Chewin’ the Fat: Q & A With New Panther Soccer Coach Tim Houghton

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Saucon Valley boys soccer coach addresses his team at halftime of the summer league contest with Nazareth.

Timothy Houghton, the new Saucon Valley boys soccer coach, addresses his team at halftime of a summer league contest with Nazareth.

This past March the Saucon Valley School District hired Timothy Houghton as its new Boys Head Soccer Coach.    Houghton will replace Mel Moyer III who tallied a career 154-60-11 as the Panthers previous head coach.  Moyer guided Saucon Valley to consecutive Colonial League titles in 2008 and 2009.   Houghton will look to improve on the Panthers 8-2-2 Colonial League finish last season and, no doubt, bring more championships to Saucon Valley.

Saucon Valley Athletic Director Bob Frey is actively recruiting coaches to assist Coach Houghton with his soccer responsibilities.  Interested parties should contact the athletic office at 610-838-7001.  Or, you can email:  Robert.Frey@svpanthers.org

Saucon Source was able to track Houghton down and chew the fat.  Check out our Q&A with the new coach below.

 

Q:  Can you give us a little background on yourself?

A:  I was born in the UK in the West Midlands, but moved to Hong Kong at the age of eleven. I spent my High School years at boarding school, and went to university in England. After leaving university, I worked in London, Boston and New York before moving to Bucks County about 13 years ago.

 

Q:  What do you recall as your very first experience(s) with soccer?

A:  My brother, who is 20 months older than me, was soccer crazy at an early age and, with my father, a huge fan of the local team, Aston Villa.  In the early 1980s, they were regular league title contenders and even won the European Cup (one of only five English teams to do so) beating Bayern Munich.

From an early age we would go to see Villa, and play with in our backyard with our neighbors. There was a large wooden shed that we used as our goal. My father would have to re-roof it every few years because the slates would fall off. Thankfully, our neighbor was very understanding, and a little hard of hearing, so it didn’t bother him too much.

 

Q:  Please tell us about your immediate family?

A:  I’m married, have three children, and two absurdly entitled dogs.

 

Q:  According to the press release in March, you attended Oxford University earning a BA and Master’s degree in English Literature and Modern History. Is there anything else you can share about your schooling?

A:  Hmmm…interesting question. I really enjoyed university. It was a pretty competitive place to get into, but once there, a life-changing experience in terms of people, academics and opportunities. Some highlights? Well our college library was a 12th Century chapel, and that in itself was pretty awe-inspiring. I remember figures as diverse as Mother Theresa, Mick Jagger and Jackie Mason come and talk at the Oxford Union, I edited the student newspaper, and had the privilege of one on one time with some of the finest minds in historical and literary criticism.

 

Q:  What is your background as a soccer player?

A:  My background isn’t particularly storied, and soccer wasn’t always my main sport. But, as a youth into my early teens, I played soccer as a goalkeeper.  I also played rugby in Fall, and cricket in the summer. I only played soccer recreationally, which was actually quite often as there was a game going on most nights in the gym or on the fields. No coaches, no parents and not a lot of passing! There was always one teacher who came and play with us who claimed he had been a professional for a Division 3 league team in England. But he just tackled hard.

At university, I had a lot of commitments, but I played for St. Edmund Hall in the inter-collegiate league, mostly when they needed players – there are about 35 colleges that field at least one team and it was quite competitive.

In New York in my 20s, I played for at team called Chula with my brother in the indoor leagues. By this time I had become a midfielder. 

After moving to Bucks County, I played for Hunterdon County in New Jersey’s Tri-State league which plays Saturdays in Fall. That later became part of the Greater Flemington Soccer Club, and up until this year was still playing at the weekends for Clinton Town FC.

Coach Houghton watches as Scott Grenestedt throws the ball in play.

Q:  Anything to add to your background as a soccer coach?

A:  Let me talk for a moment about my opinion on coaching education. There are a lot of ex-players, who have played at a pretty high level, who we expect to be able to coach at a very high standard without any further qualifications. A great college player will make a great coach, we think. A professional player, even better. It’s a truism in our mindset. However, I’m not sure why that is the case. I speak English very well, but I couldn’t effectively teach someone to speak it, or come close to someone who has been trained to teach it. The best coaches I have worked with weren’t particularly good players. Some ex-professionals, who will remain nameless, weren’t particularly good coaches.

I think coaching education is the necessary bridge between knowledge of the game, and the ability to improve players technically and tactically.

