Goal Oriented: Coach Tim Vom Steeg and His Team’s NCAA Success
During the Fall quarter, UCSB’s Harder Stadium rings with the chant “Olé! Olé! Olé! Olé! Gauchos! Gauchos!” UCSB students as well as Santa Barbara residents flock to the stadium to watch their school’s favorite sports team, the men’s soccer team, triumphantly conquer another opponent. The team most recently earned the 2006 Division I title for the NCAA Championship. Their victory must be attributed, in large part, to their head coach, Tim Vom Steeg who has coached the Gauchos for eight seasons straight.
The year his team beat UCLA for its second national championship since 2002, and Vom Steeg was awarded his second National Coach of the Year award from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Such recognition should come as no surprise as Vom Steeg has spent the last eight years rebuilding the Men’s Soccer program at UCSB. “This year really is the culmination of the building we’ve done over the years,” Vom Steeg said.
“I think the program was 2-7 when I first started,” Vom Steeg recalled. For him, the building started with an attitude change for a program that was used to losing, and also in finding a different kind of player at the university. As a UCSB alumnus, Vom Steeg knows “there are a lot of distractions. It’s hard to focus. It’s a tough academic school.” The coaching staff had the challenge of finding players able to cope with the demands of school while being on a competitive sports team. “Getting players was interesting,” Vom Steeg said. “We didn’t have the scholarships or resources that most schools [had to offer].”
But perhaps the most important part of rebuilding the program was getting the support of the community. “You have to convince people,” Vom Steeg said, “the administration, the people in town, that you’re capable of winning.” Vom Steeg and the Gauchos have been hard at work these past few years in gaining the support of the community by becoming engaged in it. The players have been involved in kids soccer camps, clinics and often assist at the American Youth Soccer Organization’s (AYSO) practices, having done about 90 practices sessions just last year, according to Vom Steeg.
As a father of four children, Vom Steeg understands the importance of youth outreach in the community and encourages his players to get involved. “Because school doesn’t start until mid-September, there’s a six to seven week period where we’re like a professional team,” Vom Steeg said. Their small break from the demands of school opens up the opportunity to do more work within the community. “Our game plan is to have our players be very accessible to kids- it could be a carnival or a festival, or having players sign autographs after a game, or kids camps. It generates money, but the main reason is to have kids in town get to know Division I college athletes.”
Vom Steeg is so dedicated to getting involved with youth in the community that he and his fellow staff members, Assistant Coaches Greg Wilson and Neil Wilson, have three different ongoing camps occurring this summer. For boys ages 15-18 that hope to play at the collegiate level, there is the Elite Camp taking place at the UCSB campus in July. This camp offers young players extensive training with demonstrations by current players on the UCSB men’s soccer team.
The Gauchos’ contributions to the local community have not gone overlooked. In return, locals have shown support for the team not only in attendance of their games, but financially as well. “We would not have achieved this success without the support of the community. We raise $100,00-$125,000 each year in order to compete. There is a price tag for winning. There’s no guarantee once you have the money, but you have to give yourself that chance.”
Coach Vom Steeg’s own history with Santa Barbara has given him an advantage, too, in receiving such support. “Having been in this community 21-22 years, I’ve either taught or coached a lot of people, met a lot of people. It’s an advantage in terms of getting the community behind the team, and that’s what it takes to win.”
And win they did, as is revealed by the plaques that cover the walls of the coach’s office. But Vom Steeg and the Gauchos confess that winning a national title did not come easily. With a 12-7 record in the regular season, the Gauchos were not exactly a “shoe-in” for the championship. Nevertheless they entered the playoffs unseeded, and proceeded to win all of their subsequent games.
In the team’s eyes as well as in the eyes of their coaches, however, the quality of the playing in the regular season is not necessarily indicative of a team’s capabilities. “People always think of it in terms of wins and losses, but really it’s about winning at the right time… A lot of teams win in the regular season and lose in the first round of playoffs. When it mattered most, when people were watching, we played well in those games,” Vom Steeg said.
So, what does a team do after winning a national championship? It’s a tough question and one that the Gauchos are still trying to answer for themselves. However, there’s no question that next season, the Gauchos will attempt to take advantage of their position as the reigning champions. Vom Steeg has already secured four new outstanding players to come on board to his team next season including one of the top high-school goal-keepers in Southern California, Kristopher Minton. So while the Gauchos will suffer a few losses in players through this Spring quarter’s graduation, with a great reputation to precede them, the team should have little doubts about defending their title.
One thing is clear in listening to Vom Steeg speak about his team’s success and his hopes for next season: for the UCSB Men’s Soccer team, consistency is the key. “You’re not going to win a national championship every year,” Vom Steeg admits, “you have to approach each season with commitment and stay aggressive, stay hungry.” The team will always keep that hungry determination in their hearts and continue to “knock on the door,” in Vom Steeg’s words, of the NCAA Championship.
“Success is great,” the coach tells me, “but can hurt you if you forget how you got there.” But don’t expect such behavior from Vom Steeg and his Gauchos. With such evident appreciation for the “12th player”-the fans, the supporters, the community members in the stands- the Gaucho soccer team will continue to strive humbly and consistently.