Originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of Soccer Journal

In June 2019, the United Soccer Coaches Podcast had a discussion with members Bryan Turner and Vladimir Roganovic. Turner is the head boys and girls coach at Blue Valley North High School in Overland Park, Kan., while Roganovic is the Founder and Executive Director of Puma FC in Overland Park, Kan. The discussion centered around how the two are working together to create a better learning environment for their players that play both club and high school soccer. Below is an excerpt from that podcast. You can listen to the full podcast, which also includes an interview with High School Advocacy Chair Rusty Oglesby, online at UnitedSoccerCoaches.org/Podcast.

Q: Bryan, let’s start with you talk about first your take on why high school soccer is so important for young men and women?
BT: I believe that high school is so important just in the sense that having the amount of people, the fans, your friends, all those people, they’re coming to your games day in and day out. Whereas, in club, you know, not saying that you don’t have that same support, but a lot of it’s just the parents there. Just being able to play with people from different backgrounds and different club experiences and learning how to come together for a four-month period to try to get the best out of everyone and lift that state championship. It’s just something that I can’t explain. One quote I saw on Twitter was that everyone remembers their last high school game. I know for me, playing high school and club, I do not remember my last club game, but high school definitely stings and sticks with me.

Q: How hard is it to try to work with players to say, yeah, you can do both and have you had to lose some players because of the academy route?
BT: Yeah, so going into my second year, we do have I think three or four players on the boys’ DA side that do not play at the high school. We also had one girl that did play DA that came back to high school to play when I took over and there’s another girl who plays DA who is coming back as well for her senior year. It’s so important I think to get these, you know, these soccer players and especially players at that type of caliber to represent their high school because, to me it’s just, it means so much more than just playing the games. It’s representing the school and I just think it’s such an important part of development and growth for the players to learn that in that three to four-month period having to come together for that one cause. I just think it’s so important that we can try to work with those club coaches and DA coaches for the development of the kids, if anything.

Q: We’re also here with Vladimir Roganovic who is the Executive Director, founder, and coach for Puma FC and as we told you earlier, came over from Serbia where the notion of playing high school soccer isn’t even there, because you’re already thinking about a pro when you were about 12. So from where you sit Vlad, first off, high school soccer is probably not the biggest thing on your mind. Talk about how you’ve grown to appreciate high school soccer despite maybe sometimes it contrasting with what you’re trying to do.
VR: Absolutely, first of all, I did not grow up playing high school sports, everything is club connected. So just like you mentioned as a little kid your dream is to be a professional player, so you forget about everything else. You’re just focused on that. So being in the United States, at first when I started coaching I really did not understand the whole high school thing and once I learned how coaches within the high school programs are mostly professors it lowered my opinion on coaching soccer, you know it wasn’t that great if I could put it that way. But, as I kept living in the United States, as I started meeting people, as I started talking to kids of the importance of high school, I started realizing what that actually means to them and, you know, being an athlete that represents your high school it’s very important to the kids here. So that’s kind of how I started really looking even deeper into high school programs and you know I’m seeing a huge change in coaching within high school programs. Bryan is one of those people who are actually true soccer people becoming coaches within the high school programs. So in my opinion, that’s a huge change and I’m looking forward to seeing even bigger progress in that environment.

Q: I want to get more into how you guys have been able to sort of unify and talk about players that are able to do both. Before I do that though, Vlad, you just heard a Bryan talk about the four DA players that don’t play high school. What are your thoughts on the notion that if you’re in DA, there is no high school?
RG: You know, it’s a question that obviously everyone in the United States is talking about and to me at the end it comes back to individual player and what are they looking for. Players that are looking to play professional soccer I completely understand them really focusing just on the club scene and making sure that they’re following the path that U.S. Soccer created with the DA programs. Players that you know, and, there are some of the players in Bryan’s program that went the DA route then they realized that that’s not what actually they really want. I believe that kids in the United States have so many opportunities outside of soccer and that’s one of the reasons why a lot of them are choosing now not to go the DA route and continue playing high school because they’re still recognizing they could still play college with their scholarships and still be very successful, but at the same time, not lose the valuable social part that they have by playing high school sports. Because I know all the DA kids with their traveling schedules and everything they are missing, you know, for me as somebody that grew up that way, I could fully understand that was my choice. Now kids here, like I said, they have so many choices and opportunities, so I understand the ones that decided they do not want to go that route. And to be honest, there’s a lot of kids that start DA, they get their scholarship and then they’re like, you know what? I don’t want do that anymore. I want to finish high school and play last two years because I’m already set and I’ll just enjoy it with my friends.

