Don Fish is a seasoned coach with a solid 36 years of experience under his belt. He currently coaches the high school boys varsity soccer team and middle school boys lacrosse team in Port Washington, New York.
In November, his soccer team just barely lost the state semifinals against Clarence with a score of 1-0. But Fish didn’t let that get him or his team down. If anything it brought them all closer together. sportsYou had the opportunity to chat with Fish about his greatest achievements and challenges as well as the strategies he uses to help his teams improve every year.
sportsYou: What was your greatest achievement in your career as a coach?
Don Fish: This season was really extraordinarily special. We had six playoff wins and the experience of traveling with the team to the state championship weekend was great. I’ve always had kids go on to play other places but I feel like it’s a reasonable expectation that this group will get back together because of that shared experience.
It’s kind of silly but I say after you graduate, you’re never going to say to your team members, “Remember when we graduated.” Hopefully you have the option to get married or have a kid and that’s going to be fantastic but you’re not going to say, “Remember when my kid was born,” to a group of 12 people when you’re 60.
I still go to my alumni soccer game for college. We had a memorial game for a couple guys that died just after college. The guys on the team come from Arizona and Georgia from a little division 3 soccer experience. That shared experience we have is really valuable.
sportsYou: What are your greatest challenges as a coach and a teacher?
DF: As a coach, we’ve got a really short season this year. There is no time to do fitness. The kids have to come in prepared. Soccer specifically is really an organic game. Once you’re in the run of play during a match, I think a coach has a relatively limited opportunity to govern what can happen. You’ve got to have team leaders that can help others solve problems. This kind of relates to the AP physics course that I teach. I’m used to things being difficult for everybody, sometimes myself included. I kind of like it like that.
I don’t want the kids to say they can’t solve a problem. It’s about how we are going to fix what we’re doing to solve that problem.
I don’t want the kids to say they can’t solve a problem. It’s about how we are going to fix what we’re doing to solve that problem. It’s important to have those leaders on the field that are communicating constructively and share the same vision in that they want the team to be successful. Those are things that don’t just happen. You’ve got to cultivate that.
sportsYou: How do you communicate with and manage your team?
DF: I actually used the beta version of sportsYou two springs ago. It’s a much improved tool right now. That’s my primary way of communicating with my team. I do also text the kids and the captains have their own little text group. I encourage it because I want them to have their own platforms to communicate and not worry about the coaches or the parents even getting involved.
I actually used the beta version of sportsYou two springs ago. It’s a much improved tool right now. That’s my primary way of communicating with my team.
What I like is that I can front-load a lot of stuff. I can put the schedule in and I can click a button and send the location of the game to the parents. When a game is in Cold Spring Harbor and a parent has never been east of Port Washington, it’s great that they can click a button in the app and be able to get there.
For lacrosse, we’re at five different training venues. Sometimes I don’t find out until I’m on the bus that we have to train away from campus. There might be parents coming to pick their kids up at the other field, so I will send a message on sportYou and they get that on the fly.
If all of a sudden there is a thunderstorm at 3:30 and the matches are cancelled across the whole middle school, it’s great to be able to tell them that on this platform. I also can tell the kids at 10:30 in the morning to start hydrating now if I know it’s going to be 85 degrees for the match that day.
It’s also useful to be able to set up groups among my players and send them a video clip of how Oceanside dealt with something when they played Syosset, for example.
It’s also useful to be able to set up groups among my players and send them a video clip of how Oceanside dealt with something when they played Syosset, for example. I could set up groups within the team and not bother everybody. It helps to compartmentalize some of the learning and I think it’s a little less overwhelming for everybody.
sportsYou: What is your strategy for helping players improve year to year?
DF: This wouldn’t be a popular answer for a lot of people but I support participation in other sports. My soccer players are also on the wrestling team, the winter track team or the basketball team. I know that college lacrosse coaches appreciate that.
I think a lot of soccer folks don’t feel that way. Sometimes soccer and the club coaches tell the kids that they just need to focus on one sport. But even my former students and players who are professional lacrosse players have jobs.
Anytime we have a meeting outside of the season, I remind them that we have got to look out for each other and help each other with decision making such as making healthy choices. If they see that one of their friends is having a hard time and maybe getting drawn into something that they shouldn’t be part of or having some personal strife, they should try to get them help. I don’t want them to call each other out. I just want them to help each other because if any three of them aren’t here, that’s a tragedy.
I’d say part of our success this season was because everybody could play because their academic work was satisfactory. We didn’t have any knuckle-head decision making that led to somebody not being able to finish the season or someone having to take a hiatus.There’s some luck involved there but it’s mostly because the guys are looking out for each other.
sportsYou: Who’s inspired you in your career? Do you have any role models?
DF: My soccer coach freshman year of college hung a lacrosse stick in my locker because we didn’t have locks. He asked me if I got his gift and then told me I’m playing lacrosse. I ended up playing lacrosse for four years and it actually paid for one of my master’s degrees as an NCAA lacrosse official. Then I played 40 club seasons after college all because that coach noticed that I could run and was pretty coordinated.
sportsYou: Do you have any advice for young coaches?
DF: I think that you want to try to learn as much as you can. For soccer, making sure you get the licenses is really useful. You want to recognize that we’re trying to develop players and support team play.
I try to be mindful of that when I’m planning my training so I can make sure I incorporate something fun or silly even if it’s at my expense.
At the same time you need to have some perspective on what group level you have. I’ve noticed with my own kids whether it was 2nd grade, 6th grade, 8th grade or 11th grade, they were done with a sport when it wasn’t fun anymore. I try to be mindful of that when I’m planning my training so I can make sure I incorporate something fun or silly even if it’s at my expense.