A Graduate's Soccer Odyssey: From Video Game to College Coach

12.20.2016
Joey Blechner '09
Joey Blechner '09

Joey Blechner ’09 became interested in soccer around 10th grade — from playing a video game. Almost 10 years later, after high school and collegiate success in soccer, he has turned to coaching “because I had always loved to teach kids about the sport.”

Joey just completed his second season at the helm of the fledgling soccer program at Touro College’s Lander College for Men in Manhattan. “It took a while to get equipment and to get players to commit,” he reflected. “I had to convince the hierarchy that we have a good program. But we are growing fast and people are noticing. I hope to have at least a traveling club team by the spring of 2018.”

“I have players at all skill levels. I have had a few players that on day one couldn’t dribble a ball 10 feet or properly kick a ball,” he continued. “One idea that I stress is that no matter who you are, you always have to start with the basics, which is why I start each season by re-teaching fundamentals. Yes, some players progress better than others, but when everyone starts on the same level, team confidence rises since everyone helps each other out.”

That video game “got me into watching the sport and eventually I started following Manchester United, the team that had the most games broadcasted in the U.S.,” Joey recalled. “My first soccer idol was Edwin Van Der Sar, goalkeeper for Manchester United. He and I have similar body types, tall and lanky, so I could relate to how he played.” He said his field skills started to develop while playing informally with friends.

Joey’s first mentor was former Maimonides Coach Pedro Odon. “He showed me the proper technique.” Things didn’t start so well, however. “The summer before junior year, I trained almost every day. Tryouts came and went, and I didn’t make the team. I was really disappointed but I was determined to get better. “

“The first day of training, I showed up and asked Coach Odon if I could be a practice squad player, and he agreed. The day before the first game, he told me that I was on the team — and I was starting, though on defense.” As a senior, moving up after the starting goalie was hurt, Joey recorded three shutouts.

“That summer and into my year in Israel, all I focused on was playing goalie,” he recounted. “I was playing in summer leagues and against locals from near my yeshiva just so I could better my game. Towards the end of my year in Israel, the head coach of YU’s soccer team called me up and recruited me to play goalie for YU. I was so happy that I was getting a chance to play college soccer.”

For most of four varsity seasons, Joey was the starting goalkeeper for the YU Macs. “I worked tirelessly in the gym and in the classroom studying goalkeepers and players from around the world,” he said. “I finished my junior season as the statistical leader for saves per game in our conference and was ranked 12th in the country for NCAA Division 3 in that same category. That was truly my most amazing accomplishment.”

“My YU coach, Shua Pransky, took me under his wing and showed me the essentials of coaching,” Joey said. “Being a goalkeeper, I had to know each position on the field and how it worked. This helped with understanding how to set up trainings. So far it has worked out really well.”

“What I learned from my coach, which I pass on to my players, is that playing on a team and playing a sport do so much for you in the real world,” he testified. “Sports help motivate you, build self-confidence and maintain a healthy physical and mental body.”

Joey said actual coaching takes about four hours a week, “but I spend about 60 minutes every night going over practice drills and sending videos and notes to my players. I encourage them to watch as many professional games as they can.”

Joey is an associate community manager for WeWork in New York. The company purchases real estate space and transforms it into smaller offices and common areas. “Playing on a team helps your professional mindset. It prepares you for working with others and problem-solving by literally thinking on your feet. In a soccer game, everything can go wrong in a split second,” he said.

“It is hard doing this with a full-time job,” he added. “Eventually, if and when the program becomes a travel team, I will have to work out my job schedule to accommodate more practices and games.”

Joey said he also has learned that “as a coach, you have to balance maintaining a team and maintaining players. Maintaining a team requires working on chemistry, ball movement, set plays. Maintaining a player means not only working on the player’s skills but also working on confidence and self-determination. By having confidence in yourself and trust in your team, you can quickly turn your mistakes into success.”

Joey Blechner's grandfather, Sidney Blechner, z"l
Joey Blechner ’09, Maimonides School and Yeshiva University goalkeeper and now coach of the new men’s soccer program at Lander College in New York, discovered a few years ago that he shared his uniform number, 19, with his grandfather, Sidney Blechner, z”l (right). “I did some research on my grandfather’s soccer career in Germany. I knew he played before the war, and I found out that he played for the youth squad of the professional team, Bar Kochba Munich,” Joey reported. “When I took the field, he was an inspiration.”