New Boys' Latin soccer head coach Aaron Urban-Zukerberg may be new to coaching at the varsity level, but he's been around the sport a long time.
He was a standout at Owings Mills High School, where he also wrestled and played lacrosse. Soccer was his primary sport, though, and he competed collegiately at St. Mary's College of Maryland, where he graduated in 2000.
After the birth of his first child, Jackson, Urban-Zukerberg decided it was time to embrace another side of the sport and get his coaching license.
"I just always wanted soccer to be something that I would have with my kids," Urban-Zukerberg said. "At first, it was really just about my kids."
Urban-Zukerberg has coached his children through the Towson United organization, where he's also served as the club's technical director. He has also stepped into coaching roles for teams that don't feature his children, spending the past 12 years coaching Dulaney High School's boys' and girls' junior varsity teams, as well as coaching futsal (a version of indoor soccer) at Boys' Latin the past two years.
This coming school year, Urban-Zukerberg will take on the challenge of being a high school varsity head coach.
"It's a lifelong dream, especially being a public-school kid from Owings Mills, to be able to have this kind of opportunity to coach at BL," he said. "I'm just trying to build on the tradition that's already here. It's a wonderful place, incredibly special, that has incredibly special families and kids."
That tradition is as strong as any in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association "B" conference. The Lakers routinely find themselves near the top of the conference's standings and competing for league championships.
Urban-Zukerberg replaces Don Rickels, who announced in April that he was vacating the head coach position. During Rickels' tenure, the Lakers won six MIAA "B" conference titles, the most recent in 2012.
"Our soccer culture is outstanding," goalkeeper Jordan Douglas, a 2017 Boys' Latin graduate, said. "We're always in the playoffs and we rarely disappoint people. Playing soccer at Boys' Latin is a big honor. Even though soccer isn't the biggest sport at BL and we aren't in the highest conference, we always come together and play as a group."
Getting players to focus on a sport that isn't necessarily their primary athletic passion is something Urban-Zukerberg acknowledged he will have to confront. Urban-Zukerberg referred to it as the York Road Challenge -- getting lacrosse players to become better at soccer.
His desire to make soccer a bigger sport at the school has helped him build chemistry with his players who do view it as their primary sport, one of which is rising senior striker Alex Westerkamp.
"I'm confident we're going to do well this year," Westerkamp said. "I know Coach is pretty intent on having a good first year because he's already given us packets on conditioning and weight lifting so we don't have to focus on that as much once the season begins. I feel like he wants to try to make soccer here like lacrosse, football or basketball, which I like."
For now, Urban-Zukerberg is focusing on getting himself and his players acclimated to each other. He's organized pick-up sessions on Monday evenings throughout the summer. The group scrimmages during those pick-up kick-arounds, but Urban-Zukerberg said this summer's focus is mostly on him getting to know all his players.
He has a bit of a head start on that as well. A few Boys' Latin players came through the Towson United system, while some have played futsal for him.
The workouts have been well-received by the players, especially younger ones.
"These kick-arounds really bring everyone together," rising freshman right winger Avery Tankersley said. "Getting to play with each other before the season really helps, too. You get to know everyone and little things about each other's games, which helps a lot."
The kick-arounds have also given Urban-Zukerberg an idea of what he has to work with from a talent perspective. There is a good chunk of returners from last year's team, which finished 7-12 overall, including a 6-10 mark in conference play.
Urban-Zukerberg will be keeping a close eye on his defensive line, as he likes to have his teams play the ball out from the back and control the game from there. In order to do that, Urban-Zukerberg is going to need highly skilled defenders.
"It all depends on what you have in terms of personnel," he said. "You have to be able to adapt to what their skill sets are, but the basis of my philosophy is you need to possess the ball coming out of the back. I always like to have some of my better players in the back because if mistakes are made on defense, you give away goals. If you do that, you're not going to win many games."
While winning games is certainly Urban-Zukerberg's main priority (he hopes to win the league title in his first season as head coach), he views developing talent as a crucial aspect of the job.
The Towson United and Dulaney junior varsity programs both saw players improve under Urban-Zukerberg's tutelage.
To the first-year varsity head coach, the development cycle is never-ending for soccer players.
Boys' Latin should be as good a place as any for Urban-Zukerberg to cultivate talent due to the sheer number of opportunities the Lakers provide. In addition to the varsity and junior varsity, there are teams for each grade at the middle school level, and there's talk of adding a fresh/soph team for high school as well.
When it comes to player development, Urban-Zukerberg's strategy is to get his players comfortable with using every aspect of their body while on the field.
"There are 28-30 different surfaces on your body that you can use during your game," Urban-Zukerberg said. "The best kids can use every single one of them well. It's about getting those reps in, getting kids using both feet and moving off the ball. You have to teach them that there's always another level that they can get to. They may not know they can at the present moment, but if they work hard, they'll be able to get there. I hope to help our players achieve that."
Issue 235: July 2017