In Part 1 of the latest Soccer Nation Sitdown, we get a deeper look into the mind of Sergio Palafox. The North County Battalion Head Coach spoke with Nate Abaurrea, sharing some fascinating insight on the craft of coaching and what it all means. Here’s their conversation, with topics including Palafox’s pathway to the touchline, his philosophies, his children, his love for San Diego and much more.
Nate Abaurrea: Coach, thanks for joining us. How are things?
Sergio Palafox: Thanks for having me. Things are good. Staying busy these days. Lots of coaching. Lots of soccer. Lots of time with my kids. Couldn’t ask for better.
NA: You have coached at a variety of competitive levels. You’ve coached girls, boys, and now grown men with the Battalion. What do you love about coaching soccer?
SP: I love that it’s an activity filled with passion. Whether it’s professionals or people in the park, players play this game because they are passionate. It’s hard to find things in life that can bring together lots of passionate people. Soccer does that more than anything I’ve ever found. When it comes to a competitive team, I find joy in it all. There’s joy for the group. There’s self joy. There’s also adversity, pain, and struggle.
In soccer you are given this tool for life, in that the problems one may face as a coach can sometimes be more immediate than certain problems in the rest of one’s life. Sometimes, quick decision-making is required, and your skills of problem solving are truly tested. I love that challenge.
What I love most is watching growth happen before my eyes. It might be quick. It might be over a long period of time. Either way, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing growth. It could be an individual player improving over the course of a season. It could be a team coming together. It’s beautiful to see. But it can be the other way around too. One of the most painful things to see as a coach is seeing a player or a team regress. And it all comes back to you, and what you’re doing to be the best person you can possibly be for other people.
NA: What do you find to be the most challenging part of being a soccer coach?
SP: Definitely the varying personalities, and knowing how to get the most out of every one of them. You will always have temperamental players and timid players, argumentative people and agreeable people. And everyone will have a varying level of passion, and passion can come in different forms. You can’t just have a uniform attitude and approach with players. Every player is different. Not every player is going to react the same to your methods. Therefore, you must always be assessing your approach, and further examining how you can reach and motivate everybody on your team. You have to always be weighing what’s good for the individual with what’s good for the bigger picture of the team. It’s all a balance that must be found to be successful.
NA: What stands out most for you in terms of your coaching background and what it’s given you as a person?
SP: It all comes back to my kids. My coaching background is predominantly in the youth game. In my younger days as a player, I traveled so much. I moved around quite a lot, and never had a true home for quite a while. As soon as I became a father, I wanted to focus all my energy and my efforts on my kids. I wanted to give them a true sense of home. Helping my kids with soccer in turn gave me a great sense of community here in and around San Diego, and it’s this community that has helped me continue to grow as a coach. That relationship and how it has cultivated into a real local pride is something that really stands out for me in terms of my coaching. I don’t think I could have one without the other.
I have five kids. The oldest is my son Carlos, who will be celebrating his seventeenth birthday next week. Ismael, who is named after my father, is thirteen. Angelica is my ten year-old daughter. And then there’s the two seven year-old twins, my son Sergio and his sister Alessandra.
NA: This may sound strange, but when I see her name, all I can think about is Alessandro Del Piero, the great Italy and Juventus striker.
SP: It’s funny you say that. All of my kids are named after members of my family, except for Alessandra. I have three sisters, and I had originally wanted to name my second daughter after one of them. But then I thought about it, and I realized that by naming her after one of my sisters, I’d be forgetting the other two. I had to go with another name. I started feminizing the names of some of my all-time favorite soccer players. I always loved Del Piero, his style of play and his incredible passion. His first name worked perfectly. We just changed the last letter, and there it was. My daughter, Alessandra.
NA: That is absolutely beautiful. Let’s get back real quick to Sergio Palafox the coach. Where do you see yourself going as a soccer coach?
SP: As I alluded to before, one of the things I take great pride in is seeing the technical growth of a player. I look at my own coaching the same way. I can always be improving. I can always have a big picture goal that I am trying to achieve, just like any player. My playing career ended far too soon, and coaching gives me something that feeds that desire I had as a player, while also giving me something new, something different. I love the challenges and I want more. My goal is to someday coach a first division professional team. The opportunity that I have been given here with the Battalion is a blessing. There is a passion in this club from top to bottom, and a desire to build.
Check out Part 2 of Nate Abaurrea’s conversation with NC Battalion Head Coach Sergio Palafox, where Palafox shares an incredible story about a relationship with one of the most recognizable figures in the history of Mexican Soccer.