Q: Bryan, you were a mechanical engineer working for the Navy and this bug to lead these young men and women took you in, again, before we talk about how you connected with Vlad, talk about this passion that overtook you.
BT: Uh, yeah, it’s I think a little of an uncharacteristic a story. So I did not play in college which was, you know, to this day, probably my only regret in life. But either way, I graduated as a mechanical engineer and took my first job here in Kansas City with Honeywell and while I was here I was at work one day and I just googled high school soccer in Kansas City and found like 20 high schools and just emailed those coaches asking if they had room for another coach on staff and it ultimately came down to (St. Thomas) Aquinas where I decided to work and I was there for six years as a varsity assistant and then my last year as JV head coach. While I was there, I also transitioned jobs to do some contract work for the Navy as an engineer. It was last summer around this time I was told that my contract wasn’t going to be renewed and you know, at that point I was at a crossroads. Do I want to go back into corporate America or do I want to really pursue my passion with coaching and I decided to choose coaching and you know, some people call me crazy for doing it, I still probably say that to myself transitioning especially salary-wise from an engineer’s salary to now a high school coach. It’s been a bit of a lifestyle adjustment, but I tell people that, you know, every day I wake up doing what I love to do, which is being around the game and coaching or setting up meetings to grow my business with the one-on-one training that I do and you know, I don’t regret it at all. I think it was the right decision and now it’s just been kind of cool seeing everything workout in a good way.

Q: As you heard me say already, there’s been kind of a divide, a lot of times it’s like the Hatfields and McCoys when you’re talking about high school soccer and club soccer and as I said earlier, I feel like Vlad gave a great answer there. So Vlad, talk about how excited you were when you learned that here is the head coach of a high school boys and girls team coming out to your games, maybe even your practices to say, hey, how can we work together? How can we help? I got to believe that doesn’t happen every day for you?
VR: No, no it doesn’t. Since I coach high school age girls, in the spring I try to attend as many games as I can and see my players play in all different schools. And honestly when I attend those games I’ve never had the opportunity, even though I tried a few times, to talk to the high school coaches. Even when I tried a couple of times with emails, it’s usually there’s this barrier and not a great response. You know I believe that’s the culture that’s been set for years. I would say last season, it was towards the end of the season, Bryan showed up at one of my club games and it was the girls actually who told me that, hey, our high school coach is here, he’s going to kind of watch. I was like, wow, I would love to meet this guy. So after the game we met, we chatted a little bit, and that was it, but I was still very impressed that a high school coach actually came to the club game to see the girls play. Then fast forward four or five months I got an email from Bryan where he explained what moment of the season his team was in. He gave me a direction of every individual player of mine. So there’s five girls on his team (who play in Vlad’s club) and he listed them by name and where they were physically right now, where they were at in the development part and you know, what he is expecting from them, and then he offered for me to come to the games or a training session for me to see them. When I read that email to be honest, I read it a couple of times and then I stopped everyone in the office and I was like, guys, you got to come see this because this never happens and I was blown away and, you know, to be honest I believe that I emailed back to Bryan, I cannot believe that this actually happened, that the coach, a high school coach did this. So of course, I made sure to come to his practice session. And by the way, regardless of his and my relationship, now we are becoming really close and trying to even work on some things together, but it was so impressive to see those girls, who didn’t know that I was going to show up, when they saw me at a training session they were just speechless and they were so excited. Even the other ones on their team who don’t play for our club, they were like, oh, I wish our coach would come to our training session. But the point is that he actually really went into detail and care about his players so his team could be more successful. And that’s kind of where him and I connected, where I recognized that he really wants to focus on the individual player and that’s what really matters to me the most.

