Jen Lalor-Nielsen Brings World-Class Experience and Dedication to SDFA
“Practice Is What You Become” Jen Lalor-Nielsen
When Johnson Asiedu was putting together his team to open San Diego Football Academy (SDFA) in 2010, one of the first coaches he turned to was San Diego-area native and former U.S. Women’s National Team player Jen Lalor-Nielsen. With over 30 years of playing experience and more than a decade of coaching, Lalor-Nielsen was a perfect fit for the new club.
“Jen is very passionate,” said Asiedu. “I have not met another female coach who is as knowledgeable both on the training field and in the game. To me, Jen is one of the best female coaches I’ve ever met through my travels around the world.”
Growing up in Chula Vista in San Diego County’s South Bay region, Jen Lalor began playing soccer in AYSO at age five and soon became known for her speed of play and ball control. She began playing competitive soccer at age 11, taking the pitch for the Bonita Rebels and Villa Bratz and later traveled to Los Angeles to play for Fountain Valley Sting under Abner Rogers and for LA Blues. Lalor later returned to now FC Bratz and was coached by Larry Draluck.
At Bonita Vista High School Lalor helped lead the girls’ soccer team to two undefeated seasons and a pair of Metro League titles. Her skills earned her a full ride scholarship to Santa Clara University and later a spot on the National Team from 1992 to 1995 and again in 2001, including a trip to the 1995 FIFA Women’s World Cup in Sweden.
Beginning in 1997 Lalor went professional, playing in Japan, Denmark and Sweden before returning to the United States. In 2000 she joined the Women’s Premier Soccer League’s (WPSL) San Diego SeaLions, which provided the exposure she needed to make her next move. In 2001 she was drafted to play in the Women’s United Soccer Association (WUSA) and took the pitch for the New York Power and the San Diego Spirit. In 2006 she returned to the SeaLions to close out her playing career. After leaving the field she was asked to stay on as assistant coach to then-head coach Sean Bowers, and took over as head coach in 2010.
Since then she has had great success both with the SeaLions, guiding the team to multiple playoff appearances, and as a youth soccer coach. In 2011 Lalor-Nielsen, who holds a National ‘B’ Licence, was named WPSL Pacific Coach of the Year, and in 2012 she was inducted into the WPSL Hall of Fame. That year she was also nominated for the National Soccer Hall of Fame, making the ballot along with such legends as Roy Lassiter, Shannon MacMillan and Claudio Reyna.
In 2013 Lalor-Nielsen led the team through an amazing season, going undefeated (10-0-1) to easily win the Pacific-South Conference. In the WPSL Western Regional Semifinals the SeaLions defeated Tucson Soccer Academy 2-0 to set up the Regional showdown with Pacific-North champion Elk Grove Storm. In that match the two sides battle through a scoreless game and into a second overtime before San Diego nabbed the 2-1 victory. In the WPSL Championship series, Lalor-Nielsen’s team defeated defending champions Gulf Coast Texans in the semifinals and then came back from an early 1-0 deficit to defeat the Houston Aces 2-1 for the title.
Just what is it that makes Lalor-Nielsen so well respected as a coach as well as a player? Asiedu believe it is because she is, in short, “the whole package.” Her experience on the field gives her the credentials, her knowledge and understanding of tactics and technique provide the wisdom, and her unique personality is the glue that holds it all together.
“Jen is not only a very skilled coach and trainer, but she is also a great person,” Asiedu told SoccerNation News. “She is easy to get along with and cares deeply about the people and players she works with. That is one of the things we have in common, and we can have a good conversation, not just about soccer, but about the players and families we work with.”
“She is a true soccer trainer,” Asiedu continued. “She can break the game down and teach it to players at their specific level and improve their skills and understanding. All of her teams play a strong technical game that is easy to watch and enjoy. Jen is a true representation of what SDFA stands for, which is teaching players to play based on their technical ability and to use their skills instead of unnecessary force and aggression.”
Jen Lalor-Nielsen took time out of her busy schedule as coach of SDFA’s GU13, GU16 and GU18/19 teams and co-director with husband Bo Nielsen of JB Soccer to share some thoughts on her career as both a player and a coach.
Diane Scavuzzo: You have had great success as both a player and a coach. What have been the keys to that success?
Jen Lalor-Nielsen: My success as a player came down to desire, commitment, dedication and truly wanting to achieve something. I worked hard, set goals for myself and was committed to success. I had great club coaches and a great personal trainer named Milan Dovedan, from Yugoslavia, that taught me incredible individual skills. I also had committed parents that helped me along the way.
I try to instill these qualities into my players as well. My trademark as a player is very similar to how I am as a coach: I am passionate about the game, love the game and absolutely love to coach.
