by Ashleigh Wheeler, Sports Information Intern
Kristen St. Clair has soccer running through her veins, and the same could be said about coaching. Her father, Gary, played soccer at a professional level and St. Clair and her brother grew up playing the sport from a very young age. By taking her first fulltime head coaching position at CBU for the women’s soccer team in March 2007, St. Clair followed in the footsteps of her father once again. Gary has been coaching at NCAA Division I San Jose State for 19 years.
She was just a toddler when St. Clair can first remember playing soccer and admits she practically grew up on the field. Although her father never officially coached her, he often gave the budding goalkeeper advice.
St. Clair’s father was also a goalkeeper and was the primary keeper on the 1976 U.S. Olympic men’s soccer team throughout the qualifying stages. St. Clair remembers her dad coming home from a long day of practices and taking her out to the field to help her sharpen her skills.
“Being coached by my dad was great,” said Kristen. “He has so much knowledge and experience about soccer and also about being a goalkeeper that he was able to give me excellent instruction.”
One of the hardest lessons for St. Clair to learn was also one of the things her father stressed the most while coaching her, which was not to be too hard on herself. He taught her to see the good things she was doing and not to focus on the bad.
“Coaching Kristen was very difficult because she was hard on herself, but she was also easy to coach because she was so driven and she knew what she wanted,” said Gary. “I tried to point out the reality of the condition of the game. In goalkeeping you deal with a lot of failure, and it’s not easy, but you have to mature and understand it is part of the game.”
While in high school, St. Clair helped coach at her father’s summer camps and that was when she first started to fall in love with coaching. She enjoyed teaching and then seeing the players learn the different aspects of the game.
During her college career, St. Clair would call her father after almost every practice and game and talk about the different things she could do or even work on.
“My dad and I are really alike,” said Kristen. “Both of us probably work a little bit more than we should so it is good to hear what he has to say about certain situations because he can tell me from his own experience how I should handle something or what I should do.”
While playing at GSAC-rival Westmont, St. Clair was nothing less than outstanding. She was a four-time NAIA All-American as a goalkeeper for the Warriors. Her 40 career shutouts rank fourth on the NAIA’s all-time list.
After her senior year in college, St. Clair was the only NAIA player invited to the Umbro/WUSA (former women’s pro league) College Combine and was then invited to a WUSA preseason training camp. She was preparing for that opportunity when she sustained a career-ending knee injury just prior to leaving for the workout.
St. Clair had hoped to play professionally like her father, but after her knee injury she decided to take a year off from soccer to prepare for graduate school and figure out what the next step would be in her life, which turned out to be coaching.
In 2003, she was the assistant coach at her alma mater Westmont and in 2004 served as an assistant coach at UC Santa Barbara. Right before she came to CBU, St. Clair spent the 2006 season as an assistant at NCAA Division I Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
When the CBU job opened, St. Clair called upon a reliable source. Her dad advised her that it was too great of an opportunity to pass up both on a professional and personal level. He also said that whatever decision she made he knew she would do a great job. After much prayer and conversation with her family, St. Clair accepted the job.
“I firmly believe that the Lord opened a fantastic door for me to come to CBU,” said Kristen, “The opportunity was tremendous for me on a number of levels. Professionally, my goal has always been to become a head coach at a top national university. Personally, it was an answer to prayer to be closer to family as my mother had just been diagnosed with ALS.”
During St. Clair’s first season (2007-08) at CBU, she took the Lancers to one of their best seasons in the program’s history. The Lancers finished in the NAIA Top 25, earned a second-place finish in the GSAC and an appearance in the regional finals, falling just one game shy of the national tournament.
St. Clair’s father has also experienced immense success in his long coaching career. He has reached the 100-win plateau for coaching victories at San Jose State, making him one of only two coaches in the 81-year history of men’s soccer to achieve that honor. He has also been named Coach of the Year four times, twice by the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), and twice by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America (NSCAA) as the Far West Region’s top field leader.
Both St. Clair and her father have had success as collegiate head coaches and one thing they both have in common is their passion for the game of soccer. Their passion can be seen everyday out on the field as they invest countless hours in the improvement of their players. It can also be seen in the success they have both experienced as players and now as coaches. Their years of dedication speak of their passion and love for the game of soccer.
Over the years, Kristen has had the privilege to view first hand from her father the passion, work ethic and professionalism that is needed to be successful.
“I think we both have very high expectations in ourselves—we are very competitive and that has been both a help and hindrance,” said Gary. “But if you don’t have passion for the game, you are in the wrong business.”
St. Clair has seen her father lead by example and also a willingness to be involved in the lives of his players on a personal level.
“My dad is a phenomenal leader and I try to emulate that,” said Kristen. “His faith is very important to him, and that is something he has been able to share with some of his players. He always used to tell me that your players don’t care what you know until they know that you care, and that is something I always try to remember as a coach.”