St. Louis has long been known for its deep devotion to soccer — a key to the spread of the game throughout the country after it gained popularity here among an immigrant, Catholic population in St. Louis.
Into that history steps Jeff Muhr, the new director of coaching and player development for the Missouri Youth Soccer Association. A parishioner at Immaculate Conception in Dardenne Prairie, he formerly coached at Incarnate Word Academy, which won the Class 2 state championship in 2004.
Muhr most recently was the co-founder and director of coaching at St. Louis Hawks FC. In the new position, he’ll have the opportunity to influence and educate coaches around the state and “help them to develop the future generations of great soccer players,” he said.
On Sept. 12, Muhr led the Coach It Right soccer clinic at Ursuline Academy sponsored by the St. Louis Sports Commission’s Sportsmanship Foundation. Several coaches from the Catholic Youth Apostolate’s CYC sports program were in attendance. Topics included communicating with players and parents, the developmental appropriateness of activities, the essentials of running training sessions and more.
Solomon Alexander, director of the sportsmanship foundation, said Muhr “is so committed to kids having the highest-quality coaching possible that he takes it upon himself to coach their coaches himself. We are proud to have MYSA (Missouri Youth Soccer Association) as a partner in the Coach It Right program and Jeff specifically.”
A native of Chicago’s northwest suburbs of Chicago, Muhr played soccer in college, earned a degree in education and started coaching in a school district in Chicago. In 27 years of coaching, he’s coached recreational soccer, select teams, boys and girls high school teams, and he’s worked with the Olympic Development Program in Illinois and Missouri. Ar the Missouri Youth Soccer Association, he’ll oversee that program.
St. Louis still is considered an important place for soccer, Muhr said. “There’s a lot of pride taken into it, whether it’s in CYC, which can be a pretty competitive environment on its own level, through the whole select program and into the Olympic Development Program,” he said.
Twelve Missouri Olympic Development Program players were selected to represent the Midwest regional team for their age groups, and some will play in games in Florida in November. St. Louis has “a very strong base,” Muhr said, adding that more education for coaches at all levels should translate into a larger pool of players who can play at the next level.
“I’m a big proponent that we all need to be lifelong learners,” the coach’s coach said.
He tells coaches that when it’s game day and players go out on the field “it’s their time to go on stage. I’ve sat through a number of dance recitals for my two girls, and I’ve never seen an instructor get up and start shouting at the kids, telling them what to do.”
Coaches should act similarly on game-day.
“We’ve had them all week to try to improve player behavior and coach them,” he said. “When it comes to game day, it’s time to let them go out there and have that moment.”
The “play-practice-play” methodology, which allows young players to experience game-like situations as much as possible, helps the player be a problem-solver. “In the end, that will make them better on the field,” he said. “If you’re a joy-stick type of coach telling them every single thing — when to shoot, when to dribble when to pass — then we’re really not developing players. We need to get them to be thinkers on the field.”
Muhr has two boys who are graduates of De Smet Jesuit High School (with one attending Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Mo., and the other a graduate of Rockhurst) and two daughters who attend Cor Jesu Academy. He and his wife believe strongly in having faith as a part of education.
“We have to really, in this crazy life we live, to quiet ourselves, listen and try to see what that plan is for us,” he said. “If we do that, God’s plan will come through.”
He calls his position a blessing and a way to share what other coaches shared with him — inspiring other coaches to be good people. “For me, this was the path I was put on,” he said.
>> Clinic impression
Gabe Kiley is the coach of a first-grade girls soccer team at Queen of All Saints Parish in Oakville.
Coach It Right soccer clinic last month at Ursuline Academy sponsored
by the St. Louis Sports Commission’s Sportsmanship Foundation was right
up his alley. And Kiley appreciated the job Jeff Muhr did in leading the
“He was very much about sporstmanship, working together
as a team, doing the right things, playing the right way,” Kiley said of
the director of coaching and player development for the Missouri Youth
Soccer Association. “You could tell he was very passionate about soccer
and loves the game. I thought the information he provided and the values
he was trying to pass on to coaches was very applicable to all levels