When Todd Lindley was first approached about coaching his son’s youth soccer team, he was unenthusiastic — if not incredulous.
The Montesano financial planner had never played soccer, nor did he particularly enjoy the sport.
“I said, ‘No way,’ ” Lindley related. “When I watched soccer on TV, I flipped the channel. It looked like just a bunch of people kicking the ball around. I didn’t understand it.”
Nearly 20 years after eventually being persuaded to accept the assignment, Lindley’s understanding and appreciation of the sport have grown immeasurably.
The 53-year-old owner of Lindley Financial Services has coached two Montesano teams to state youth soccer championships. Long after his two children have outgrown the program, having been lured out of coaching “retirement” on at least two occasions, he is still on the sidelines. His current team, the girls Under-14 Renegades, is unbeaten in league play.
The meticulously organized Lindley spends up to 10 months on soccer but is not the type of type of coach who is obsessed with victory at the expense of other qualities.
His practices include time for goal-setting, morale-building and even such fun activities as belly-flopping in the mud (a pursuit that he often joins).
“I’m probably a good blend,” Lindley said. “I’m as competitive as you want a coach to be, but I have child-like humor that can (surface) in an instant. I try to differentiate between winning a game and being a winner in life.”
“He connects with the girls,” said Rick Denholm, the Highland Golf Course professional who is one of Lindley’s assistant coaches on the Renegades. “A lot of times, he can bring out the best in them.”
A wrestler and golfer at Montesano High School prior to his 1978 graduation, Lindley said he never set foot on a soccer field until the first day he coached. Montesano did not offer soccer at the time he attended high school, but Lindley said he would not have been interested in turning out for that sport in any event.
That’s why he initially turned down the opportunity to coach his son Jayce’s 6-and-under age-group team in the mid-1990s. Desperate for coaches, however, representatives of the Montesano Youth Soccer Club repeated the offer by using an unusual sales pitch.
“When I got the second call, they said, ‘Look, everyone else said no. (The players) are only 6, all you have to do is roll the ball out and tell them to go chase it,’ ” Lindley related.
Lindley accepted the position but soon became uncomfortable with a minimalist approach to coaching.
“I said, ‘I’ve got to figure this out, because they’ll be ahead of me,’ ” he related.
He began reading books, watching other matches, attending clinics and picking the brains of more experienced coaches.
“He became a student of the game,” said his wife Gerrilynn, a longtime member of the Montesano Youth Soccer Club board of directors. “He was a sponge, trying to absorb everything. That’s part of his personality. Very disciplined, very organized, wants to stay on top of everything.”
“Todd’s knowledge of the game has increased a lot over the years, being consumed by the sport,” said Montesano teacher Eric Stanfield, a former Bulldog soccer coach whose daughter Samantha plays for the Renegades. “He watches soccer, goes to clinics and professional games and asks great questions. Todd is a smart guy, so he soaks it up like a sponge. When a coach is more worried about the players than himself, in my opinion they will become a great coach.”
Lindley acknowledges that an unusually gifted first team helped ease his learning curve. His son’s club, the Pacers, included several future Montesano High School football standouts — including Adam Bighill, now an all-Canadian Football League linebacker for the British Columbia Lions.
The Pacers became so dominant within their district that they eventually joined a more advanced league that included teams in Shelton and Port Angeles. They won that league as well and made four successive appearances in the Washington Youth Soccer Association’s President’s Cup, finishing as high as second in the U-15 age group.
By that time the Lindleys’ daughter, Marisa, had also joined the Montesano Youth Soccer program. Todd did double duty for a period with both his children’s teams and eventually devoted his attention solely to her club, the Lightning.
Also successful outside its district, the Lightning captured the state President Cup U-14 title in 2006.
The state championship game marked the Lightning’s final appearance as a team and, Lindley believed, his swan song as a coach.
“I thought I was done. I was retired,” Lindley said.
“But his wife thought otherwise,” Gerrilynn interjected. “I knew he enjoyed the kids, he enjoyed the game.”
Lindley was recruited for an unusual one-year assignment, coaching a co-ed U-14 team that was so talented that it defeated some all-boys squads.
“It turned out to be a great experience,” Lindley remembered. “In fact, when you do not have a child on the team, I believe the parents and players appreciate you even more when you are out there getting soaking wet when they know you don’t have to be.”
When that season ended, he said, “I thought I was done again. You don’t walk up to coaches of a team and ask them, ‘Can I take over this team?’ ”
The following year, however, he was asked to coach the Starz, a girls U-11 team. He directed them for a four-year period that was climaxed by a state Recreational Cup (as the Presidents Cup had been renamed) championship in 2011.
Given his track record, it was no surprise that Julie Stanfield (Eric’s wife) approached him about coaching the Renegades last year. In his first season at the helm, the Renegades were state Recreational Cup semifinalists.
Lindley is the first to admit that he is a demanding coach. He outlines his expectations in preseason parent meetings.
“They have to agree to three preseason tournaments, fundraising, practices two or three nights a week, postseason tournaments and participating in a spring league in addition to our competitive fall league,” he noted. “This is not your average rec league experience, but then you can’t be state champs without outworking your opponents.”
“The practices are very relevant to what the girls need to work on and they run drills for extended periods of time to maximize potential,” Eric Stanfield related. “Todd watches game film and looks at what needs to be fixed.”
Yet Lindley places character development above corner-kick execution on his list of priorities. He evaluates players on what he calls the AEE (attitude, effort and effectiveness) program.
He sets individual goals for his players and insists that the players do the same. Practices and games end with what he terms put-ups — the opposite of put-downs.
In put-up sessions, players acknowledge the efforts of their teammates — volunteering details on some positive contribution one of their mates made to the preceding activity.
Lindley also continues to hone his coaching skills.
“It was accelerated learning the first five years and I haven’t stopped learning since,” he said.
By all accounts, Lindley has formed an unusual connection with his past and present players. He remains in contact with Bighill, for example, even traveling to Canada to witness B.C. Lions games.
“He really bonds with his girls,” Gerrilynn said. “When the Starz (players) went to high school, it was like 18 daughters going on.”
Lindley also makes a financial commitment to Montesano youngsters.
He has established $1,000 scholarships, administered through the Grays Harbor Community Foundation, to Montesano students who have met academic standards. Many of his former players have been the recipients of those scholarships.
Lindley has no ambitions to coach at the high school level, believing he may be more valuable developing what amounts to a farm system for the Montesano High School program. The Montesano School District has no middle school soccer program. “I’ve been asked, but I feel like it might be easier to find a high school coach than to find a coach who can devote time to working with (middle-school) students 10 months out of the year,” he said.
He expressed appreciation to his Lindley Financial Services staff for their role in helping him devote extensive time to coaching.
Lindley’s commitment to the Renegades ends this winter. This time, however, he is not closing the door to future coaching.
“I still have the passion and I still want to make connections with the kids,” he said.