Photo courtesy of Montverde Academy
The Soccer Institute at Montverde Academy is considered one of the elite developmental soccer programs across North America, and Mike Potempa is thrilled to have the SIMA Aguilas – who are set to compete in the Premier Development League’s 2017 Southeast Division – provide another opportunity for his talented players to grow and receive exposure on their paths to the professional level.
Potempa, who holds a U.S. Soccer Federation "A" License and serves as a scout on the USL Scouting Network, has been in charge of the SIMA program at Montverde Academy since 2010. Before moving to the program, he worked as an assistant coach at Clemson University, where Potempa played from 1998-2001 before being drafted by the LA Galaxy.
The PDL has changed considerably over the years, Potempa says, and he is eager to be a part of the growth. His hope is that the Aguilas can compete for titles in their first season, but his main focus remains helping his players achieve their aspirations.
PDL: What interested you in leading the SIMA program, including the PDL franchise?
MP: I have always had a passion for giving back to the game that has given me so much – especially when it comes to youth development. I thoroughly enjoy the process of working with young men who love the game, have a desire to improve and want to work hard. Witnessing their progression over the course of time with us and enjoying their accomplishments when they leave is the ultimate success story for all of us who work in the SIMA program. Everyone has a different path, and everyone has different needs. However, the ability to witness actual holistic development in taking these young men to places they never thought they could go is the ultimate satisfaction as a coach – not only on the field but off the field as well.
When it comes to the PDL franchise, we have the same goals in mind. It’s no secret that the college game has its limitations with limited training opportunities and consistent competitive matches over the spring and summer months. The rationale for getting involved in the Premier Development League is to add an additional three months of professional training opportunities and competitive matches for those who have the same passion to work hard and improve. Additionally, it is our mission to use the summer months to develop talented youngsters further in an effort to prepare for their upcoming college seasons, expand their training and match schedules for three additional months and showcase top talents for USL, MLS and European officials for potential future signings.
PDL: What are you most excited for in leading a PDL team?
MP: Having been at Montverde Academy for seven years now after my time in the ACC at Clemson University, I do miss competing in a league where there is something at stake and points on the table to win. I am excited to compete where the matches mean something and you are able to test your program against other franchises who are like-minded and equally competitive. I am also excited to work with our athletes and observe their progress over the course of the season. Many of our players are Montverde Academy alumni, so it is a great pleasure to combine generations of SIMA athletes who have come back to campus and hold the same desire to compete for their school and for the program they helped build throughout their high school years.
PDL: Along with serving as the Head Coach of SIMA, you will also serve as a scout on the USL Scouting Network. Why do you want to participate in the USL Scouting Network?
MP: One area of the game in this country that I feel needs to improve drastically across the board is in the scouting department. In this case, the PDL has over 70 teams of talented players across the country competing throughout the summer months. No doubt there will be talent on display, and I feel as though it is an excellent opportunity for USL and MLS franchises to take a look at what talents are out there in the United States. I feel as though the USL Scouting Network is extremely important to help identify talented players who have the possibility of playing at the next level. Without this network in place, talented athletes will get overlooked and in most cases fail to be identified.
As I mentioned previously, it is my passion to help provide guidance to talented youngsters who love the game. I am honored to participate in the USL Scouting Network, and I feel our track record over the years within the SIMA program has proven that we know how to identify and develop talent for the next level, and if I can be of any help to any player participating in the PDL with a recommendation to the professional game in the United States, I am more than happy to do that if it results in an opportunity.
PDL: Can you explain how you identify talent? For a player wanting to know what it takes to make it to the next level – to move from college/PDL to the pros – what is required physically, technically, psychologically?
MP: When I look to identify talent, the very first thing I look for is technical ability with the ball under pressure. Comfort level on the ball is extremely important if a player wants to make it in the professional game. In my opinion, we still need to make large improvements in this area when it comes to the American player. Of course, there needs to be some sort of physical presence, whether it be tremendous speed, quickness, overall athletic ability, leaping ability; however, I do feel as though coaches in the United States put too much emphasis on the physical side at the expense of what really matters, which is technical ability with the ball and decision making. A physical presence is important to the effectiveness of a player, but the right type of physical presence is the most important. I also look for players who think tactically throughout the match. I like players who understand the game and think ahead, not simply one who has physical qualities but does not think. Unfortunately, a player cannot hide from a scout when it comes to this aspect as you either understand the game or you don’t. Often times, there is no middle ground. In order to make it in the professional game, you must think quickly as a player, make decisions with every movement of the ball and make the right decisions. You can see this quite easily in scouting if you take the time to observe a player in every situation that occurs with and without the ball.
What I feel is the most important aspect of making it as a professional, which I find not too many coaches spend the necessary time on, is the psychological aspect. When a player starts to reach the higher echelons of the game, what he will soon realize is that most of his teammates and opponents have technical ability, are physically equipped to handle the level and understand the game for the most part tactically. However, what often separates those who make it and those who don’t is how mentally strong and psychosocially prepared a player is. Dealing with the pressures of the professional game is not easy, and it takes a superior mindset in order to handle the day-to-day rigors of professional sports. This psychological capability of course exists on the field but also off the field. The life of an athlete is not an easy one, and if a player cannot perform under pressure or handle the difficult moments that occur quite regularly in the life of a professional, their career will not last long. The psychological aspect of the game is vital to the success or failure of a talented soccer player. Often times, the psychological aspect of the game will dictate how far a player can go – not overall talent or physical/technical ability.
PDL: The PDL focuses on helping the development of players. Specifically, how do you help that process? What sort of coaching philosophy will you try to use and employ with the SIMA Aguilas?
MP: It is my opinion that soccer-specific athletes in this age group need consistent high-quality training sessions and competitive matches throughout the entire year. This is the secret behind our success in such a short period of time in the SIMA program at Montverde Academy. Our athletes are training five-to-six days per week with games for 11-12 months out of the year – it’s a lifestyle, not a season.
Our PDL franchise will continue to implement the same philosophy of the SIMA program in that we will create a competitive training environment on a daily basis where our athletes are given proper developmental instruction in a forum where they have the freedom to express themselves within our detailed framework.
The focus of our summer program in the PDL will have nothing to do with needing to win games. However, we will implement a professional environment so our athletes are fighting to win a spot in our team among a large group of extremely talented players from around the country and around the world. Development will be the focus, and it is our mission to prepare our athletes for the next step in their careers whether it be the upcoming college season in August or a professional contract in USL, MLS or abroad.