CP Interview with Orlando Pride Coach Tom Sermanni

Tom Sermanni has led a global life as a soccer player and coach. Now, as head coach of the Orlando Pride, he’s coaching some of the world’s best soccer players. At a recent Pride practice, he gave us some insight into his life, including memories from his career and what he does to keep improving.
What do you like to do when you’re not working?
Not a lot, to be honest. Because when the season starts, you’re never not working. I try to get out on the golf range and hit a few golf balls, but I haven’t done that for weeks. I try to read. But again, it’s sporadic. I like to do a daily crossword. USA Today. That kind of keeps my sanity. So I try to do the word puzzle, the sudoku and the crossword. And that’s kind of my little bit of sanity. And then I try to get to the gym most days if I can.
Who is your favorite golfer?
I’ll say this because we had a night out with him one night: Ian Poulter. When I was coaching the Australian women’s team, we played a game in Japan. And where we played the game in Japan, there was a golf tournament on nearby. Some of the golfers were staying in our hotel. It was our last game of the year kind of thing, so at the end of the game we all went out, found a local pub — the whole team, staff, everything. And Ian Poulter and a couple of golfers came out. Great guy. So, yeah, I kind of follow him.
What are you reading right now?
I’ve been reading some management books a little bit. I just reread “Who Moved My Cheese” just recently. I read one called “Habit.” I think it’s important when you get to my age — you’ve got to continually look at different ways to do things and think of things differently that you can do to keep moving along. You can’t stand still, and a lot of coaches that get to my age tend to say, “Well this is how I’ve always done it for 20 years,” and you can get left behind quite quickly. So I read some of them and then I read generally Michael Connelly books, John Grisham-type books.
Are you married? Do you have kids?
I am married. No children, no pets. So I married Allison and we’ve been married since 1987. We met when I was playing in England in 1981. Don’t want to rush into marriage. We got married in 1987 in Australia … Our lifestyle has never been child-friendly, if you like. We moved around a lot. So it’s just the two of us. And she’s actually back in Australia at the moment working. We’ve spent a significant time of our marriage apart. I don’t know if that’s a good thing. I can’t say if that’s a good thing. We’ve just been doing that. So we both enjoy each other’s company, but we’re both quite comfortable when we’re in different continents.
What was your favorite memory as a player or the thing you’re most proud of?
I don’t know. I know that sounds really vague. I don’t tend to think in that way. I don’t know if that sounds daft. I’ve always just enjoyed the experiences I’ve been very fortunate to have, both as a footballer and as a coach. There have been moments in my career where — for example, I first came from a semiprofessional to becoming a professional player when a team bought me from Scotland to England. So you kind of look back. You think, “OK, I achieved that ambition, to become a professional player.” But I didn’t score the winning goal in a cup final or anything of that kind of thing that people might think is the best bit of their career.
For me, the best bit of my career has been the places that I’ve been to and lived — and the people both within the game and out of the game that I’ve met in those places and renewed friendships with or kept friendships with for like 30-odd years. For example, when I came back to coach the U.S. national team here in 2013, I hooked up with a guy called Vic Davidson who I played with at Blackpool in 1979. And I hadn’t seen Vic since 1981. He was doing a coaching course, and it was like we’d seen each other yesterday.
Those are the things for me that are most valuable, and they become more valuable the older that you get as well, because you realize how important they are. And I’ve maintained relationships with people … in Japan for over 20 years — and guys that I played with in 1975 that when I get back to Glasgow we catch up and reminisce about things. And you keep that friendship. So for me, those are the memories. And also the places that I’ve been really fortunate to live in and the experience I’ve had living in those places. So that’s kind of what’s been important to me.
You’ve coached some amazing players. When you look back on that, you have to have a sense of pride, a sense of accomplishment that you’ve worked with arguably some of the best players in the world. That’s quite an accomplishment.
It probably is. It’s funny that people have said that to me. All I can say is I’ve been very fortunate to do that. It’s been a great experience, and coaching great players is great because you see the things that make them the players that they are. You see their focus, you see their ambition, you see their talent, and until you actually work with some players you don’t quite grasp how good they are until you’re actually on the field with them. It’s just all part of the journey that I’ve had. … I’ve met some great people, some outstanding coaches, played with some outstanding players and coached some outstanding players.
We know that, as a team and individually, the Pride does a tremendous amount for charity, which is phenomenal. Can you address that a bit?
I think it’s important. The players have a different connection with their supporters and the community than probably Orlando City. I’m not saying one’s better, and it’s probably a male-female thing, so the connection with females, when you make a connection, is much closer. They’re much more involved in people’s lives. And because of that, and because of the types of players and characters that we have, they have realized the importance of that in the community and the difference they can maybe make to a kid that’s not so well, or to other people that don’t have the things and opportunities that they’ve had. The players are very conscious of that responsibility. And they’re absolutely unbelievable.
I don’t know half the things that they do. For me, it’s very important, because if you are a role model — and sports people are — if you can then use that position to help people in whatever way you can, I think it’s important to do that. I think you’ve got a civic duty to do that and the responsibility to do that. We’ve been very fortunate with our team. They don’t look at it as an onerous task. They actually embrace doing it and love to do it and love to be part of the community.
It’s also been part of the culture of this club. I think what’s really important in a sporting club is to have a culture. That’s one thing that really is first-class about this club that you notice, and I noticed it from day one when I went in. The culture in the club is all about helping people and being part of the community. Rather than just being a football club that comes up and does talking. That’s what you want in an organization like ours, and that’s what makes it so appealing and certainly makes it so appealing to me. People talk about family environment, and a lot of people come up with clichés in organizations. I think this is an organization that actually lives by the principles it sets down, and I know from day one when Phil and Kay came in and spoke to our team and said, “These are things our players will do. This is part of our culture. It’s part of what we’re about.” And the players have embraced that from day one.
You talk about being part of the community, and the support that Orlando City has given to the teams has exploded in the past few years. What has that support meant to you?
It’s huge. What can happen in clubs is the team can bring in a women’s team, and they kind of bring it in [but] in a talking fashion. That’s the way it works sometimes. We bring it in because it looks good. Again, from day one, this club has said that the women’s team is going to be treated equally to the men’s team. They’re just part of the team. The expectations are the same, the demands are the same, and we’re giving them the same amount of respect, resources, time, and etcetera. And that’s what’s really different than you can see in other clubs and what makes us a little bit special.
Speaking of the teams, what is the team’s dynamic off the field?
It’s really good. They do really get on well together. What’s happened is that, a player like Marta comes in, who’s a big-time player and can basically walk in and just do her stuff and walk away. If you watch her interact with everybody, she’s phenomenal. She’s in there. She’s laughing and joking. She’s having fun in the mix of everything that’s happening. She cajoles people. She demands from people. So when you get your big players buying in and doing that kind of stuff, that sets the tone for everybody. And then the whole group starts to gel together. So we’re fortunate in the sense that we’ve got all of those big players doing that.
You have teammates who have played against each other in the World Cup, and those games can be a little testy. But don’t you feel that’s the true sign of a professional? Because when that game’s over, it’s over, and now we have a common goal, which is to get us to the playoffs and hopefully win a championship and build a world-class team.
Yeah. We had that situation two weeks ago. There was a Tournament of Nations on the West Coast, so we had two Australians, three Brazilians and two Americans in that all playing against each other. So I sent a note out saying, “You can kick anybody else, but don’t kick each other.” They were out there competing in their country, but when the game’s done, they’re back here and it’s Orlando Pride first.

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