By Tim Nash
Every college soccer player has heard it, at least once, when they were being recruited. College coaches, in an effort to make their program as appealing as possible, pull out the phrase during every visit.
“Our team is like a family,” they say. “We have a real family atmosphere here.”
But at the University of Central Florida, the women’s soccer team really is a family.
“That’s exactly what I tell recruits,” said Tiffany Roberts Sahaydak, the head women’s coach at UCF. “We really do have a family environment.”
The family atmosphere at UCF starts with the husband-and-wife coaching combination, Tiffany as head coach and her husband, Tim Sahaydak, as associate head coach. Enhancing the atmosphere are the two smallest members of the UCF family, two more Sahaydaks, eight-year-old Layla and six-year-old Evie.
Having young children around a soccer team is nothing new to Tiffany. In fact, not having young children around would be different. When she made her USA debut in 1994, Katey Fawcett, the daughter of USA teammate Joy, was an infant travelling with the team. Later, Carli Fawcett, Jackson Overbeck, the son of Carla, and Maddi Fawcett were regulars are national team training camps and trips.
“When I was with the national team and Carla and Joy had their kids with them, I remember thinking how great it was for the kids to be travelling on the road with a bunch of athletes who were like siblings,” says Tiffany. “I hoped that someday, that would be my situation. I have it now.
“(Layla and Evie) come to practice,” she continues. “The players babysit them, but we have a nanny who brings them to the games. I can hear them behind me, ‘Hi Mommy’ and I always turn around and wave. But after the game is the best. They will come running up to us, and win or lose, it helps keep it all in perspective.”
“I think it’s cool,” says Tim. “Our players are all good people first, and it’s great that the girls can be around those types of people.”
There are worse things for eight and six year olds to have as part of their after-school activities than running around a field, kicking balls with a group of college-age role models and watching their parents work. The players, however, might enjoy it more than Layla and Evie. “I think a lot of our players enjoy being around kids,” says Tim.
And who can blame them, after a day full of classes and grown-up activities who wouldn’t jump at the chance to play with an eight-year-old. “I think it helps the players in certain areas, too,” says Tiffany. “We tell them they are role models and they can see they are role models for my children. My kids love everybody on the team, but I think they gravitate towards the ones who are more comfortable with children.
“I just had an exit meeting with one of my players,” Tiffany continues. “I had noticed that during training she never smiles. She looks like she is not having any fun. Of course, I want all our players to have fun during training. I told her, ‘You never smile at practice, but when my kids come around you light right up.’ So we are working on trigger words to put a smile on her face.’”
There are other benefits as well.
“I also think it humanizes me in our players’ eyes,” says TIffany. “The players can see a different side of me, the side that takes care of my kids. And I love that our players can see the love and respect Tim and I show for each other. I would like to think that we are role models for their relationships.”
It’s rare to find married couples coaching soccer together, rarer than it was when Tracey (Bates) and Ray Leone did it at Creighton and later at Clemson in the 90s and early 2000s. There are some states which have laws prohibiting spouses from working together at state schools, and that’s why the Sahaydak’s probably won’t be coaching in California anytime soon.
There are pros and cons of working with your spouse, of course. But the Sahaydaks are certainly making it work. This fall, they will begin their 10th season working together as college coaches, starting at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2007 when the announcement of their hiring prompted Tiffany’s former USA teammate Julie Foudy to say, “You have to think that VCU just won the lottery, twice.”
Since 2013, they have been at UCF, replacing another one of Tiffany’s former USA teammate, Amanda Cromwell, who moved to UCLA. Under the Sahaydaks, the Knights have compiled a 46-14-4 record and two American Conference Championships. They earned three trips to the NCAA tournament, including a berth in the Sweet Sixteen in 2014. One win this season will give them 100 for their career. You have to wonder, though, how hard is it to work with your spouse, especially in a competitive environment where opinions are a crucial part of success.
“We really don’t know anything else,” laughs Tiffany. “Before we started coaching college at VCU, we coached club soccer and we were each other’s assistants. And we also had a camp business together in California. We really enjoy being together, and I like that my weaknesses are his strengths.”
Tim believes his wife excels at trying to recapturing the culture and some of the methods she experienced with the national team. He is more detail-oriented and is comfortable doing the day to day tasks that keep soccer programs successful. As a package, the two of them have learned their craft from an impressive list of coaches ranging from Anson Dorrance, Bruce Arena, Bob Bradley and Tony DiCicco to Clive Charles, Elmar Bolowich and April Heinrichs.
Tim is a former youth national team player and one of the youngest to ever play in Major League Soccer before knee injuries ended his career. Tiffany played in three World Cups, winning one, owns an Olympic Gold medal, won two national championships at UNC and won a WUSA championship.
There is, however, something new they are both learning – how to be a soccer parent. Tiffany is getting the hang of it. “I’m really relaxed,” she says. “I love it. I can just sit back in my chair and be a mom.”
Tim Nash is a freelance writer and author of the new book, “It’s Not the Glory, the Remarkable First Thirty Years of U.S. Women’s Soccer.” To order a copy, click here