Parents with children participating in sports programs at Joint Base McGuire Dix Lakehurst in New Jersey regularly requested Matthew Szaban as a coach during his time there.
And it’s easy to see why.
The long-time volunteer coach has a heart of gold and a passion for teaching, molding and inspiring kids to be great not only in sports, but life.
Szaban is this year’s recipient of the prestigious NAYS Volunteer Coach of the Year Award, which is annually presented by the National Alliance for Youth Sports to an outstanding individual who upholds the NAYS Code of Ethics for Coaches, which includes placing the emotional and physical well-being of players ahead of any personal desires to win, treating each player as an individual and being a positive role model, among others.
“For me it’s about seeing that enjoyment in the kids,” Szaban says. “Whether it’s my children, a neighbor or a stranger, it’s about seeing that change from the beginning to the end of the season and seeing their growth as an athlete and as a member of the community.”
Through the years he has coached flag and tackle football, track, basketball, t-ball, baseball and soccer.
“I coach anything,” he says. “If you need a coach and you send me an email and I have the time and my family has the time, I’m there because it’s about the kids.”
His practices are challenging and filled with fun. He stresses the fundamentals, working hard, knowing the rules and competing as a team.
“When I played youth sports it was repetition and repetition,” he says. “You did the same drill a thousand times and then would go home. In today’s era we have the ability to be so much smarter than that. If I’m coaching tackle football or flag football or basketball we can do the same skills with different drills and there’s a game for every single skill. If it’s a fumble recovery drill or if it’s getting into a three-point stance, you can turn everything into a game.”
Some things you won’t see at his practices: kids bored, standing around and being ignored.
“You have to keep everybody engaged,” he says. “It doesn’t matter if you have eight kids on your roster or you have 30 kids on your roster, keep everybody engaged throughout practice so that nobody feels left out. It’s so important to keep everybody moving and make sure everyone is getting attention.”
He’s also known for lacing up his cleats sometimes and participating in drills with the kids.
“I definitely get a kick out of it and they do, too,” he says.
And his work away from the field is equally impressive. He was in the U.S. Air Force for 12 years, where he served in Iraq and Afghanistan, before retiring due to medical reasons.
A devoted husband and father of 3, he also somehow finds the time to volunteer at a Veterans hospital, a Ronald McDonald House and at local schools where he tutors children having difficulty with their studies. He also enjoys mentoring new coaches where he can share his knowledge and experience gained from more than a decade of coaching kids in a variety of sports.
“I love mentoring other coaches,” he says. “I’ve been coaching for 11 years and teaching and mentoring has always been a strong suit of mine and that’s what I love doing.”
And it’s also very clear that kids love playing for him, too.
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