In his first year as a head coach, College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences alumnus Dan Stratford used what he learned as a student and assistant coach to lead his team to the NCAA Division II Men’s Soccer National Championship.
Stratford, who first earned a bachelor’s degree in Physical Education Teacher Education in June 2009 and then a master’s in July 2015, both from CPASS, says consistent messaging kept the players at the University of Charleston focused.
“No one was phased by the magnitude of the occasion; they just went out and did their jobs with an incredible level of professionalism. I think that is a testament to the players we have at UC,” he said.
One of WVU’s most decorated soccer players, he appears frequently
in the record books, most notably as the career leader in games played and
assists. He was recognized as an All-Big East and All-Region selection during
his senior year. Stratford notes that his time at WVU helped launch his career.
“I will forever be appreciative of my experience at WVU and the College of Physical Activity and Sport Sciences,” he exclaimed.
Stratford embraces both consistency and change in his coaching beliefs, encouraging his staff and players to look for ways to improve, regardless of the outcome.
“I believe it was a culmination of our approach throughout the season that allowed the players to perform at their peak in the championship. We adopted a phrase this year, ‘Win or lose, we learn.’ We were always looking at ways we could improve, regardless of the result,” said Stratford, who is a native of London.
He served as assistant coach for WVU Men’s Soccer from 2011-2014, then was an assistant for three seasons with UC, helping Charleston get to three consecutive Final Fours and two appearances in the National Final, before taking over the Golden Eagles in 2017.
Stratford advises those who want to coach to experience other training methods and continue to study the game and different playing styles.
“The beauty of our sport and of coaching is that there is no right way,” he said. “It is about finding the way that is most consistent with your beliefs and values that align with your identity. This is something that, in my opinion, you should start thinking about as early as possible in your coaching career,” he concluded.
“My time as an assistant coach both at WVU and UC allowed me to develop my own philosophy and identity. The success at UC during that time helped shape my approach to coaching elite level collegiate athletes,” Stratford added.
Stratford points out that what worked for them this season may not work again. “It
is important to continue to evolve, develop new ideas and strategies and to further
our education in the game and coaching,” he said.
During a recent recruiting trip, Stratford extended his journey to travel to Valencia, Spain, to attend a seminar with 10 elite clubs from Spain and across Europe. “I’m always looking to steal an idea and at times even experiment with new strategies,” he explained.
Stratford says that diversity is a strength of the program. “We do a great deal of international recruiting; currently we have 22 different countries who make up the profile of our squad,” he said. Stratford says the team has a great number of international players who have clearly played at a strong level. “That atmosphere helps with recruiting. The players are thriving in their new environment and have acclimated to life in Charleston and the rigors of being a student-athlete,” Stratford added.
According to Stratford, the team’s success in recent years validates the quality and depth of the squad. “When we recruit players, we talk about two key core values that will help them in their development as athletes and perhaps beyond. Those are honesty and humility,” Stratford explained.
“We face an incredibly challenging task of trying to win back-to-back National Championships. Our record next season will start at 0-0-0. Our success in 2017 does not afford us anything for 2018. We must reflect honestly, identify where we can improve and show the willingness to adapt and evolve,” he said.
“Understand your strengths and weaknesses and create a culture that is consistent
with that. Players notice far more subtleties than we give them credit. They notice
double standards, conflicting messages and inconsistencies. Do not lose the respect
of your players and staff,” Stratford continued.
United Soccer Coaches recently named Stratford and his assistant coaches NCAA Division II Men’s National Staff of the Year. The Golden Eagles finished the season with an overall record of 21-1-2 on their way to the NCAA DII title, defeating Lynn 3-1 in PK's following a scoreless 110 minutes.
Stratford, along with assistants Scott Wells, Daniel Smee, Alexander Simmons and Romain Folz, earned the award in just their first season together as a staff. Stratford served as an assistant under Chris Grassie for three seasons before taking over the Golden Eagles in 2017, helping Charleston get to three consecutive Final Fours and two appearances in the National Final before leading UC to the title this season. Previously, Stratford served as assistant coach for WVU Men’s Soccer, from 2011-2014.
Following his collegiate career, DC United drafted Stratford in 2008. Stratford made
his debut in their season opener in the CONCACAF Champions League, followed up
by his MLS debut against Sporting KC.
Stratford returned to the United Kingdom, signing for Inverness Caledonian Thistle in 2009 under former England National Team captain, Terry Butcher. Stratford made 14 appearances as Inverness won the league. Stratford finished his playing career at Hereford United of the English League Two in 2010. Following his contract, Stratford returned to West Virginia University to begin his master’s in Physical Education Teacher Education and assist with the men’s soccer program.
United Soccer Coaches will honor the UC Men's Soccer staff at the annual Awards Banquet on Friday, January 19, 2018 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, in conjunction with the 71st United Soccer Coaches Convention.