Welcome to another episode of “Soccer Stories: Get Into The Journey“. This week's guest is Halifax Wanderers and 2020 CPL Coach Of The Year, the illustrious, Stephen Hart!
Truth be told, I have been wanting to interview Stephen Hart for a long time and was incredibly excited to finally sit down with him. That said, I was also a little nervous.
From watching him coach his team on the sidelines during the inaugural season at the Wanderers Grounds, to learning more about his story and amazing career, I think so highly of Stephen Hart.
I love him as a coach. I think he is a phenomenal tactician, and right before the interview, I couldn't believe that we were about to interview the Halifax Wanderers Head Coach but also the former head coach of not one, but two National teams – Canada 🇨🇦 and Trinidad and Tobago 🇹🇹!
It's certainly not every day that you get to speak to someone who is so well versed in this beautiful sport we call football, and yet we got to chat with Stephen for a good hour covering many different topics.
We started off talking about his background growing up in a rural area of Trinidad & Tobago where watching soccer and cricket were literally “events” that people experienced. There were no replays while watching live, and he talked about how watching a lot of live games at his local field brought a romance to the game, and how that helped him tactically. Stephen's father, we found out, actually thought he was a better cricket player than a footballer!
We also spend a brief time talking about the cuisine of Trinidad And Tobago. We really enjoyed talking about food and culture and lucky for us, Stephen shares one of his favourite recipe sites for Caribbean food, CaribbeanPot.com. Can you say, Yum! 😋
We then delved into his playing career and how he got his start in coaching. Interestingly, with not much equipment, he started training kids to kick the ball through the legs of chairs and to pick the ball up on the other side.
He mentioned one thing that was very revealing and it was that he sees himself as a “player developer” and you can see the importance of that throughout the interview. He has a passion for helping players reach that next level in their careers.
Nothing Is More Important Than The Team
During the course of the interview, Stephen Hart gave us amazing advice for young players; the importance of enthusiasm and his belief that how you carry yourself, respecting the dressing room, and staying humble is critically important as a footballer and to the team morale.
He also explains that nothing is more important than the team. The one thing he won't allow in his dressing room is a bad attitude and a player that won’t conform to the team. Talent does not trump attitude at any level of soccer. We also had an interesting exchange on how he handled challenging players, which he has had to deal with in his career as a coach.
The conversation covered much ground, and things that came up during the interview were his thoughts on about ball winners, passers, dribblers, strikers and their different roles.
We also chat about versatility, what he thinks are the two categories of players, and the importance of having two players who play the same position on the team – but with different qualities – as like for like changes very seldom solve the problem and what you want in impact subs:
“What you want to do is make a change that presents the opposition with some type of problem or helps you solve a problem you are having at the time.”Stephen Hart
He then went on to tell a story about one of his former players, Ian Hume who is often on the OneSoccer broadcasts, who when coming on as a sub, despite being relatively small, would disrupt every backline – which was an interesting insight into the professional game and how it's played.
We got to chat about the Wanderers, the new squad, the Italian concept of “Grinta,” which was vital during their run at the Island Games, and how Coach Hart likes a vertical game and playing forward to eliminate lines.
Near the end of the interview, we dive into more tactics and we talk about the death of the pure number 10, why that is, the re-invention of the number 10, and some players that are doing well with the re-invention!
Stephen Hart's personal journey from playing to coaching football is an incredible one. You also notice very quickly that his tactical mind is on a completely different level. There is so much to learn and I wanted to absorb it all; I enjoyed so much just listening to him talk.
For the details of our interview, take a look at the timestamp below.
Each topic was such an interesting conversation filled with insight and an amazing perspective of what someone in his position is thinking and looking for – a real masterclass.
I feel very fortunate to have had a chance to sit down with Stephen.
Below are some of the accolades Stephen has achieved in his career:
He was capped as a young man for the Trinidad & Tobago National team before coming to Canada.
He has been to 5 Gold Cups, and even taken Team Canada to a Semi-Final in one of those. He has reached the Quarter-Final 3 times with 2 different National teams. And he managed to lead Trinidad and Tobago into the Final-Six of the dreaded Hex – to give them a shot to get into the World Cup.
So on a final note, this was an insightful interview one that I have wanted to do for a long time, so if you want to know what Stephen said it feels like to receive numerous accolades, why Stephen believes that he is a player developer, and more tactical analysis, grab a seat and listen to this interview with the CPL Coach of the year, the humble and gracious Stephen Hart.
Watch the interview below. When viewed on YouTube, the timeline is clickable.
0:00:00 Welcome Stephen Hart.
0:00:46 How did you fall in love with soccer?
0:02:31 What was it like growing up in Trinidad and Tobago?
0:03:46 Did you watch a lot of soccer growing up?
0:04:45 Did watching live soccer help you understand soccer?
0:0:6:31 What made you want to be a coach?
0:08:48 Since you were a player before a coach, does that give you an advantage of other coaches who didn't play professionally?
0:10:02 What type of player were you?
0:11:26 What was the reason for your move? Why did you pick Canada?
0:12:24 What’s one thing you miss about Trinidad?
0:14:01 What is on Trinidad and Tobago food that everyone should try?
0:15:43 When looking at coaching what do you look for in a player?
2 categories of players
0:17:41 What do you look for in young players?
0:19:40 Have you had to deal with a lot of headaches in your career?
0:19:50 Is it not a little bit of a dichotomy, being competitive but still holding the team as the highest importance?
0:20:43 Roles of certain players
0:22:26 Thierry Henry said that footballers should be thinking about football 90% of the time – they should have an obsession with soccer, do you agree?
0:23:47 In a tight game, what do you want in an impact sub?
0:26:35 Is having a versatile player more important than 10 years ago?
0:28:14 Players fitness levels, how do you know who is tiring? Due for a change?
0:31:52 Is it disorienting for half the team to be subbed?
0:33:09 3 biggest coaching achievements?
0:35:47 Do you think you were asked to coach the National team because you were so good at developing players?
0:38:22 How is Canada doing better now from grassroots level?
0:40:59 What are your 3 favourite tactics and why?
0:42:55 Vertical game, play forward eliminates lines
0:43:22 How do you coach positional awareness-?
0:47:15 What was it like coaching DeRo?
0:48:23 Would you say you have a knack for trying things other people haven’t tried?
0:50:31 What do you think about the death of the pure number 10?
0:54:20 The concept of “Grinta”?
0:56:00 York United and Wanderers game/red card discussion.
0:57:26 Biggest strength of the new squad?