Coach's greatest satisfaction comes from impact on kids

By Brent Kennedy

Soccer coach Bill McCormack gives some instruction during his Soccer Association of Columbia/Howard County under-14 practice at Oakland Mills Middle School, in Columbia.
It's never been about the wins or the championships. Bill McCormack Jr. will be the first to tell you that a coach doesn't make it 34 years at the recreational level focusing on those kinds of things.

Instead, for the longest tenured coach in the Soccer Association of Columbia program, it's always been about making deeper impacts; teaching lessons that stretch beyond the playing surface and doing his best to positively influence the lives of his players.

And it is that dedication which will be at the forefront when McCormack is inducted into the Community Sports Hall of Fame later this month.

"Of all the things that I could possibly be doing with my life, coaching is definitely it," McCormack said. "Beyond a children's parents, there are a select group of people that have an opportunity to make lasting impressions on them, and I've been blessed with the opportunity to be one of those people. There's nothing more fulfilling than to know that you have made an impact on someone's life."

McCormack, who has coached girls recreational soccer for SAC for 33 years, and 12-13-year-old boys basketball in the Columbia Basketball Association for 23, has had the chance to touch more lives than even he thought possible. Some of his fondest memories are those involving his former players and their parents coming back to thank him for his time.

"I've had kids come back and tell me that I was the reason they were able to play high school soccer, were able to get a college scholarship. That I was the reason they loved the game," McCormack said. "As a coach you always aim to make a difference, but it's not until you see these kids grown up and leading successful lives that you realize how big that difference really is."

Dave Gates, his current assistant soccer coach, said it's a difference that not even the kids realize until a few years later.

"These lessons he teaches them about hard work and being team players, they all translate over into everyday situations," said Gates, who has been coaching with McCormack for four years now. "When the kids are at practice and in the moment they probably don't realize it, but they will and they'll be thankful that they had someone who cared as much as he does."

A lot of McCormack's effectiveness stems from his ability to create a safe and secure learning environment, where the focus is almost entirely on "internal yardsticks, like hustle" as opposed to "external yardsticks, like the score on the scoreboard." McCormack says his kids are encouraged to make mistakes so that they ultimately are able to learn from them.

He also does his best to give the kids a sense of ownership with the team, setting aside several minutes of each practice to have talks as a group. The talks consist of a variety of things, ranging from how the kids feel the soccer season is going to how things are going in school and life in general.

"It's a very tumultuous period in a young girl's life, that 9-12 or 13 time frame where there is a lot going on and Bill understands that and makes an effort to be that person the kids can talk to and confide in," said Damon Foreman, who coached alongside McCormack for seven years in the early to mid-1990s. "He takes the role of coach to that next level."

To go along with allowing kids to take ownership, McCormack also makes an effort to establish a sense of identity for his teams.

Back in 1975, a few years after he began coaching, McCormack encouraged his team to come up with a nickname for themselves. Two players, Christine Bartolo and Carrie Bennett, suggested the team adopt the same moniker as McCormack's 1967 Kelly green Buick LeSabre, which he called "the green machine."

The name has stuck with the team, which wears green jerseys, ever since.

"I wanted there to be a sense of pride and tradition that these girls felt when they put on those jerseys, similar to the way it used to be with the Boston Celtics, which was my favorite basketball team growing up," McCormack said. "So I bought these patches, with a soccer ball and our team name, and had the kids put them on their uniforms and I told them that we were going to be special. And now those patches have meaning, because I am able to tell the girls stories about how all these girls that went on to play high school and college ball were once in their same shoes."

Over the years, McCormack has coached over 500 girls in soccer and 150 boys in basketball. And while it was never the primary focus, he has achieved a winning percentages of 55 percent or better in both sports.

His success is more well noted on the soccer front, having coached four eventual Howard County Players of the Year and won 12 age- group titles as a team. More than 40 percent of his players have gone on to play travel soccer, many of which also played for their respective high school teams.

This winter, one of his former basketball players, David Pearman, will suit up for the University of Maryland.

"As far as my own external yardsticks go, the degree of success my kids have as athletes and quality teammates after they leave me, is right up there among the most important," McCormack said.

In order to support himself and his family, McCormack spent 32 years of his life as an engineer for Verizon, formerly Bell Atlantic. He said the steady job provided him the opportunity to have a good standard of living and also devote the necessary time to his hobby of coaching.

Now retired, McCormack has been able to really focus on that hobby. He recently started his 34th year on the soccer front, and although a hip replacement will keep him off the basketball court this winter, he expects to resume coaching year-round as quickly as he possibly can.

"If it's up to me, I will be coaching until I die," said McCormack. "For my mental health and physical well being it's critical, because when I'm on that court or on that field, that's when I feel totally at peace. It's become a part of who I am and I wouldn't want it any other way."

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