U SPORTS sits down with one key athlete, coach, and staff member of each U SPORTS athletic program in our new interview series “Getting to know…”
Name: Steven Johnson
School: University of Ottawa
Sport: Women’s soccer
Position: Head coach
Seniority: 24 years
Previous school/position: Head coach, Mount Allison University
Hometown: Wolfville, N.S.
1. How did you first get involved in coaching? What was your path to your position as head coach of Mount Allison?
My parents were active in the community, and I helped them coach t-ball, ringette, and hockey when I was young. I coached my senior boy's soccer team in high school. In my first year of university at Mount Allison, I got injured during training camp for the men’s program and ended up as the co-coach of the women’s soccer club team. I continued coaching soccer at Mount Allison until it developed into a full varsity sport. Later, I started the Gee-Gees women’s soccer program at uOttawa in 1994.
2. Who are the people that have influenced you most as a coach?
I would consider my assistant coaches to have had the most influence on my coaching. I am fortunate to have worked with knowledgeable and experienced staff throughout my career. My roommate at Mount Allison was Graham Chandler, and he coached the men’s team. He was influential to my growth - we were both at such a young age, and running varsity programs while we were both still students. I have also really enjoyed opportunities with the FISU teams (in 2001, 2005, 2007, and 2013) and seeing the ideas and styles of other U SPORTS coaches I traveled with.
3. How would you describe your coaching style?
I am competitive and like to win. But, I do understand that the student-athlete comes first. I want to make the right decisions to push players to develop and grow as both players and people. My assistant coaches help balance my style when I get too focussed in one direction.
4. Which coach do you admire the most, and why?
I admire longevity and success. I am an Arsenal fan, and I can appreciate what Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson did in the Premier League - I don’t think any other coaches will be able to duplicate their records. Tracy David (Victoria), Dave McDowell (Queen’s) and Barry McLean (Laurier) have found longevity and success in the CIAU/CIS/U SPORTS environment. We have been there since the beginning of women’s varsity soccer in Canada.
5. What is the most “out-of-the-box” thing you’ve done as a coach?
We completely changed our playing style at a provincial championship to prepare for our first scheduled opponent at nationals. It worked. We won both the provincial championship game and our first game at nationals. Although we were huge underdogs, our new strategy was successful. It was a gamble and the right decision.
6. What is your greatest coaching moment or achievement?
We won the national championship in 1996 – it was my third year at uOttawa after starting the program in 1994. It was a magical year and one that I will always treasure.
7. What’s the best advice you can give to an athlete and/or athlete’s parents?
Make your decision for your future based on other factors other than just the sport program. An injury is just one of the many pitfalls you can face in a student-athlete career. If you like the program you are studying, and the city or town you are living in, then you are in the right place. Be positive, find friends and enjoy your experience. Your true friendships at university will last over time.
8. How have you changed as a coach over time? What principles/values, etc. have remained the same?
I have coached university soccer since 1980. The sport has changed so much, it would now be unrecognizable from its origins. Cast-off uniforms and equipment was the norm. Now, we are catching up to other varsity sports, but it has taken almost 40 years. Even though the support for our sport has grown, it is still very difficult for women to make a professional living in soccer. I recognize that the greatest value in a student-athlete’s career is their degree, and the friendships and experiences they have had to help them develop as people. I still like to win as much as I did when I started coaching (we did not win a game in 1980), but I have always understood that it is about the players and the team.
9. What do you enjoy doing when you’re not in coaching mode?
My wife and I just bought a cottage this past winter, and I am really enjoying the ability to disconnect - we have no TV and no internet service, and this has been wonderful.
10. What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you as a coach?
I am sure my former players and assistant coaches could compile a long list. Most of my gaffes have been minor and have been caught before causing too much distress. Or, maybe I have buried them so deep that I can’t remember them.