Roby Stahl’s name is nearly synonymous with soccer starting with his playing days at the University of Akron to U.S. National teams to playing professionally here and abroad, and following that up with a legendary coaching career around the globe and at every conceivable level. So when Stahl, who is the Technical Education Director at Kings Soccer Academy in the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky region, speaks about soccer, people listen.

Stahl told Loyalty 360 that many of his coaches at Kings have been with him for 14 years, as have many of the kids, “so we have a lot of loyalty built in to this program. We invest in our coaches in terms of the respect we give them. I’m very active giving them recommendations. And I’ve lost a lot of good people because they’ve moved onto better positions. I also go to bat for kids I’ve coached with recommendations for jobs. This is a lifetime process. You’re involved with them.”

It’s easy to see that Stahl not only invest in his coaches, but makes a lifelong loyalty commitment to his players.

Making your own decisions is a phrase Stahl adheres to and stands by as the root of all growth in his program. “For our 9- and 10-year-olds, we have 38 teams, two coaches for each team, and my trainers,” Stahl said. “It’s so much fun to play. It’s a great teaching technique of running and jumping with unilateral movements. And you’re making your own decisions. The biggest thing is allowing them to make their own decisions.”

Kings Soccer Academy, which come June will be renamed KingsHammer SC according to Stahl, is open to boys and girls from as young as 3 years old all the way up to 23. Stahl’s teaching methods are legendary.

“I’ve developed a thick skin,” Stahl said. “I’m a very blunt person, but also sensitive and try to be politically correct. I treat you the way you treat me. That’s done well for me. Treat people the way you want to be treated. I think I command respect with the parents.”

A simple, yet crucial component of the engagement puzzle for Stahl is making it fun.

“One philosophy I’ve always followed is this is their only childhood, so let them enjoy it,” Stahl said. “I try and teach the way I enjoyed learning, through personal experience stories, things I liked and didn’t like playing on the playground.”

As in the game of soccer, coaching and mentoring young people is all about preparation. Stahl can’t read enough about new coaching methods, or new ways to relate to children.

“One of the keys is being organized and being very professional,” Stahl said. “Reading books, watching DVDs, visiting other clubs, and researching. A lot of YouTube. The world is so small now. The way you improve yourself is by researching and seeing different teaching methods and putting your own personality on them.”

Stahl has attended every NSCAA (National Soccer Coaches Association of America) convention for the past 30 years because he wants to know what teaching methods work and which ones don’t.

“I relate to people very well,” Stahl said. “I’m friendly. Teaching has changed and you have to adapt to kids today. When I grew up the coach had the final word. That was law. My parents would never ever second-guess the coach and they supported the coach. Now you have to be careful what you do and take each child on a case-by-case basis.” 

When Stahl teaches the youngest players, there is an abundance of ball movement education, ball manipulation, allowing them to “feel good about themselves and being around adults.”

Stahl’s three golden rules of engagement are: “When I’m talking, you’re not; it’s OK to make mistakes because that’s how you learn; and have fun. Parents see we’re having fun with the kids and at the end of practice the kids shake each coach’s hand, look them in the eye, and thank them. It teaches a lot of lessons.”

Stahl, who has a 16-year-old son in the program, understands the psychology of relating to and coaching kids and is knowledgeable about growth stages. His training curriculum is very age appropriate. “One parent once told me: ‘You have a huge ego, but you’re just one of the boys.’ I took that as a compliment.”

When Stahl starts with 2-, 3-, and 4-year-olds at Kings, most of the instruction is about movement education, playing games, manipulating the ball, and allowing the kids to feel god about themselves and being around adults.

Stahl believes the best U.S. soccer coaches should actually be working with the youngest players because that’s “when their minds are sponges. One of the reasons we’re successful now is because I have the kids from the time they’re 2, 3, and 4. And for two to three years they’re with the same coaches, attend summer camps, winter clinics, and there is a common message of how we’re doing things.”

Stahl and his wife know so many of the parents involved with Kings and, along with his devout coaching staff and players, “there is a lot of loyalty in the program.” Stahl said that often on Monday nights Kings holds skills training/soccer festivals in which kids work with a professional coach focusing on individual skills and, for the last 45 minutes games they split up into small groups and games are held where every kid plays with one or two substitutes in an unsupervised atmosphere. “That teaches them responsibility in not only soccer, but in life,” Stahl said. “The kids start to learn on their own.”

Stahl added: “When we started it (the unsupervised games), people hated it. Kids were misbehaving, but we’ve refined this and parents would challenge me because they didn’t understand the value of free play. We don’t just cater to the best players. We want them all to learn.”

At the youth level, Stahl previously served as the Director of Coaching for the Ohio South Youth Soccer Association, Boys Director of Coaching for the Ohio Elite Soccer Academy, FC America Omni/Kumba in Orlando, Florida, Hungryneck SC in Charleston, South Carolina, and as head coach for numerous boys’ and girls’ youth and high school teams in various state and countries. 

Many of Stahl’s former players are currently playing in the MLS, the WUSA, and in foreign countries. In Sweden, 12 of his former players competed in World Championships, European Championships, and the Olympic Games. 

Part one of a three part series connecting lessons in youth sports engagement to broader customer loyalty, experience and engagement strategies.
Read also, Part 2: Ginga "Touches" the Engagement Factor Part 3: Communication Engagement Tool for ABLY Swim Program (to be released June 4th)

By: Mark Johnson, CEO, Loyalty 360 - The Loyalty Marketer's Association

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