Mario Zúñiga Gil
Assistant Women’s Soccer Coach at Grand Valley State University
“United Soccer Coaches has provided a platform for me to develop as a coach, improve my coaching tree and my coaching network, be able to help and empower others, and feel recognized for my efforts… I absolutely feel like I belong in United Soccer Coaches, and I will forever be a member of the organization.”
Can you tell us about your coaching experience, who you are and what you do?
My name is Mario Zúñiga Gil. I’m an assistant coach at Grand Valley State University women’s soccer in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I’m originally from Spain, but I have been living in the US for the last 8 years and I now hold dual citizenship. I have coached extensively at the club and HS levels before moving on to the college level. I was on staff last year with the University of Michigan women’s soccer program before moving on to my new role.
Why is it important for you to be a coach?
Soccer and coaching are my passions. They are a big part of who I am and aside from my family, the reason why I get up happy and ready to go every day. I absolutely love the X’s and O’s part of soccer, I love studying the game and growing my knowledge, but even more, I love the relationships you get to build as part of this job. Helping young women develop as people first, then as soccer athletes is one of the most rewarding things I have ever experienced, and I feel so lucky that I get to do this full-time.
Why do you think coaching education is important?
Because nobody was born knowing. Everything you know you learned at some point! I can’t stress enough the importance that continued education has had and will continue to have, in my career. We demand our players get out of their comfort zones to better themselves; why wouldn’t we do just that through coaching education for the duration of our careers?
What does heritage mean to you?
Heritage means remembering where you came from so you can better know where you are going. It’s about respecting and honoring the traditions and cultures of those who came before us while celebrating diversity and making sure all feel included.
Do you have mentors and how has their mentorship helped you?
My first mentor was my uncle, who introduced me to coaching and taught me the basics. Had he not been there then, I would not be a coach today. In the last few years, Jen Klein (University of Michigan) and Katie Hultin (University of Michigan then, now she’s my head coach at Grand Valley) have played an immense role in growing my career because they have taught me so much about the high level of college soccer, especially when it comes to managing a team, building relationships, and dealing with adversity. I would encourage anybody that wants to grow as a coach to reach out to coaches they look up to for mentorship, and to be persistent if they can’t find a mentor right away.
What advice would you give any young Latina or Latino coach?
DO NOT EVER GIVE UP! You may get overlooked by some people, but that should never be the reason to stop chasing something you really want and are really passionate about. I was told “no” or heard nothing after reaching out more times than I can remember. If you work hard, continue to develop yourself, and you keep trying, it’s only a matter of time. I feel very strongly about this. Good things happen to those that beat adversity and continue to chase their dreams no matter what.
What are some of the activities you enjoy to de-stress, that are not soccer related?
I love to cook – all types of food, but when I have some time, I’ll cook the Spanish dishes that I miss the most! I always have a book I’m reading. I also like hiking, board games, and watching other sports (I love the feeling of not fully understanding them, because I feel I can enjoy them without having to analyze every little thing.