I realized when I began to help coach a U11 girls team that although as an individual I knew a lot about soccer, I didn’t have the skillset to transfer that knowledge in a productive way to the young players around me. So I began coaching education. And yes, it is a commitment the more advanced it becomes. The first courses I did were licenses with the USSF and then with the NSCAA. I am still doing coaching licenses and this year spent a week training at Dallas FC, working on the C-License with coaches from Barcelona’s youth academy, Liverpool’s youth academy, and trainer’s from Dallas FC and other MLS academies. If you want to keep getting better, you can’t stop learning.

 

Q:  In addition to coaching soccer, what else do you do? (work, hobbies etc.)

A:  I initially came over for work in New York and fell in love with the city, the people and the country in general.  I am a CEO of a global medical education and communications company.  I have three things in my life – my family, my work and soccer. That is about it!

 

Q:  What do you see as the strengths of the Saucon Valley program?

A:  There are many, but I’ll talk about just three.

The leadership shown by the incoming seniors and other veterans is a major strength. I rely on them to help organize the sessions, captain different groups and be a good role models to the younger players. That maturity and willingness to lead is a huge plus for any incoming coach. I’m very impressed by how hard everyone is prepared to work, and the overall attitude.

I also think it is great that there is a seamless link between the middle school and the high school program through Coach Stevie Ochse. Having a very strong coach for the middle school means that the players come in more prepared. In addition, support from local travel clubs such as Saucon Travel club, which are accessible both in terms of location and cost, is important and helps provide a wider environment for the soccer playing community to develop.

The overall number of players in the program is also impressive. That speaks to having a history of a credible and productive program supported by committed coaches, players and parents.

 

Q:  What are some of the things your team is working on in the off-season?

A:  So far we have worked primarily on the principles of possession, playing through the thirds, and winning the ball back quickly. All these are key to the style of play I want the team to develop. Beyond that, the players and I are getting used to each other.

My approach is to try and create an environment to develop autonomous players that make quick decisions in all the chaos that is a soccer game. I am a big believer that successful teams are not about having a great coach who can read the game and tell everyone what to do – where to stand, how and when to kick the ball – but by having eleven players on the field who can read the game and adapt. So I ask them a lot of questions…both in how the sessions are designed and directly. I want the answers to come from them, and I know that approach takes some getting used to but we’re getting there.

 

Q:  Can you describe the practice sessions?

A:  Well, they are not for people who like to sleep in… On the mornings we practice, we have 30-34 players on the field at 6.55am.

In the sessions I am trying to do three things:

  1.  Introduce a problem and see if the players can solve it. How can you more effectively possess the ball? How can you win back the ball within three seconds? How can you make an effective run that will actually unbalance the defense?
  2. Relate whatever we are working on back to the game. If by half way through the session what we doing doesn’t look like the game, then something’s gone wrong.
  3. Work at an intensity and difficulty level that leads to skill development, rather than skill maintenance . This is difficult given the size of the group, and different capabilities of the players, but then it becomes a question of setting different challenges for the more advanced. Can they do the same exercise in a smaller space and with more pressure? Can they do it with fewer touches? That sort of thing.

 

Q:  Can you share some thoughts about your team’s performance in the Lehigh summer league thus far?

A:  The performances have been quite good. One of the challenges is that there is a lot of variability in the level of the teams in the division, so whatever the circumstances, as a coach I’m always thinking how do I make it make a productive, developmental experience for the players. So in some games we might focus on a specific, technical aspect of the last practice and try and apply it – Can you glance over your shoulder every time you receive the ball? Can the third attacker create a supporting angle or run even before the ball reaches the second attacker? When they can do that, I’m happier.

 

Q:  What short-term goal would like your team to accomplish before the PIAA soccer season begins?

A:  I think the primary goal is to set expectations about how the team will play in Fall, and this is a two-way process with the group. I don’t want the team to play in a certain way because I say so, but because they buy into the principles of play that they as a squad are capable of and aspiring to develop. That’s the groundwork we are laying now.

 

Q:  You have been coaching for years. In your opinion what is the #1 fundamental or basic skill all soccer players should possess and continuously practice?

A:  For me it is the ability to receive the ball at speed and under pressure (either foot) and take a productive first touch. On the field, the players who can do that well stand out a mile. Technically, there are quite a few things that make a good first touch, but a player kicking the ball against a wall or kick-back net or to another player and then receiving it back, a few hundred times a day, is a good start. Soccer is all about creating time and space in possession, and limiting time and space out of possession, so a highly efficient first touch creates time and is therefore essential.

 

Welcome to Saucon Valley, Coach Houghton, and best of luck to the entire Panther soccer program. The Source is with you!

New Saucon Valley Boys soccer coach Timothy Houghton .

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