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Maya Hayes on climbing the coaching ladder

Maya Hayes talks about how she managed the player to coach transition as she joins Minnesota’s staff.

SOCCER: MAY 13 NWSL - Boston Breakers at Sky Blue FC

Maya Hayes was a regular for Sky Blue FC for four years, joining them in 2014 after being drafted sixth overall out of Penn State. But eventually, she knew it was time to start thinking about the next move, to start pursuing the ultimate goal she’d had in mind for herself for years. She left behind her professional career ahead of the 2018 season to join Auburn as a graduate assistant coach while she completed her master’s in Adult Education. Now she comes onboard as an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota for their women’s soccer team, the latest step for Hayes in a career she said was always geared towards becoming a collegiate coach.

“I got my bachelor’s degree at Penn State in kinesiology specifically because I wanted to go into coaching, and it was the closest thing we had to a coaching major,” she said in a phone call with All for XI. Hayes knew even as a freshman she would do something in coaching, but wasn’t totally sure in what capacity. But as her collegiate career continued, her plans solidified. She credits her coaches at Penn State for helping provide some of the guidance she needed. “I think that what’s happening is that you have a lot of women currently in the college game that are very intentional about their efforts of education up-and-coming coaches. That’s kind of the position that I was in in terms of my coaches at Penn State, Ann Cook and Erica Dambach,” she said.

Hayes credited Cook specifically with forming a more human relationship with Hayes, influencing the way she thought about coaching. “The biggest thing for them was player relationships,” said Hayes. “With Ann, I think that she allowed me to feel value as a person and not just a player and that was super important. Especially from the sense of it being such an elite program at Penn State, I think it’s easy to get caught up in the wins and the stats and what’s happening on the field, but the culture that they’ve built within the players - and the staff for that matter - is one that makes sure you feel that value as a person and that you’re cared about as a person and what you do afterwards and not just what you bring to the program.”

Not that the decision came easily to Hayes. She was doing fine at Sky Blue, getting plenty of playing time. She didn’t have any significant injuries and she was still in love with the game. So she wrestled over when was the right time to step away. “It was never going to feel like the right time just in that regard,” she said, “And so I think because of that the hard part of the transition of actually making the decision. Once I made the decision, honestly it was kind of smooth sailing.”

There are a couple of ways to get into the coaching game for women; get licensed in your spare time, maybe see if your club will bring you on as an AC, become a volunteer coach, maybe jump back down to the youth club level. For Hayes, her eye was always on education, and she knew she wanted to get that schooling over as quickly as possible. So she went to Auburn for grad school, a track she highly recommends to anyone else interested in continuing their education as a route into coaching. “Granted, every graduate assistant position is a little bit different in terms of the stipend and all those types of things but at the end of the day it’s a way to get your education paid for. I don’t see a downside to that if those are two things, in terms of wanting to go not even just into coaching, but wanting to go into collegiate athletics and specifically collegiate women’s soccer in some capacity,” she said. “It’s a great way to get experience, a great way to get your feet wet but not dive headfirst.”

Hayes doesn’t have a USSF coaching license yet; she just missed out on the player licensing program in NWSL, an initiative kickstarted by Yael Averbuch when she was still playing for FC Kansas City, which has continued on to allow players to get their C-licenses. “Definitely a little bitter about that,” Hayes said, laughing about the bad timing. Licensing courses are definitely one tool for getting more women into coaching, but Hayes said that mentorship was probably the biggest piece of the puzzle for her. “I would probably put it as the sole reason that I chose to go into collegiate coaching,” she said.

Hayes is also aware that it’s not just about who gets to coach, but who doesn’t. As a Black woman working towards getting into high-level collegiate coaching, she knows that she doesn’t have a huge number of peers right now. “I think we could talk about this for a while,” she said. “But I think it starts at the club level. Asking the questions: why is it such a white sport? And that’s just not at the national team level or the collegiate level, it starts at club. And so I think those are the questions you ask and you start to realize or look at the things that are in place at the club level that maybe prohibit or make it astronomically harder for players not in the same financial situation or in inner cities or whatever it may be. But I think that’s where it starts to be honest in terms of you’re making a true diversity push.”

Hayes is intent on passing on the mentorship that she received. She knows she can make a difference just by being herself, and being visible. “That’s also a real thing, having a coach that looks like you,” she said. “I think that the more Black women that get into coaching, I think it’s that representation factor for players that maybe didn’t even think about that was an option for them. Or maybe they had interest in it, but because they’ve always grown up with white male coaches or white female coaches, they just were a little bit discouraged. I would be lying if I said that wasn’t part of my own reason of wanting to get into coaching, because I realize that representation factor for a lot of players.”

Hayes still misses her pro career, just a little bit, especially since she’s still close to many people who are still playing. But she gets some of her needs filled by jumping in with the players she coaches now, and she thinks it’s a good thing she misses her days on the pitch. It means she’s still in love with the game, and if she can pass on that passion and keep living by her principles of seeing players as whole humans, then the next generation will be just fine.