Coach's Corner: Justin Serpone
Issue   |   Wed, 09/30/2015 - 00:15

Q: Tell us a little bit about how you got into soccer as a youth and its role in your early life.
A: My whole athletic experience growing up was extraordinary. It started at Winchester High School in Winchester, Massachusetts, where I was a member of two very successful teams: varsity basketball and varsity soccer. I knew from that point on that there was something I truly loved about being on a team, no matter if I was the best player or the worst player. There was something there that I wanted to share with others and be involved in for the rest of my life.

Q: Where and how did your coaching career begin?
A: I went on to Drew University where I was a member of some very good soccer teams and played under a coach who ended up being very influential in my life. I loved the idea that you could be a coach and part of a team for a living. However, I was unsure of whether I wanted to pursue coaching, politics or business at the time of my graduation from Drew. That landed me at Lafayette University where I began to take MBA classes, but also was an assistant on the men’s soccer team. After two weeks into the season, I knew coaching was what I wanted to do.

Q: What is your favorite athletic memory as a player? As a coach?
A: My favorite memory as a player would have to be going to the state championship in 1996 with my Winchester High School basketball team. It was a very unique team and the run to the state final and that time period is a couple months I will never forget. Every year, on the anniversary of the state title game, our team captain sends out a note to catch up with everyone. As a coach, my favorite memory is winning our first NESCAC championship in 2008 at Middlebury. The first time you do anything like that is special and therefore has become a special moment for me.

Q: In your opinion what is the most rewarding part of coaching?
A: We have lost some very tough games to end our seasons in the past few years. Each time that has happened, especially in 2012, the care and the response have been so overwhelming and supportive from people at Amherst now and the alumni. For me, that is what it is all about. Celebrating with those people when you win and receiving a big hug from those same people when you lose is an unbelievable thing to have and that is what we have here at Amherst — that type of family and that sense of community.

Q: The toughest?
A: The toughest part of coaching is the inevitability of taking things personally. I do not mean in terms of wins and losses, but we have twenty-eight guys that work very hard every day and as the coach, you are forced to make tough decisions. You have to decide who starts and who plays and it is not going to work out the way everyone wants it to. You want all your players to have this awesome experience, and they deserve to with the amount of care and effort they put in, but you take it personally sometimes if it doesn’t work out that way. The only other thing is beating yourself up after losses in terms of what you could have done differently to avoid that result.

Q: Tell us a little bit about the brand of NESCAC soccer and the style that has made our Amherst teams successful.
A: Every game in our league ends with guys coming off the field, unable to continue to play at that level any longer. The effort and physicality are really special in the NESCAC and after ninety minutes, there is no way the players could keep it up even if they wanted to. I think it is a testament to the student-athletes in the NESCAC and the effort they put into the games. It is also a league in which there is not a big gap between the last place team and the first place team. On any given day, anyone can win. I know we hear that a lot in the sports world but its true in the NESCAC. It was proven last year as first-seeded Tufts was upset by eighth-seeded Connecticut College in NESCAC and then Tufts went on to win the NCAA National Championship. It makes the league a lot of fun.

Q: The team is off to a very strong start this year; what do you attribute that to?
A: We have a bunch of guys that really care. I am not sure we are the most talented team or the deepest team, but I know for certain we have twenty-eight guys that have bought in. I love our team culture and I love our guys as people and that shows itself in games. We have been tuned in and have made plays when we needed to. However, we have a long way to go and my message to the team today is that we have not done anything yet. We have had a good start but there is also a long way to go. This week will be a good test for us as we play two very good teams at Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Tufts.