Diane Scavuzzo: What was your greatest memory as a player?
Jen Lalor-Nielsen: My most memorable moment in soccer is playing for the U.S. Women’s National Team at The Four Nations Tournament in China in 2001. I scored the first ever goal in this new Chinese Stadium (called Dragon Stadium) and won 10,000 Yen. My name is hanging on a plaque inside the stadium as being the first ever player to score a goal there. It was incredibly memorable for me, and actually it was also the last time I put on a USA jersey.
Diane Scavuzzo: What was it that brought you and your husband Bo Nielsen together with Johnson Asiedu to start San Diego Football Academy?
Jen Lalor-Nielsen: I helped launch SDFA because I believed – and still believe – in the concept and mission statement. I thought the idea from the top down was different than anything else out there. We wanted to help start something that complemented what our JB Soccer training business was doing – teaching and developing the individual player in skills, speed and all aspects of the game.
Diane Scavuzzo: Could you tell us about your philosophy of coaching?
Jen Lalor-Nielsen: My philosophy and responsibility as a youth soccer coach is to help develop young athletes as a soccer player and as a whole person – a well rounded athlete and individual.”
Diane Scavuzzo: How do you put that into practice as a coach?
Jen Lalor-Nielsen: When players are young, they need to be taught the technical aspects of the game. These concepts need to be reinforced every day, all the time. The players who are inspired at a young age to train on their own away from team practice will be the ones that are successful. They can’t be “told” to do it or forced to do it by their parents; they have to really WANT to do it for themselves – that is key. As a coach you can help foster that environment.
A quote that I believe in 100 percent is “Practice Is What You Become.” I believe the role of the coach plays a huge part in inspiring these young players to want to practice at home and improve the technical aspect of their game.
Diane Scavuzzo: How does a coach instill that love of the game into a player?
Jen Lalor-Nielsen: Making practices fun but challenging when players are young, and then as they get older training hard and training with a purpose, are key ingredients to engaging them both physically and mentally. In coaching girls, if you teach with encouragement and you help foster each player’s inner self confidence and drive, they will give you their 100 percent. When you encourage your players and challenge them at the same time – that is when you have the right balance.
Diane Scavuzzo: What else is important for a coach to focus on when working with young players?
Jen Lalor-Nielsen: Another aspect as a coach I take seriously is the respect and character that each of my players must show towards me, other coaches, their teammates, their opponents, the referee and their parents. As a coach, you have the ability to not only teach the game of soccer but to teach players life lessons as well. Many of the concepts that you can implement at training and during games can also be used in the classroom and in life.
Diane Scavuzzo: What are some of these concepts?
Jen Lalor-Nielsen: There are a number of key concepts that I implement. I teach players that being on time means being early, and I have them shake the coach’s hand as they walk by. I teach them to come ready to go, with shin guards and cleats on. I tell them that once they get to the field they should start warming up, perhaps by juggling.
I want them to understand that they need to train hard, work hard and give all they have. I tell them that what you do now matters; you should always be better than you were yesterday. I want them to be good teammates, be encouraging and positive towards everyone, stay after practice (even if it’s 10 minutes) and work on aspects of their game. Players need to show good sportsmanship towards opponent and referee, pick up trash even if it’s not theirs, be good students – which always comes first – and be respectful in everything they do.
Diane Scavuzzo: How has coaching with the San Diego SeaLions influenced you as a youth coach?
Jen Lalor-Nielsen: Coaching the San Diego Sealions team (WPSL National Champs) has really helped my youth teams because it has given them a platform on how the game should be played and needs to be played. My philosophy is the same regardless of what team I am coaching. It’s my tone that may change slightly at times and the importance on winning is slightly different as well.
Diane Scavuzzo: In what way are they different?
Jen Lalor-Nielsen: In coaching the SeaLions or any semi-pro or professional team, one of the main focuses is on the field product and on winning. I believe constant communication, being organized and being prepared are key when you coach at the highest level. At the end of the day, that is a big part of my job – the product and winning.
Coaching youth is different. Trying to teach the players how to play the right way may result in losses, but that is how they learn. Encouraging young players to use their skills, regardless if they’re successful or not, is the only way to build that confidence. As a youth coach, you have to encourage even their mistakes so they aren’t afraid to try again. That is why watching the San Diego SeaLions play is so valuable because it is the highest brand of women’s soccer in San Diego, and these women are absolutely phenomenal to watch.
Diane Scavuzzo: Do you have any other thoughts on being a youth soccer coach?
Jen Lalor-Nielsen: As a coach, being the “whole package” is what I believe makes the greatest of coaches.
Photos courtesy of SDFA