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Getting To Know … Terry Fisher

In June, Washington Youth Soccer hired Terry Fisher to the position of Executive Director/CEO. A veteran of more than 30 years in coaching and management at the top levels of soccer in the United States, Fisher's varied work background — including time spent as a coach, owner and executive at nearly every level of American professional soccer — made him uniquely qualified to direct the day-to-day operations of the sixth-largest state youth soccer association under the US Youth Soccer umbrella, including budget, operations, tournaments and office management.

At the time of his hiring, Fisher stated his eagerness to be a part of the enthusiasm and vision of Washington Youth Soccer and the meteoric rise of the state of Washington in the global soccer consciousness, calling the job opportunity "a lightning bolt in a clear sky."

Now, five months later, E-PlayOn! catches up with Fisher to find out a little more about the man at the helm of our state's youth soccer programs. Find out who Terry Fisher is what he thinks the major concerns are facing youth soccer and — most importantly — what he proposes we can all do to ensure the successful growth and development of the game for this and future generations.

What attracted you to the position of Executive Director at Washington Youth Soccer?

Fisher: "The constitutional convention and the reconfiguration and modernization of a 42-year-old business, as well as the anticipated success of the Seattle Sounders and the growth in the regional market, with Vancouver and Portland coming into MLS. With Washington Youth Soccer's large membership it was the ‘perfect storm' of conditions to have impact on youth soccer and grow our business."

How has the reality of the job met your expectations? Have there been any surprises, pleasant or otherwise?

Fisher: "The business is just as complicated as anticipated. Each day is totally different from the previous and that is what makes the job fascinating. The volunteers are passionate and we are raising the bar to provide better service and customer satisfaction for our soccer brand ... Washington Youth Soccer. We have taken a national lead position in rethinking and restructuring our organization."

What are some of the concerns you've heard from coaches, parents and administrators in our state, and how do you plan to address those?

Fisher: "The cost of youth sports continue to increase and this is a burden for many. We are looking for containment and other revenue streams via sponsorships or other programs to offset fee increases.

"Better fields and more fields are required to support the growth in our membership. We are working with all municipalities to find and develop better surfaces for playing soccer. We also have a fund available for spearheading field development in the State that allows members to apply for a loan to develop facilities.

"Better and more education for the recreational players and coaches is the number-one priority of our new Technical Director, Gary White. This group represents the largest component of our membership and will be a central focus of our coaching development in the coming years."

In 1974, you became the youngest head coach of any professional team in the United States. What was it about you that you think convinced management to look past your age when hiring you, and what did you learn most from that experience?

Fisher: "Soccer was still a crusade in that time. I was immersed in coaching clinics and game promotions to get parents interested in this new sport. It was a fantastic time to be at UCLA and coaching soccer. We promoted a game with UCLA vs. USC at South High in Torrance that sold out and was standing-room only, and the ownership liked that marketing concept. My soccer experiences had taken me extensively around Europe and Mexico and those contacts helped ownership take a calculated risk on a young coach.

"I was very confident and relished the challenge. When you are that young it seems like nothing is impossible. The job changed my life in so many ways that it was certainly my good fortune to be selected. More importantly, once you have the task there is no tolerance for failure and you learn very quickly that winning is everything in pro sports."

You've been involved in professional soccer as a player, coach, owner, General Manager, sponsorship rep ... how does that diverse background help you in your current job?

Fisher: "The CEO/Executive Director of Washington Youth Soccer position entails complicated business development, team-building, coaching, player systems development, fiscal management and daily operations of a wide-ranging customer-service business. The skills I have taken from all my professional experience have been called into play with this job. This position requires strategic planning, execution, time management and fiscal responsibility. It is an exciting organization. We are also involved in a transition year working through the constitutional convention and company reorganization."

Who have been some of your mentors, and who do you currently turn to for advice?

Fisher: "Gale Fisher, my wife since my coaching days in Los Angeles, has been an incredible resource and a valued partner. Her professional style, sense of communication and sheer intellect have been invaluable in everything that I have done.

"Al Miller was my coaching inspiration, having played and worked with him over the past 42 years. Al was the first American hired in the North American Soccer League and I was the second. He has been a good friend. Francisco Marcos is a unique soccer wizard. His talents and ideas are second-to-none in American soccer. His achievements with the United Soccer Leagues are perhaps beyond reality; no other person in the country could have done what he did with that program.

