Seattle United’s Zoe Birkbeck Returns Home To Give Back

Seattle United’s Zoe Birkbeck Returns Home To Give Back

Former Seattle United Player Returns As Seattle United Coach

Seattle United coach Zoe Birkbeck was a Seattle United G94 Copa player from 2011-2013.  While life has taken her many places since, she has now returned and has taken on the role of Seattle United coach.  We caught up with Zoe recently to ask her about life as a Seattle United coach vs life as a Seattle United player…and how they are intertwined.

Zoe, we are glad to have you back and proud of all your accomplishments!  Keep up the great work!

Full Interview:

Does coaching for Seattle United after having played your club soccer here hold any extra significance?

Absolutely! Seattle United was a huge part of my playing career as a youth, and were the ones that really supported my ventures to go play overseas. The club also played a huge part in my personal life as well. Outside of my playing, having a younger brother who played in the club really made it part of who I was, which was such a special experience. Some of the directors I’ve known since back in high school, are as close to me as family, and are the reason i’m back at the club. I used to travel to watch my brother play during the summers when I was in college. Even though I technically wasn’t part of the club anymore, every time Jimmy saw me he’d ask me how things were going, how I was doing, and would end the conversation with one question: when are you going to come coach for me? I emailed him a week before I returned to the States, and I don’t think I could ever dream of coaching for another club in Seattle. I didn’t really expect to get into coaching right away after I graduated college, but I suppose it was only a matter of time.

What has been the most rewarding part of coaching here at Seattle United.

The most rewarding part of coaching is knowing that I’m giving back to the club that helped me pursue my passion, and really being able to have a positive impact with the younger generation. I work in the Pre-Academy, so many of the girls I have on my teams are experiencing club soccer in a structured setting for the first time. It’s a privilege to be able to show and teach them not only my love and knowledge of the game, but also how great this club is. We didn’t have teams at such a young age when I was playing, not to mention so many opportunities to grow and develop. To have the chance to work with young girls & get them excited and motivated to play soccer, it’s extremely fulfilling.

What has been your biggest challenge in terms of your young coaching career.

Honestly, making it actually become a career. As a 22-yr old female in the game, I understand and appreciate that it is going to take quite a few years of education/experience, developing as a coach and individual, and hard work before I might have a chance to make a full-time career out of being a coach. I’m more than up to that challenge, however, at the moment, it’s been somewhat of an endeavor finding a job outside of soccer that supports my aspirations and allows me to work in my degree. I have a BA in Journalism Studies & Sports Studies, applied to numerous jobs, but every single one I’ve been offered has coincided with trainings/games, or they’ve simply told me that I won’t be able to coach at the same time. It’s been very frustrating, and at times has made me contemplate my future as a coach. However, I’m young, I still have time to figure things out 🙂

What are your goals and aspirations as a coach?

I’d like to continue developing personally and educating myself through the years. The game is continually changing & advancements are being made, so as teachers of the game we must do so as well. The dream would be finding a full time career in coaching or youth development, something that I think is essential to the growth of US Soccer; our young ones. It’s so important that we teach them the essentials at an early age, so I see myself continuing to work with the younger ages. As a long term goal, I’d like to work towards my USSF Pro License. I feel it’s important to keep having more female coaches move up the ladder of US Soccer, it’s hard to motivate girls to play and reach their highest potential when we won’t do it ourselves. More short term, I set new ones each year based on the teams I have. My main goal however, as my teams can attest, is usually that all my girls work hard each training and game, and do it with a smile on their face.

Do you have a personal “coaching philosophy”?

“To develop creative players with technical proficiency, knowledge of the game, and the ability to ‘play’. With the focus on long-term education and learning/exploration opportunities, you should strive to evolve confidence, physical values, and emotional satisfaction in players with a life long love for the game being the end result.”

Aside from all that fluff, every time I work with my girls, I want to make sure that however I’m coaching, they’re learning; developing slowly over time, and enjoying themselves while doing it. If your child isn’t excited to go to practice or isn’t smiling while they’re there, then they shouldn’t be doing it. No matter the age, or the level, you have to enjoy what you do, otherwise whats the point? I could have the worst day ever, but when I get to training to have all my girls show up excited to play and tell me how their day went, I know i’m doing something right. Also, be candid and honest with your parents, they’re not your enemies. We’re in a golden age where soccer moms & dads are extremely educated in their knowledge of the game; use it to your advantage. Be honest about their child, be respectful, it’ll bring more success and happiness to you, your kids, and their families.

How did playing your youth soccer in the Seattle United environment prepare you for your coaching career?

Playing with Seattle United really set the foundation of how I coach today. By watching my coaches (or opposing coaches) and how they interacted and behaved, I was able to either go “Okay, that was really good” or think “Yikes, i’m never going to be like you”. I think as well, Seattle United did a great job at making sure that while they supported my extremely one-track focus on winning, my overall development was a massive part. As someone that hates losing more than I enjoy winning, it was so beneficial for me to have coaches that would be able to tell me after losing 4-0 five things I’d improved on, and what I could do to be a better player for the next game. It was a great combination of the importance of competition alongside the essential focus on development, and I think this pairing, alongside their genuine care for their players, is something Seattle United continues to exceed expectations in compared to any other club.