In 2015 Meghan Ryan Nemzer became the first female head coach in ECNL history to win a national championship, but that’s not where her story began.
Sometimes there are moments early in life that ultimately shape your future. For University of Maryland and former ECNL National Champion head coach, Meghan Ryan Nemzer, that moment came when she suffered two ACL tears while playing soccer in high school. During that time off the field and on the sidelines, Nemzer was able to learn more about the tactical aspects of the game, thanks in large part to her parents and coaches.
“I had two parents that believed in being committed whether you are playing one minute or not playing at all, so they still drove me to every game during that time,” Nemzer said. “My coaches basically made me almost like their assistant coach. I listened to everything they were saying during the game, so I really got to watch the game.”
When she returned to the field finally, Nemzer credits the time away for making her a much better player tactically. When she went to Rutgers, she was named a three-year captain, the first in team history. That leadership role along with her more tactical approach to the game began shaping her for a future in coaching.
When her playing career ended, Nemzer had the chance to stay on as a volunteer at Rutgers. At the time she knew she wanted to still be involved in sports but did not know exactly what she wanted to do. “For me, I feel like it was the best of all worlds. I still got to train and be part of the game, while I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do professionally.”
As she continued to grow in her coaching career, Nemzer also started volunteering on the club side. Success on the club level soon followed Nemzer. With Players Development Academy (PDA), Nemzer won two ECNL National Championships as an assistant in 2013 and 2014, before winning the 2015 U17 ECNL National Championship as a head coach. The 2015 championship made Nemzer the first female head coach in ECNL history to win a national championship.
Regardless of all the success, Nemzer’s favorite part of coaching at the youth level was watching her players develop.
“My favorite part of coaching on the club side was just seeing their development,” Nemzer said. “You’re with a team for four or five years, so to see where they were when they were 12 years old until right before they go to college and really see their personalities develop. You get to go to places, get to go to ECNL events, and you get to see them grow as people. I think that to me is one of my favorite things as a club coach.”
The opportunity to be a part of the youth side was very important to Nemzer because she does not believe there are enough female coaches on the club side. “I think to have a strong female role model, to me, was really important because I never had that.” Nemzer would love to see more women choose to coach at all levels and ages.
The success Nemzer has experienced in her career has now taken her all the way to the University of Maryland where she is embarking on her first season as the women’s head coach. No matter how much success she continues to see, Nemzer knows she would not be here without the people who have helped her so much in her own career. From her first college coach Glenn Crooks to Mike O’Neill at PDA, and Steve Campbell at Maryland United, Nemzer cited all of them for being important factors in her development as a coach. Now, Nemzer has become the female role model that she herself sought.
As the game continues to grow and more female coaches follow in the steps of Nemzer, her advice to them is to volunteer and try to learn as much as they can, but she also noted the importance of surrounding yourself with good people that give you opportunities to learn and improve yourself, just as she was able to do.
“Volunteer your time and try to get your face out there and learn as much as possible,” Nemzer said. “I think that what I appreciated about my journey was that I had great role models that allowed me to ask questions and develop my own coaching personality and style. I would say surround yourself with people that are going to challenge you in a good way and develop you and make sure that you have a voice versus just sort of being part of something.”
Admittedly, Nemzer said it has taken a lot of work and commitment to get to this point in her career. When she looks back with what she knows now and thinks about the advice she would give to herself when she was a 22-year-old volunteer at Rutgers, she says that her love for coaching outweighs the challenges along the way.
“I think what I would tell myself is that there are going to be a lot of sacrifices, but in the end if you really do love it, it’s not a sacrifice. It becomes a passion and that’s what I love. I love coaching. I don’t consider this a job.”
If you are interested in becoming a coach, or learning more as a coach, check out some of the coaching education available from the US Soccer Coaching Education Learning Center. The sport would benefit from more coaches like Meghan Nemzer, and with her and others as role models, more young female players can see their potential future on the sidelines, too.