Q: Bryan, you already told the story how you made this big leap and even had to change the way you live because obviously the pay is not the same. Why was it so important for you to send that email and make this happen? And even do what Vlad did, go to their practices or games and, and check on how they’re doing on their club team?
BT: The most important thing is this is for the kids. When I took over as the head coach, so before I even coached these young ladies, they invited me to their games and that was my first way to get to look at them and see how they were as players. So I jumped on that opportunity to watch their games and like Vlad said, we met each other briefly then and I actually have to give Ian Barker a shout out because I met up with him for coffee and he mentioned doing something like this, reaching out to the club coaches of my players. When I went to my first (United Soccer Coaches) Convention in January, actually I sat through a few of the high school sessions and that was mentioned in it as well. So, to me it’s when I made this transition into coaching full time I had to treat it like a full-time job and a full-time profession and doing the things like that that I know people typically don’t want to do, that goes a long way and Vlad and I have spoken since and we agree that if our true goal is the development of these players it would only make sense that both of the coaches in their lives are working together and they see that. You know Vlad brought up a good point that when he showed up to practice, I knew that he was coming that day but I didn’t know exactly what time, and I’m in the middle of a session and then out of nowhere you just hear four or five, six girls, “Oh my gosh, Coach Vlad!” and then the whole training session at that point was eyes turned on him, it was like a celebrity walking up, which was really cool to see. I had players that were like, “Hey, did my coach respond? Is my coach coming?” It was cool to see that, one, that they were interested in that. But then two, to see that the other club coaches were making attempts to try to come to games.

Q: When you heard the Executive Director, Founder and Director of this competitive club, drawing players from two-plus hours away, gave an open tab to high school soccer, it’s got to make you feel pretty good?
BT: It was, it was awesome. Vlad is someone that is very well respected in the soccer community here and he’s been here for much longer than me. So when I moved here I didn’t know anyone, but you know the names of the people up top and he was definitely one of them. So to now be six years later, full circle, where we’re chatting and he knows who I am now. It’s just really awesome to maybe have his respect in that regard.

Q: If it all works, Vlad, particularly with your great background and Hall of Fame career as a player and then founding this club that has had great success. At the end of the day, I got to believe, Vlad, you consider yourself American now, if it all works, it means that the U.S. team is pushing toward winning a World Cup. Right. It’s all part of making the U.S. stronger as well, right?
VR: Absolutely. Yeah. I am an American citizen, but I do still cheer for Serbia as well I want to point that out. But absolutely. I mean, in my opinion, you know, creating the DA program and improving coaching, actually all the coaches altogether, they’re trying to provide coaching for the kids and players, everything that we’re doing here it’s really to get to the goal of United States winning the World Cup and it takes time, absolutely. Is it doable? Absolutely. And I think people that don’t believe that shouldn’t be in this sport in both club or high school environment. But, I think that, you know, I’m kind of changing the subject a little bit, but in order for the United States to get there, kids really need to watch soccer and play soccer and breathe soccer much much more than they are, and it’s happening. It’s definitely happening. Just as you can see now with the Women’s World Cup I know so many kids that they’re actually in front of the TVs at home and watching games and their parents are sending me videos of what they’re doing and what they’re trying to mimic and that’s the key. Can we see these players on the TV? Can we get out and mimic what they’re doing? Because that’s how I grew up. That’s how kids in South America grew up and in order for us to become, you know, a super power, we need more and more and more soccer altogether.

Q: Final thoughts from both of you on how it just maybe works better if the high school coaches can have some connection with the premier clubs in their area? We’ll start with you, Vlad.
VR: In my opinion, I think getting together just like Bryan and I did, you know, potentially even through United States Soccer or maybe even Ian Barker is actually a person who could actually start something amazing here (in Kansas City) where we could connect even more at the club/high school scene so that it’s really communicated between each other is a key. If we put players in front of us first, everything will be easier and I think everybody will recognize that that’s what’s best for the players and test the best way to go about it.

BT: I just think that in order for the high school and club coaches to work together I think we both need to put away the egos that are there. I was speaking with Ian and Michael earlier about this, but you know I was a club coach for six years prior and I was a high school coach. I would hear the contrast in the club environment versus the high school environment on what the high school is doing wrong versus what the club is doing wrong and vice versa. So when I was in the position to now be a head coach myself of high school and I’ve since been removed from club I just knew that it was so invaluable to make sure that that relationship gets mended, at least on my end, that the club coaches know and the DOCs and Executive Directors know that I want to invite them into my training sessions. I want them to be out there and be a part of it because at the end of the day I’m doing what I can do that’s best for my kids. Like I’ve said a few times, if that is the true goal, the development of these players into soccer players or into just better human beings, that’s what I want to do. So I just want to make sure that whatever avenue I can travel down and do that for my kids, I traveled down there.