What was initially supposed to serve as a way to fulfill his high school community service hours has turned into a lifelong passion. At the age of 16, Chris Hudler started coaching a U6 girls team to complete his service hours at his Michigan high school, but once they were completed, he found himself eager to continue coaching. Twenty-three years later, he is doing just that.
As a player, Chris always found a way to be coaching too. “I ended up enjoying the coaching as much as the playing and decided it’s something I wanted to continue doing,” Chris explains. “As I was continuing to play, I still found other groups. Whether I was living in Michigan or I was in Tennessee in university for a bit, I found some kind of way to keep coaching.”
It wasn’t until Chris moved to Washington, D.C. in 2011 that he would begin his formal coaching education. “The first thing I try to do is find soccer wherever I go,” he says. “I found out about United Soccer Club, which was D.C. United’s Soccer for Success program…I took my E license course and then started doing Soccer for Success at a couple of sites around D.C.” By the end of his first year, Chris was coaching at five different Soccer for Success sites around the city.
In addition to Soccer for Success, Chris also started coaching for D.C. United’s summer youth development camps. It was during this time that he earned his USSF D license and was subsequently invited to assist with D.C. United’s pre-academy and developmental training programs.
“I vividly remember the first time working with Chris,” says D.C. United academy staff coach Dave Sanford, who coached with Chris during Soccer for Success and D.C. United development camps. “It’s all about that first impression, and he made a really good one,” says Dave. “He showed up early; he was eager to support; no job was too big or small as far as his role as a coach or helping set up from an operations standpoint.”
But what really stood out to Dave was Chris’ ability to connect with the kids. Dave maintains that Chris’ best trait as a coach is his ability to relate to any player, regardless of age or skill level. “He takes a keen interest and tries to relate to the player from their experience in life [and] ensures that they have a fun time playing the game of soccer.”
Dave first came to notice this quality in Chris during the D.C. United camps. “Chris’ niche within camps is usually within the youngest age category, which can often be a child’s first experience playing soccer,” says Dave. “He’s the first one to put a spin on it and make them feel welcome…Within 30 minutes, he’s going to have that kid actively engaged, actively involved in the session and ultimately, put in a full week of camp when they came in very uneasy as they walked through the gates for the first time.”
Chris owes his ability to connect with players on an individual level to his diverse coaching background. “I really liked the fact that I could work with people from different [levels of experience] to try to deliver the same high-quality content,” he says of getting to work with both Soccer for Success participants and D.C. United players. He fondly remembers spending “the afternoon working with [Soccer for Success] kids who just adored the time with us and loved to be there and got so much out of the sport, maybe even more so than the elite athletes I was working with and training in the evenings.”
Chris also recognizes the impact that the Soccer for Success curriculum has had on his ability to build confidence as a coach and to plan efficient training sessions.
The curriculum was especially helpful and encouraging after Chris’ first day as a Soccer for Success coach-mentor. “I still remember my first practice. The night before, like I normally would, I put together my session plan with my progression from simple to complex and all these technical things,” he explains.
When he arrived at the site with his bag full of equipment and a plan in place, he was a bit caught off guard, both by the fact that he was to hold sessions on a concrete playing surface and that for many of these kids, “this was the first time for them working in a team sport or…even playing soccer.”
But his initial worries were assuaged by the comprehensiveness of the Soccer for Success curriculum. “The structure of it appeals more to the kids, especially to the beginner kids,” he remarks. “I had already come from a pretty decent coaching background," but Chris says he didn't know as much about how to work with kids with such a wide range of skills. He notes that, with the curriculum, “it’s so easy to get started. The hooks are great.”
Brendan, whose son, Aidan, played with Chris for nearly half a decade in Soccer for Success, praises Chris for the passion he brought to his coaching. “Any of the parents I know from the kids who were playing at that time all thought he did a really awesome job in terms of his involvement [and] enthusiasm,” says Brendan. “We were certainly lucky to have him.”
Now, as an 11-year-old, Aidan still remembers the positive influence Chris had on his game. “I learned positions and how to move the ball [and] how to really control the game,” Aidan notes. “I definitely play my position better now than before I was with Coach Chris.”
Chris’ positive impact goes beyond a player’s experience on the pitch. Aidan describes that Chris “didn't only care about how he was coaching us on the field, but he also told us to always keep a good mind on and off the field,” which has influenced Aidan in his day-to-day life. “I definitely try as hard as I do in school as I do on the field.”
Now, over half a decade later, some of Chris’ first Soccer for Success participants are graduating from high school. “I’m fortunate enough to still be working in the same communities and going to some of the same fields,” Chris says. “They had so much fun and they just want to [stop by] and kick around.”
Chris’ unique experiences as a coach – and coach-mentor – have prepared him for where he is today. “With Soccer for Success and the new communities I was working in, I became much better at communicating,” Chris says. “I feel confident now going into any situation coaching-wise, whether they’re newer athletes [or] newer coaches even.”
Chris has had plenty of experience working with new coaches as a part of the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s National Training team. Every summer, coaches of all backgrounds gather in Washington, D.C. to become certified Soccer for Success trainers. Members of the National Training team, like Chris, also travel around the country to host local trainings. Chris says it’s another cool bonus to be a part of the National Training team because he has “had the opportunity to work with hundreds of coaches across the country.”
Dave, too, appreciates the value Chris brings to the coaching world. “He’s become an expert in educating the player, but as he moves forward…he has the ability to spread his experience on to other coaches and really enhance the work that the local soccer community is doing from a grassroots development standpoint,” Dave explains, noting that Chris can have an even bigger collective imprint on players by educating the coach.
Chris has obtained a wealth of knowledge from his time as a Soccer for Success coach-mentor. Check out more on our evidence-based after-school program, Soccer for Success.