Shannon Higgins-Cirovski brings experience, change to Bethesda SC
Having just taken the reins as the Girls Director of Coaching at Bethesda Soccer Club in May, Shannon Higgins-Cirovski said at times she has felt like she’s “treading water” in her first summer on the job, though her self-assessment may be exceedingly humble.
With the progress she has already made and the considerable amount of experience she brings to the table, the new DOC certainly appears up to the task of leading one of the most successful programs in the country.
Bethesda SC’s girls side includes over 20 coaches overseeing teams from the U-8 to U-18 age levels, with the first teams in the U-14 to U-18 slots competing in the Elite Clubs National League (ECNL), the highest level of girls soccer in the United States. The U-14 and U-16 teams advanced to the 2015 ECNL Champions League Finals and Playoffs, respectively.
Continuing to help develop rising star players such as U.S. U-15 Girls National Team defender Makenna Morris, and others throughout the club’s ECNL program, will be one area of expertise for Higgins-Cirovski, who earned 51 caps as a midfielder with the U.S. Women’s National Team during her playing career. She retired from international play at the age of 23 after recording two assists in the 1991 World Cup Final win over Norway. At the same time as she was preparing for that World Cup, Higgins-Cirovski also became an assistant coach at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
Her first head coaching opportunity came in 1991, when she took on that role for the Colonials. In 1998, she coached the U.S. U-18 Women’s National Team, and from 1999-2006 she led the University of Maryland program, where her husband Sasho continues to coach the men’s program, a perennial powerhouse. The National Soccer Hall of Fame inducted Higgins-Cirovski in 2002.
Eventually, the college game began to take its toll, which has led her to the rapidly evolving world of youth club soccer.
“College coaching, it was an on the field, every day thing,” Higgins-Cirovski said. “I loved the on the field coaching collegiately. I loved working with the kids on their futures, but I did not like the recruiting. Having said that, there are more things that I like about the club game in that capacity than the college game.”
While a Director of Coaching position may not include quite as much recruiting, it does hold more of a focus on logistics and less on tactics. Instead of finding the next pass, as she did as a player, or implementing the right formation to break down an opposing defense, the job of a college coach, Higgins-Cirovski works to give her teams and coaches everything they need to succeed.
“What I’m trying to do is make it so that we have more individuals who are not coaching multiple teams across age groups,” Higgins-Cirovski said. “We’re trying to make it so that we have the proper spacing with our fields, we’re running quality camps, and we’re offering coaching education for the coaches that we have.”
With so many teams and coaches at the club, tackling these kinds of projects can be a major undertaking. Nevertheless, some changes have already been put in place. The club, for example, has hired a full time goalkeeping coach in order to better train aspiring keepers.
Shannon-Cirovski’s goals, however, stretch beyond simple planning and organization. Changing club philosophy represents one of the more difficult aspects of the job of a new director of coaching. One way she is attempting to bring change to Bethesda SC is increasing the number of women coaches. Equality in the sport of soccer has become a hot topic of conversation in the wake of the Women’s World Cup, and the 1991 World Cup winner has made a point of increasing female representation in her club. Nine women are currently employed as coaches at Bethesda SC.
“I’m hoping to get some quality females. I’ve hired tons of females since I’ve started and I’m really excited about that. Obviously, a good coach is a good coach, but, as a female, I really want to invest in female coaches,” Higgins-Cirovski said.
Another big-picture change in the works is putting more focus on the Maryland State Cup. According to Higgins-Cirovski, many clubs that compete in the ECNL often overlook the State Cup competition. In an attempt to avoid that at Bethesda SC, she has assigned one person to oversee the club’s participation in the competition.
“I want to make sure we understand how important these State Cup teams are to our club. I want to make certain that everyone sees that as a valuable contribution to the club and that we value that experience,” Higgins-Cirovski said.
With all these changes and projects underway, Higgins-Cirovski has done more at Bethesda SC than just tread water. Projects that are in progress, however, have not yet been completed, and the former national team player and collegiate coach understands that there is still plenty of work to do.
“Trying to set these things up and weed through some of the scheduling issues, trying to set the tone and start a culture, that takes time,” Higgins-Cirovski said.