Coach Spotlight: James Wood boys' soccer coach Brian Sullivan

5f088a69f32b1.imageBrian Sullivan has served as James Wood’s boys’ head soccer coach since 2015 following two years as an assistant coach. He also been an assistant varsity boys’ basketball coach for seven years.

Sullivan was The Winchester Star Boys’ Soccer Coach of the Year in 2019 after leading the Colonels to a 10-6-1 record, a seven-win improvement from 2018.

Sullivan is a 2007 graduate of North Hills High School in Pittsburgh, where he played soccer. He received his bachelor’s degree in 2011 and his master’s degree in 2012 from Slippery Rock University in Pennsylvania.

Q. What are your favorite memories as an athlete?

Sullivan: I obviously have some good memories about games we played in, but I would say the bus rides, hanging out with the team during team dinners, and the offseason stuff we did are the things I enjoyed the most. I hung out with friends that I still talk to today. We went to a team camp at California University of Pennsylvania all four years of high school over the summer. We play high school soccer in the fall in Pennsylvania, so the California camp was a preseason camp that we’d always go to at the end of July for five or six days. It was a really cool bonding experience, and I actually have started taking my high school team up to team camp. We obviously don’t get to go this year, but the last three years we’ve gone up and the boys have really enjoyed it. It’s just a ton of fun living in the dorms, visiting a college campus. That stood out for me when I was in high school.

Q. When did you know you wanted to be a coach?

Sullivan: When I was in high school, one of our graduation requirements was a community service project. My sophomore year of high school I actually coached my first team, an Under-10-year-old soccer team. I had also helped my Dad (Pat) when I was 13 or 14 when he was coaching my younger brother and sister, but I would say I knew in high school I wanted to be a coach. Some of my teammates would make fun of me, that I was oftentimes more of a coach than a player. Sometimes even my head coach [Joe Bosley] would joke with me that he couldn’t wait to see what I could do as a coach.

Q. Who are your biggest coaching influences?

Sullivan: Number 1, my Dad. He never played soccer, so he had to learn. But he taught me how to learn the game and pick up a few things every once in a while. My high school coach was a big influence for me not just as my coach, but he also taught me about coaching. When I moved down here [in 2012], Coach [Jim] Carden, who was the girls’ coach [at James Wood], he gave me a chance coaching with Blue Ridge United and has been a mentor to me. Coach [Donavan] Russell, who is the current girls’ coach at James Wood; he’s talked me off the ledge sometimes and really helps humble me, and gives me really good advice. I’m constantly calling him after a tough loss. Our Blue Ridge United director, Dustin Butcher; we’re pretty close in age, so it’s kind of cool to be able to bounce ideas off of someone like I do with him. He’s just so positive about everything and has a positive outlook, and that really helps me with the kids.

Q. What’s the best coaching advice you’ve received?

Sullivan: Practice what you preach. I’ve been working at getting better at that. The last couple of seasons, our team motto has been “set the standard.” That goes along with “practice what you preach,” and I preach being humble to the kids, I preach hard work, and I know a lot of my players appreciate the work that we put in during the offseason to get better and make soccer an all-year-round thing, not just a spring sport. I learned that you can’t say one thing to the kids and you do something else. I learned that from watching other coaches, successful coaches in this area, whether it’s Coach [Pat] Anderson at Sherando, or a couple of the other quality coaches that have come through. Coach Carden used to tell me that all the time.

Q. What have been your most difficult coaching moments?

Sullivan: For starters, right now. Losing this season, it might be tougher on me than it is on the kids, because the kids are resilient. They’re disappointed, but they can get over things a lot quicker. Just all fall and winter, looking forward to this season and how good we would have been ... it wasn’t a big secret. Everybody that I see now says, ‘You guys would have been real good, it would have been nice to see how far you could have gone.’ We were hoping to make a state tournament run, and then just to have it stripped away like it was ... it’s heartbreaking for the kids, it was tough on my assistant coaches, it was tough on myself. That was probably the roughest moment I’ve had as a coach.

And obviously, any time your season ends, those are always tough locker rooms. [In 2019], when we lost to Kettle Run [in the Class 4 Northwestern District quarterfinals], we went [7-1-1 in the last nine games of the regular season]. We were on a roll, and we just didn’t get the bounces against Kettle Run. I’m not a terribly emotional guy. But I had a couple of seniors kind of speak up in the locker room afterwards, and that was tough. Those are tough moments when you see the seniors play for the last time, and they’re crying. That’s always tough as a coach.

Q. What have been your favorite coaching moments?

Sullivan: From a local standpoint, we’ve had a number of great games against Millbrook. They’ve gotten us a few times, we’ve gotten them a few times. They’ve always been fun games. Coach [Keith] Kilmer is a quality coach, and I enjoy playing against him. It seemed to pour down rain a lot when we played Millbrook, and those games are just fun.

I really look forward to Senior Nights with the guys, because those seniors put in perspective the career they’ve had. It means a lot to them.

And talking to players after they graduate. I tell them a lot their junior year, senior year that after they graduate they’ll realize sometimes why I’m tough on them and why I do some of the things I do. They’ll call me and thank me for some of the stuff I put them through. Most of them are not playing in college. High school is their last chance to play, so I want them to be better people than they are players. In high school, they don’t always understand in the moment, so I appreciate when they call after the graduate and they’ve grown up a little and they see what I was doing.


JWAA Meetings

The JWAA monthly meeting is held every first Monday of the month. The meeting time starts at 6:00 PM and is held in the school's library. All members are welcomed.

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