Head coach for women’s soccer
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
It’s hard to believe that it’s soccer season once again for the Douglas College Royals. It’s even harder to believe that it’s been a year since the women’s soccer team made their historic run into their first Nationals for a solid fourth place finish. Three or four years ago, no one could have guessed that the bottom-dwelling Royals team would be a national contender in less than five years. Though the lion’s share of the credit goes to the hard-working players on last year’s team, no one can deny the fantastic work of one man, and his excellently trained coaching staff.
Chris Laxton came into the Royals program in 2014, and in two years transformed the program from a team that struggled in the PACWEST into a team that dominated the west for most of 2015. I got a chance to sit and talk to Chris, and really got an idea of what made the man the successful coach that he is.
Born on November 17, 1983 in Vancouver, BC, to an English father, and a third-generation Vancouverite mother, Chris Laxton grew up loving soccer. Although he played other sports, soccer was always the one that he loved the most, and he played a variety of positions before really settling into the goalkeeper‘s spot. His youth career taught him many valuable lessons, and ultimately set him upon the path he treads now.
“There wasn’t really a great demand for 5’10” goalkeepers,” Laxton recalled fondly. “I realized that if I wanted to be at a high level with soccer, I wasn’t going to be playing, I would be coaching. Fortunately, I’ve had enough doors open for me, and I’ve taken my chances.” Those chances Chris refers to came at a young age for him. But he was more than willing to take the mantle of responsibility.
“I was 13 when I started working at summer camps, so I was teaching sports at a young age. I kept getting opportunities to coach, and when I got out of high school, I had my own U-10 team. Another opportunity came around for me to coach an older boys team. I wasn’t too successful there. Then I got to work with girl’s soccer, which had a lot more opportunities, about 15 years ago. I met some great people along the way that taught me loads, helped me out, and were able to open doors for me.”
I’d like to believe that that it was Chris’ charm and wit that got him as far as he’s gone, but it’s obvious when you meet him and have a conversation with him about the game of soccer, that his passion and work ethic got him to where he is now.
For Chris, his passion for soccer started at a young age. His father was a diehard Vancouver 86’ers fan, and Chris inherited his father’s passion for the beautiful game. Although the 86’ers will always have a place in Chris’ heart, as he grew older, he developed a different kind of admiration for the English Premier League’s Arsenal. Like many young coaches, Chris’ favourite team’s play-style featured in the teams that he coached.
“When I was a younger coach, I always loved how Arsenal played; their free-flowing attacking style. Less and less now, but early on for sure. At the end of the day, I’d like my teams to entertain. Entertain me, at least,” he said with a laugh. “I get to watch them for 90 minutes every game, and if they play boring soccer I wouldn’t be too keen on that.”
Chris’ passion for the attacking style also comes from his youth. Although his regular position was goalkeeper, Chris was known to be a mean striker when given the chance. “I was always a striker at heart. When we played games that weren’t as close as they were supposed to be, I’d always go up front and score a goal. I had a nose for goals.”
As Laxton grew up and graduated high school, he make his dream to coach full-time a reality that he could achieve. He went into UBC already coaching at a youth level, and played intramural soccer on campus. He would finish his time at UBC with a Bachelor in Human Kinetics, a Bachelor of Education, and even come back for his Master’s in Coaching Sciences. During his time doing his Master’s, Chris had the opportunity to be the assistant coach to the UBC men’s soccer team, and learned from UBC great Mike Mosher.
“Working with Mike Mosher showed me how much he paid attention to the detail. It was really great to be in that environment with such high calibre student athletes. Just really seeing how a collegiate program works, and how Mike set up his week for training, and how he set up his seasons, and the attention of detail he gave at each practice. He didn’t do drills that I hadn’t seen before, but he did them with great detail and high standards, and that’s something that I try to carry with me, here at Douglas.”
While his time with Mosher helped him find a standard that he is comfortable with, like many other coaches Chris draws much of his coaching inspirations from his peers, albeit from much bigger clubs. An interview with Chris would be remiss without mentioning his admiration for Arsène Wenger, the long-time manager of Arsenal. In Chris’ words, “He was always a good developer of talent, and watching how he developed players from these kids to star national players was always inspiring.”
Chris also draws from coaching greats such as Sir Alex Ferguson, who he believes always got the best out of the majority of his players, something Chris aspires to do with all of his teams.
One coach that is out of the ordinary in Laxton’s list of primarily English football clubs and coaches is Bayern Munich’s Jupp Heynckes. Chris has a special kind of admiration for the former coach of the famous German club, as he had the opportunity to attend and watch one of Munich’s training sessions under Heynckes. “I’ll always have a spot in my heart for Heynckes, because we actually got to go to one of their training sessions and see them work. All my players we were with were glued to the players, but myself and the other coach that came, our eyes were glue to Heynckes, and how he conducted training. We watched the points that he was making, even though not much was said, in English, or any language. It was more pointing and gesticulating.”
However, at the end of the day, Chris credits much of his understanding of the game, and the field, to his youth days as a goalkeeper. He believes that goalkeeper is the best position to really learn the game. “Playing in goal has given me a decent understanding of all 11 positions, because the goalkeeper position is so unique. I think a lot of the best coaches are goalkeepers. You see angles, and you see the game played in front of you. When I played, I was on a fairly successful team, so the ball wasn’t in our end very much. I got to see different movements and how the game got played.” His deep understanding of the game translates very well to his coaching, as he is able to direct his players where he knows the opposition players will be. His experiences in net have also allowed him to visualize the game from a much broader perspective and see formations and attack patterns much quicker than others.
While Chris Laxton is known at Douglas for being the head coach of the women’s soccer team, Chris very much has a life outside of his time with the Royals team. “I’m a TOC [teacher-on-call]seeking full-time employment. It’s actually something I quite enjoy. It’s a different adventure every day without the responsibility of bringing home homework. I also coach youth teams. I’m a coach at Fusion FC. I had one team, and now I’m helping with academy, so I’ve got two teams, so that takes up a lot of my time.”
While coaching the Royals, and coaching the Fusion FC youth team seems like two different beasts, it’s really the teaching aspect that caught my attention. When asked about it, Chris was quick to point out the similarity between the two, even saying that teaching helped him be a better coach. “Teaching is about relationships, just like coaching is. Relationships formed in coaching are at a much different level than teaching, but you’re dealing with so many different personalities as a teacher, and you’re learning how to deal with conflict, and un-motivated students. It also helps me realize that at Douglas, we have student athletes that have a great deal of responsibility. Whether it’s to their families, or their jobs, their education, or even being able to balance their social lives, I think I have a good understanding of the commitment required, and in some cases, the sacrifices required, that these women make to play. I’m hoping that I am able to balance the commitment I expect from them, with the understanding that they do need to work, and they more importantly, they do need to have a successful academic career, and hopefully after us, they move on to bigger and better things.”
It’s always interesting to go inside the mind of a coach, and see how everything clicks. Chris is hard-working and dedicated, and he and the Royals have a lot to prove this year as they defend their Provincial PACWEST title. You can come meet the man himself, and watch him and the Royals in action as their journey starts this Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Cunnings Field, when they kick off their season against the visiting Langara Falcons. If you can’t make it to that, don’t worry. They also play on Saturday, and Sunday, at 1 p.m. and 12 p.m. respectively, against the visiting VIU Mariners, and the Quest Kermodes.