division competitive teams play. We went out specifically to watch a 16 year old kid name Baba, who is headed off to Italy shortly to play in the professional leagues there. Take a look at the routes and the field they played at …

After the match we headed back to the hotel to take a quick rest and talk players with some of the management of the Wa All Stars and the quality of their players before heading out to dinner …

We headed to a local restaurant … let me start of by saying it was delicious … here are the photos in order of how dinner went down …

Walking up to Mother Africa … the name of the restaurant…

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Looking over the menu…

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A local Ghana soda while we waited for our food…

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Hand washing bowls to clean our hands for dinner, no utensils just hands to eat our African meal.

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The friend plantains are served …

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Here comes the rest of the food!

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While I had vegetables and rice, others ate fried tilapia and rice.

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Time for me to dig in!

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With a full belly … It is time to call it a night. Tomorrow will be a fun soccer free day as we get to see some of the sights around Ghana before getting onto a late night plane at 10:25PM … heading home will be a busy travel schedule … I will fly 6 1/2 hours from Ghana to Amsterdam, then from Amsterdam I take a 10 1/2 hour flight to Portland, Oregon before heading home to Sacramento landing around 3:55PM on Friday.

Good night from Ghana and I will check back in with a blog post tomorrow!

Ghana Day 3: More Footy

With our schedule being very similar on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, the morning started off with a treadmill run for me, due to the fact that it was very smokey and humid out just before 6AM. With a pretty tight schedule while I am here in Ghana, I will have to go with what I can get in regards to my own personal fitness and training for the upcoming California International Marathon.

After a quick bite with the other representatives from the various clubs, it was time to jump back on the shuttle to make our way to the fields. This morning we were excited to see some matches which included the same teams as yesterday. However, we would start off the day with one of the matches we were excited to see, which pitted Soccer Masters vs. Wa All Stars. The 2nd and 3rd matches included All Stars B vs. Brekum Chelsea and All Stars C vs. Tudu Mighty Jets.

While yesterday involved us just watching and taking notes, today we had a little more influence in the matches in regards to the personal on the field. As other club reps and myself wanted to see a little more of a certain player or various combinations of players on the field, those request were accommodated to.

A few new faces joined their respective teams, which allowed us to evaluate a couple of new players. However most of today and tomorrow is to see consistency of the players each representative wanted to look at, but also confirmed the legitimacy of the player if there did show their quality on more than one day of playing.

While at the field I was served an energy drink. Normally I don’t consume energy drinks however not to be rude I did drink the energy drink. It was pretty interesting as it was a non-alcoholic malt brew by Guinness. It was a very sweet malt flavor. It was different, but it did have a decent taste that served to satisfy a sweet tooth. img_1224

After the heat and humidity beat up on us at the fields, it was time to get back onto the shuttle and head back to the hotel. While leaving the fields we got caught in a little traffic that was due to a traffic census being done. The person working asked our driver where we were headed and other routine questions at these census traffic stops.

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The traffic census stop. 

Finally we got back to the hotel, where we were joined for lunch (a late lunch about 2:55PM) by the President of the GHA once again.

With further chatter, we had a quick break in the day which I took advantage of by taking a little nap. Most of the other staff did the same.

In the evening we had a staff dinner at the hotel before we were back to the soccer grind discussing the teams and format for tomorrow. On the final day of the combine we will have complete input on starting rosters, based on our evaluations on the players. Ideally we have matched up the best forwards going against the best defending players as well. Tomorrow will make for some excellent soccer to get a final look at the players we were brought out here to see.

Notes to break down the final day of play

3 days into the trip and it continues to be a truly fantastic experience. During my day here today, one thing I did notice was the handshake that the people of Ghana do always ends with a snap … and everyone does it from the young kids to the older folks in that I have observed.

Ghana Day 2: Field full of lefties

fAfter a solid night of sleep, the morning started off with a busy schedule of scouting matches at 8AM at a nearby soccer facility. Before you ask … yes, I did get my morning workout in. With the sunlight peaking just past 5:30AM, I was able to hit the pavement and get in 5 sweaty and humid miles around the area where our hotel is located. The security guard, showed me a 1 mile loop around the area, which he said was safe to run, while out on my run I saw other people running, so I figured this was a good spot to be in.