"Antonio Simoes [former Benfica and Portugal national team star] was my assistant coach in Detroit in 1980 and his knowledge and insight were special. He and I had a magical relationship about the game."

What would you say is the most important lesson you have ever learned, and from whom/how did you learn it?

Fisher: "I accepted a pro soccer coaching job with a franchise that had no chance of competing, given their budget, and I did not heed advice from Al Miller about setting ‘pre-conditions' on any such employment. If your deck is stacked against success, look for another opportunity. The business is unmerciful and unforgiving when losing begins on the field. The coach will find himself standing alone in the fray. Tough life lessons, but very true.

"Also I have learned to be impeccable with your word, not to take anything personally, not to make assumptions and always do your best! Follow these points and good things will happen."

What do you think is the most significant concern facing youth soccer in the United States, and how would you address it?

Fisher: "Children do not play enough free-spirit soccer. Our county's system has over-structured play and we lose creativity by over-coaching at too early an age. Let the kids play and have fun. This is how to develop great players — free and fun!"

What is the one thing that soccer parents can do to best support their children's development?

Fisher: "Expose them to high-level matches, let them experiment with the game, make it all FUN, FUN, FUN! Don't kill the joy of free play."

As someone who has been a part of professional soccer in nearly all of its forms in the U.S. over the past 30 years, what do you think of the current structure and quality of MLS? Specifically, what sets MLS apart from previous leagues that have tried, and failed, to achieve long-term success and prosperity in the U.S.?

Fisher: "MLS is a real-estate deal that has soccer as a piece of their pro forma. The single-entity concept spreads the risk and the ability to control player costs — that is essential to long-term success.

"It is still a very difficult business and the economics of long-term success are still fragile. You need all partners in the league to be doing well to operate a league. MLS would point to franchise fees and valuations escalating, reconfiguration of television revenues over time, attendance skewed in certain markets and the difficult global economics of the past few years as areas of concern and hope going forward. Seattle Sounders FC have buoyed the league and the entrance of Vancouver and Portland will make the Northwest the soccer center of North America for the foreseeable future."

What has been the most significant change you have seen in the game of soccer in the U.S. in the many years you have been playing and coaching?

Fisher: "Development of ‘Soccer Moms' culture, the success of our national teams — women and men — the professionalization of the U.S. Soccer office and our commercial partners, the entrepreneurial spirit of owners that continue to invest in both men's and women's professional soccer leagues over the past 40 years, the growth in importance of soccer in universities and colleges that give opportunities each year to thousands of student-athletes, and the exposure of global soccer on television as a teaching sophistication tool for coaches, players and fans in USA."

Who were some of the clubs and players that you grew up admiring?

Fisher: "St Louis University and Harry Keough, the coach. They had a dynasty in college soccer and a style that was straightforward and effective. All they did was WIN. At the professional level I admired Man U, Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Santos."

What it is about those teams/individuals that attracts you?

Fisher: "Their club traditions and history ... with money, they usually had the best players and therefore played most attractive and entertaining soccer."

Who are your favorite teams (professional or international) to watch currently?

Fisher: "Man U, Sporting Lisbon, Club America, Barcelona, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, and — of course — the Sounders and USA national teams."

What impact, if any, has the success of the Sounders had on your organization?

Fisher: "Doug Andreassen's decision to co-brand Sounders and Washington Youth Soccer has been magical. The impact of the Sounders on youth soccer is immeasurable. Kids see the success and want to play soccer and that trickles down to every grass-roots aspect in the company. The Sounders factor is off the charts."

How do you see Washington Youth Soccer influencing the global soccer scene in five years? 10?

Fisher: "The new Board of Directors and the constitutional convention have set the path for development of our business. Implementing the strategic plan and transitioning into a redefinition of our corporate structure with new and exciting, player-centric programs as a national leader in soccer diversity and excellence. Growing our membership by reaching out to diverse communities and recruiting them to our organization is a key element in the enrichment process of Washington Youth Soccer. These under-served communities have a huge contribution to make to our Washington Youth Soccer DNA. Washington Youth Soccer wants to be the best!"

Washington Youth Soccer

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