York Soccer Surges With James at the Helm
TORONTO, April 25, 2006 -- York University
Paul James watches from the sidelines, while All-Canadian striker April Noga handles the ball during a match at the 2005 CIS National Championship in Edmonton. (Photo by Uwe Welz)
Challenges on the soccer pitch are nothing new to Paul James. With 47 caps for Canada’s senior men’s national team under his belt – including appearances at the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and the 1986 World Cup in Mexico – the veteran of both the North American Soccer League and Canadian Soccer League has delivered and received countless tackles.
But one of the biggest challenges James has experienced had nothing to do with getting knocked by an opposing defender. Two years ago, after completing an educational four-and-a-half year stint as coach of Canada’s U20 national men’s side, the Master Coach accepted a position at York University, agreeing to grow both the men’s and women’s varsity programs.
“The primary focus is to create two good teams that are sustainable,” says James. “We’ve made some steps. We’re still not there. But we’ve got some talent.”
York has already reaped some rewards from the revamped soccer programs, the most notable being the women Lions earning the school’s first ever Ontario University Athletics championship with a sensational 1-0 win over the Ottawa Gee-Gees in November. The score line was indicative of the discipline that James has instilled in his players – in 10 regular season games, the women’s side allowed just three goals.
“If you don’t score goals, you can’t win games but if you can’t defend, you won’t win championships,” says James. “You have to understand that and get the balance right.”
Of course, the ability to keep the ball out of the back of the net is just a small component of what James is trying to teach his players. On a much larger scale, he hopes to not only help York’s program evolve by placing an emphasis on commitment and pride, but the entire university system itself.
“It takes time,” says James. “We have to set standards.”
James already has set very high standards on a personal level. The Laurier University grad enjoyed an impressive playing career with the NASL’s Toronto Blizzard and the Doncaster Rovers in England, as well as making four all-star appearances throughout his time in the Canadian Soccer League. It was with the CSL’s Ottawa Intrepid where he got his initial coaching experience, filling the dual role of manager and player. James did the same with the London Lasers in 1992, earning CSL Coach of the Year honours, before taking the next step in his emerging coaching career.
In 1994, at the age of 29, James was offered the position to take over the fledgling soccer program at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, NY. He seized that opportunity and two years later, he was at the helm of an NCAA program as head coach at Niagara University. It was throughout his years south of the border that James got a taste of what success entailed from the coaching perspective. He immersed himself in film and constantly read about the game and how best to teach it, helping him earn Coach of the Year honours in each of the two leagues.
“That period in the States was a huge learning curve I hadn’t planned,” he says. “I was passionate about it.”
James had aspirations of moving on to a big NCAA Division I program but instead, he found himself back in Canada leading the men’s U20 program. While the opportunity was tremendous, he admits that it was “a huge job” that required a level of understanding beyond the formation you employ on match day. Politics, increased media scrutiny and a high level of pressure were just some of the additional things James had to deal with.
“It’s all of those things,” he says. “I didn’t like the political side of it and the angling of people
. I learned a lot about myself. I can’t work in that kind of environment.” Edit: I wonder who that was (CSA, coaches, parents, players? The possibilities are endless)
Despite that, the team did well as Team Canada defeated both Mexico and the United States to advance to the 2001 World Youth Championships, making James the first ever Canadian to represent the country at a FIFA sanctioned event as both a player and coach. He left the Canadian Soccer Association and went to the Liverpool, England, where he completed the prestigious Football Industries MBA at the University of Liverpool.
After completing the course in one of the world’s most passionate football environments, James saw the advertisement for the York job and once again, saw an opportunity to make an impact. He admits the program faces some unique obstacles with York being predominantly a commuter school but the overall approach and ethic of the players is certainly improving. For example, James says that fitness was a weak spot with some of the athletes so proper training has become a point of emphasis. So too has flexibility in terms of the style of the two teams. While sound defensive positioning has been one of James’s underlying themes, he has adapted his system to the strengths of his players.
“Our framework will be this – never compromise on ethic and passion,” says James. “But we’ll change. That’s more in line with the modern-day environment in football. If you play one style, you’ll be in trouble.
“You need to adapt.”
Despite his experience with the politics of football in this country, James is trying help foster some change regarding the future of the sport at the Canadian university level. He recognizes that programs throughout Canadian Interuniversity Sport have trouble recruiting top-end talent, which is in part due to the a lack of exposure. The crčme-de-la-crčme inevitably ends up in the States as part of the collegiate system, which even in Canada, is highly promoted. In a recent visit to the CSA, James asked that the merits of playing in Canada and the CIS be highlighted.
“They were receptive when we went there,” the York coach says with optimism.
Though James's distinguished playing career is long done, the challenges never stop.
Taken from oua.ca. Written by David DiCenzo, OUA Communications & Media Relations