With a 7:30AM loading time of our shuttle to the field, the team representatives made our way to check out 6 teams of potential players. Over the next 3 days we will be viewing players from the following teams: Wa All Stars, Soccer Masters, Tudu Mighty Jets, Brekum Chelsea, Wa All Stars B and Wa All Stars C. Many of these players currently play in the top division here in Ghana with a few sprinkled in the first and second divisions.

Upon arrival to the field, we were greeted by the President of the Ghana Football Association. We were also accompanied by our security guard and other representatives of the Association.

Before the matches started there was a group of local school boys playing some volleyball before school, it was really cool to see how excited they were. Check the video out below.

With the matches about to get underway, we made our way to our viewing deck, which was a stage set up for us to give us some privacy but also cover us from the sunlight, too bad it didn’t protect us from the humidity! However, a nice breeze on occasion provided us some short relief. During the 5 hours out there, there were no mosquitos, I hope I didn’t just jinx myself by blogging that.

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Without going into too much detail about the players who I was tracking specifically, there are some very good players out here in Ghana playing in their country league. Another thing I noticed was how many left footed players there were on the field at any given time.

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After the final whistle blew, it was time to load back onto the shuttle and grab some lunch at the hotel before throwing in a quick power nap before our evening scheduled dinner with the President. Which by the is how everyone at the field calls him, a sign of respect for who runs the Association here in Ghana.

While heading back, it was somewhat a thick of traffic, where people were hawking what they could, from ice cold drinks to fruits and other snacks. I was highly amazed at the balancing that many of these individuals did with their goodies for sale on their heads!

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With a much needed power nap, it was time to make our way to dinner with the president of the Ghana FA, along with other guest including the coaching staff of the Wa All Stars of the Ghana Premier League. Wa All Stars are located about 12 hours north of Accra, they most recently just won the Premier League title, so they were excited to share their recent successes over Chinese food …

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Our welcome dinner by the GHA President

Yes, you just read that correctly … we had Chinese food in Ghana! It was delicious. Being a vegetarian, I was very well accommodated to for the dinner.  With as much traveling for soccer I have done over the course of the last 2 decades, I can say that my 2 days here in Ghana have been amazing with the amount of hospitality the community has provided us.

Below are some photos from our dinner, where I had the opportunity to give a gift to Kwesi Nyantaki, GHA President and some other snaps from the evening.

 

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With GHA President Kwesi and the Wa All Stars technical staff

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The feast we were treated to by the GHA

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Pro soccer coaches in Ghana love selfies!

SMF to Ghana … Day 1

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So the first day of travel was a long one! My first flight had me leaving Sacramento at 1PM with a 4.5 hour flight to Atlanta. Once in Atlanta, I connected to a flight that lead me to Amsterdam, Holland … talk about a long flight that was about 8 hours. After a 2 hour layover in Holland we then were Ghana Bound … 6.5 hours and finally getting into the hotel.

Finally checking in at the hotel at 9PM Ghana time on Sunday … Yup it has a long day of travel. So far the travel has been exhausting but I already have made some good connections. While I am here representing Sacramento Republic FC as a scout, there are other clubs also represented including Real Salt Lake (MLS) / Real Monarchs (USL), NY Cosmos (NASL), Wilmington Hammerheads (USL) and a couple of First Wave agents who are along in the trip.

Once I got settled in at the hotel, I was hoping to get a run in but the treadmill was closed, so I asked the security guard what some options were … I just wanted a short shake out to break a sweat before calling it a night and getting ready for tomorrow when the scouting begins. He said he would be outside with me while I ran around the parking lot for about 2 miles of running. Shoutout to the security guard who kept me company and watched my water bottle while I hit up some laps. It didn’t take too long to get the sweat going as it is pretty humid out here, though there weren’t any mosquitos as I was told to be cautious for.

A few highlights from the travel besides meeting the other folks representing the various clubs was being personally picked up by the President of the Ghana Football Federation who will be with us during the next week as we watch players in action starting tomorrow morning.

The day starts early tomorrow morning as we load a shuttle at 7:30AM and head to the fields. So it is time to hit the sack and be ready for tomorrow …

Good night from Ghana … I’ll be posting updates each day during my trip.