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Washington Youth Soccer Hall of Famer Mentors New Generation at Washington Premier

Jimmy McAlister remembers a time just a few years ago when, as he puts it, "I was playing a lot more golf than I was coaching."

These days, it's the other way around — much to his own delight, not to mention much to the benefit of the three teams he mentors with Washington Premier F.C.

"I enjoy the kids. It keeps you young, and it's fun to work with them," the 52-year-old McAlister says.

McAlister joins forces with former Tacoma Stars indoor teammate Gary Heale as coach of Washington Premier's boys U-18 and U-16 USSF Development Academy teams. He also has the reins of the boys U-14 Black, which competes in the Washington State Youth Soccer Association's PDL Division 1.

Don't ask him to pick a favorite squad, either. Seems as if they all are.

"There are things we work on with every team, like trying to keep possession and play the proper way," McAlister says. "You have to take a different approach with all of them. You can be a little more blunt with the 18s. But they all know when I'm not going to be happy, and they know what the coaches expect."

Those players also know that the coaching they're getting, whether from McAlister alone or in tandem with Heale, is from someone who has seen the game in almost every possible way:

  • Rookie of the Year with the North American Soccer League edition of the Seattle Sounders in 1977
  • Six caps with the U.S. National team
  • Player, and later, coach with the Major Indoor Soccer League's Stars
  • Coach of two-time Washington state boys' high school champion Decatur

McAlister isn't shy about acknowledging his gratefulness for having that breadth of experience to share.

"There's nothing in the world to make up for playing the game to really know how it feels," he says. "I really respected Jimmy Gabriel when he was coaching me (with the Sounders). I got a lot off of Alan Hinton (with the Stars) in looking at players in certain ways."

McAlister is just as grateful that he's not the only one offering that kind of experience to today's players. Back in his youth soccer days, a lot of the coaches were parents whose knowledge was limited to what they learned from a book.

Now, "There are a lot of ex-pros who have done a good job of teaching youth soccer in the state of Washington," he says. "And I think it's important for kids to have more than one coach. Everyone is better at something than someone else. Gary Heale adds a lot that I can't. Kids are getting the advantage of 20 or 30 years of a career instead of just 15 years of mine."

PART OF GAME'S GROWTH

And make no mistake: While McAlister has been a big part of the evolution of youth soccer coaching, that's not the only thing that he has seen change for the better over the years.

"They're better athletes now than when I was playing," he says. "They're more advanced because of coaching. I used to play on grass with water up to your ankles. Now, you have this turf and these nice facilities."

When McAlister was a Sounder, it was widely thought that soccer finally "had arrived" in the United States. That Seattle NASL side routinely drew between 20,000 and 30,000 fans, while the internationally star-studded New York Cosmos often attracted 50,000 or more. In fact, McAlister calls the meeting of those two teams at Soccer Bowl '77 in Portland (a 2-1 New York victory) his best soccer memory.

"And every day I got my paycheck was the greatest day of my life," he added with a laugh.

But while the youth game continued to grow all over the country, poor management drove the pro game almost completely out of business at all levels. Along came the 1994 World Cup, then Major League Soccer in 1996 with its significantly different business approach. And now?

Quite possibly, the game really has arrived this time.

"They have all the advantages in the world — great schools who are willing to pay their way," McAlister says of the opportunities available for today's players. "We've had quite a few players who have gone on to be very successful in college. And they have a lot going for them, especially with what's going on with the Sounders."

McAlister retains all of those fond memories, reliving them often with several former Sounders and Stars who remain in the Seattle area.

"Every year, we get better," he says, laughing again.

But he's serious about a point he makes to every player under his tutelage.

"The biggest thing you can emphasize is the absolute joy of the game," he says. "Enjoy it — because it ends sooner than you'd like."

Not necessarily. After all, one won't find Jimmy McAlister spending much time around a golf course these days.

He's too busy spending it around a soccer field.

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