- Course studied:
- Sport and Exercise Science
- Year of graduation:
The USA is not known as a soccer nation – with its big four sports being American football, baseball, basketball and hockey. But since Staffordshire University alumni Simon Nee joined the New York Red Bulls Academy as a manager, the sport has seen tremendous growth, quickly closing the gap with the country’s favourite sports.
Simon, originally from Stoke-on-Trent, crossed the Atlantic to pursue a career with a professional football club in a country with huge potential for the sport. Simon has notched up more than 20 years coaching experience, achieved a first class honours in Sport, Health and Exercise Science in 2000, and has worked with players at every level, from grassroots to high school, college and academy.
“I picked Staffordshire University because it was my hometown and the course because I wanted to pursue a career in full time coaching or teaching,” recalled Simon. “The degree continues to be very relevant to my current position and we use a number of sports science areas to improve a player’s development within the academy system.”
New York Red Bulls Academy
Simon started at the New York Red Bulls Academy in 2006 – after completing a teacher training programme in physical education at Stoke-on-Trent’s Birches Head and St Peter’s High School. His first role was Manager for Education and Recruitment. “It was my job to recruit coaches at the grassroots level and then educate them in Red Bulls coaching philosophy and methodology,” he said.
At that time, there were around 45 coaches working in the local community but this has since grown into the biggest outreach programme of any major sports team in the US, with over 150 coaches today. Simon helped to create the coaching curriculum for the grassroots level, training programmes for players aged between six and 14.
In 2013, he started coaching the U23 team in the Academy, leading them to an undefeated season a year later, winning the National Premier Soccer League. He has also worked with the U16 and U18 teams. While coaching the U16s, they won the Premier Division of the Generation Adidas Cup, and in the same year he guided them to an appearance in the US Development Academy finals after capturing the Mid-Atlantic Division regular season.
“Our goal at the academy is to develop players for the first team but also to develop young men,” Simon said. “I take greatest pride in the amount of players who we help secure college scholarships and who go on to do well after they finish playing at the club.”
Major League Soccer (MLS) is experiencing double digit growth across attendance, season ticket sales and sponsorship. “MLS has shown a lot of growth over the past few years and it’s an exciting time for the sport in this country,” Simon explained.
“New York in particular is a demanding market place and that helps to motivate me each year to keep improving and developing. My role as an academy coach has similarities the world over I’m sure but it’s the culture and size of the US that makes it such an interesting challenge.”
He added: “For now, I am very happy in my current role, but the nature of professional sports means you can never really predict the future.”