Matt Potter is a disciple of the school of positive thinking. His life’s philosophy and his approach to coaching are interwoven. Teaching and soccer are his passion. “In combining the two, we can learn a lot about life,” says the Mere, England, native. “Really, it’s about becoming the best we can be individually and as a team.”
That is what he seeks for himself and for the women who comprise the Washington State University soccer team. He was promoted from assistant to head coach in June, succeeding Dan Tobias, who moved on to the University of Arizona. Two days before WSU was to make its debut, Potter was asked if he had any early concerns about the 2003 season.
“We really don’t,” he said. “We’re excited about it.”
Still, he must have had mixed emotions about the team’s opener? North Carolina had won 17 of the last 24 NCAA women’s soccer titles. Rather than bemoan the difficult schedule, Potter chose to look at the bright side. He was thrilled to have his team play on the same field with the perennial national power.
Potter likes to focus on what he and the Cougars can control. From day one, he’s worked on building confidence, in “piecing things together” so WSU can play with anyone. He doesn’t want to get caught up in just one game, one opponent.
The teacher/coach/sports psychologist is intent on instilling core values that apply to soccer, academics, and life: Always be prepared to learn, be positive-minded, passionate, hard-working, accountable, stay in tune with yourself, and build relationships.
“If you give your best effort, only good things can happen,” he says. “The more confident we play, the more positive we are, the better we’ll do.” Toward that goal, he’s defined roles or “job descriptions” for his players so as to reduce the unknowns. Being sharp mentally, understanding assignments, and communicating can mean the difference between a victory and a loss. It is not necessarily the team that is the most opportunistic that will win, he says, it’s the team that makes the fewest mistakes.
In the Cougars’ game plan, everyone defends, everyone attacks. It’ s not a goalkeeper and four defenders on defense, but a team mentality based on organization, discipline, and the ability to recognize situations. On offense, the Cougars will be creative, free-flowing. The first 10 to 15 minutes of each game will be important. “You want to imprint your style on the other team,” he says. “It is critical for us to get into our rhythm.”
He wants his team to press on through two 45-minute halves, and finish strong. The Cougars did that in their lone exhibition game against the Ghana national women’s team that visited Pullman on its tour of the U.S. in preparation for the World Cup. The two teams played to a scoreless tie in the first half, with WSU eventually winning 2-1. “Maybe some of our players got caught up in the moment,” Potter said of the first half deadlock. After the break, WSU made some changes and used all its players. “We have great depth, plus experience. That allows us to mix and match, and find out who can do what.”
In late August, Potter scheduled half-hour time slots to meet individually with all 26 of his players. They talked about the preseason, where he and his staff thought the players fit into the program and team, and allowed the players to do the same.
“We want them to be part of the process. Not just the staff having all the answers,” says Potter. It was important that everyone left the meeting knowing where they stood, how they can get better, and for the players to know that the coach has confidence in them.
“Coach Potter laid out the expectations he has for us individually and the expectations and vision he has for the program as a whole. I think it was an effective way to get everyone on the same page and working toward the same goals,” says Kim Morgan, senior midfielder and team captain from Seattle.
Potter is a 1992 honors graduate in physical education, and religious, social, and moral education from West London College. He competed as a center midfielder for the Watford Football Club, a semi-professional team, and began coaching when he was 18 in England. In 1992, he moved to Long Island, New York, and joined Noga Soccer, where he coached, developed a curriculum, and coordinated clinics and camps for girls and boys. Before coming to WSU, he was head coach for the Scottsdale (Arizona) Community College women’s soccer team in 2002. Earlier he spent eight years as head coach of the Sereno Soccer Club in Arizona.
Potter’s goals for the Cougars: to be competitive in the Pac-10 Conference, and to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.
“We want to have quality people leave our program at WSU—people who others want to employ or be around. That can be in soccer or any career these young women want to take.”