The Most Successful College Soccer Coach Ever: Interview With Dr. Jay Martin

It is pretty safe to say that Dr. Jay Martin knows the game of soccer inside and out.   More important than his knowledge of the game is his understanding of competitiveness, character development,  and what the pillars of success are whether we are talking about sports, or life in general.   He is the John Wooden of soccer.  It was both an honor and privileged to access the mind of this incredible man and soccer sage.  

Just how impressive is his background?  

Dr. Jay Martin is the winningest coach in college men's soccer history with a total of 640 wins. He has guided his 37 Ohio Wesleyan Battling Bishop soccer teams to a 640-119-57 record.  His career winning percentage of .819 entering the 2014 season ranks eighth all-time.  Besides coaching two Division III national championship teams, Martin has seen two other teams advance to the Division III national championship game. His teams have appeared in 32 NCAA tournaments and eight national semifinals. They have won 12 regional titles, including nine of the last 15 seasons that the NCAA tournament has included a regional format, and 23 conference championships. His teams have won 21 Stu Parry Awards, recognizing Ohio’s top Division III team each year.Martin has been recognized by his peers as Regional Coach of the Year 15 times while at Ohio Wesleyan and as National Coach of the Year in 1991, 1998, and 2011. His teams won an NCAA-record 18 consecutive Division III tournament berths from 1978-95. He is one of only four individuals to receive Ohio Collegiate Soccer Association’s Honor Award since the association’s founding in 1949. He received the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s Honor Award in 2007.


 1. What are some of the most important qualities a person must have in order to become a successful soccer player. In other words, what character traits do you look for in recruits and how does this impact the overall soccer team?

There must be an acceptable level of skill/technique for the level of the team but the real trait that will determine how far the player will go is work rate/work ethic. Geoff Colvin says that talent is overrated. How many very talented players have we seen who never made it? They were the best at every age group. Success came easy. When they start playing other talented players they simply do not know how to compete. Give me a player with great work ethic and a lower skill level any day!

2. From a soccer standpoint, what are the most important qualities a player must possess in order to make an impact in the modern game? What catches your attention in a tryout or a while scouting for players?

As I mentioned previously work ethic is important. I think that focus and concentration are important and most players do not have that. The mental side of the game is huge. Again we do not as coaches focus on that area at all. I like to watch a player in warm ups. I can tell a great deal about a player BEFORE he plays. How serious is he? Is he preparing to play physically and mentally? When the whistle blows is he ready.  I think the "change of pace" is very important. Do players have a good change of pace or are they playing underwater soccer.  Does the player use his athleticism or rely on it??? There is a big difference here. In the USA our kids RELY on athleticism.


3. In your article entitled, "How To Coach Players For Game Intensity", you wrote on the importance of players understanding that soccer is a demanding game and at times players will need to play tired and sore and that is something that needs to be trained into them. How do you go about doing that with your teams without risking over-training and injury?

This is difficult. There is a very thin line between training and over training. Because if you push in practice hard every day, the players will move toward being over trained. And there is a difference between soreness and injury. Players must know what that difference is.

How do we train this? We time every activity (not drill) we do in training. For example, we will tell the players that we will play 3 v 3 for one minute three times.

We expect 100% effort. The 100% effort pushes the players toward the physical limit and the mentality grows that we need 100% every time. The coach must stick with what is said. i.e. if you say one minute, make it one minute then have some active rest i.e. juggle the ball etc. which will work on increasing focus and concentration

4. Related to the previous questions, what are some of your favorite ways of challenging the fitness level and mental toughness of your athletes?

Everything we do in training is competitive. Each session we have two teams and they compete in everything i.e. in a shooting activity which team - the reds or grays scores more goals. At the end of training there is a winner and loser. The winner gets a picture taken and hung in the locker room. The losers pick up the equipment, vacuum the locker room etc. This creates a very tough competitive environment

5. What do you feel the role of weight training plays in the development of the soccer player? Do your players lift weights and if so, what type of lifting do they do?

We have moved away from the traditional weight training. Our fitness coach uses one's own body weight as resistance. Our strength program combines strength, flexibility, speed etc. We are not interested in bulk weight training. We are interested in soccer fitness; not American football fitness.

Editors note:     I am in full agreement that soccer players want to avoid unnecessary weight gain.  The use of heavy weight-training does not necessarily mean that "bulk" or mass will be added, and at certain times of the year it can be beneficial to safely lift heavier weights. Generally away from the most important competitions,  heavier weights  (80-95% of max) with low rep ranges (2-6 reps)  are an effective way  to get stronger (related to sprint and jump ability) without adding mass. Of course, each athlete has different genetics which means some may hypertrophy more easily than others.  Food intake is another factor often overlooked in not only mass gained, but what kind of mass one is gaining.    

6. Which individuals, whether players or coaches in the game of soccer have had the greatest impact on you and why?

There have been many influences. We don't reach any level of expertise without help from others. I played three sports in college and look at my self as a coach not a soccer coach. My father was a huge influence. He set the tome through setting values for me that I adhere to today. My high school basketball coach introduced me to the art of coaching. The coaches and faculty at Springfield College had a great influence on me. I was introduced to all the SC coaches and could discern the good and the bad from each. I have had many players who have suggested different ways of doing different ways of doing certain things. I like to think I never stop learning. I read books about coaches from all sports. I can always find one or two things to take away from every book.

7. What is the most rewarding part of being a coach? What excites you about it the most?

The relationships developed over time have been sensational. The most exciting thing is trying to get a group of strong and independent young men to get on the same page; work together and reach common goals. That is exciting and is the challenge of coaching at any level.

For more information about Dr. Jay Martin and some great articles he has written, visit his website at