Teen Pro Player at San Diego Surf SC
Known as the Best Player in America at age 16, Paul “Pauly” Dolinsky is a former professional player who left home in his teens to play pro soccer in Holland. Now a youth coach at San Diego Surf SC, Dolinsky brings a wealth of knowledge to the pitch and inspires elite players of all ages to reach for the stars.
For many aspiring young soccer players, being scouted by a top international team and then offered a contract is the ultimate dream. For Paul “Pauly” Dolinsky, that dream was his reality. As a fourteen-year-old playing with the Midwest Region II team on a tour in Spain, Dolinsky was noticed by scouts from Dutch side Feyenoord Rotterdam. At age 15 he was invited to train for two weeks with Feyenoord, arriving on his sixteenth birthday. A few months later he signed his first professional contract.
Dolinsky was considered one of the top U15 players in the U.S. in his time. Loek van Zijl, a former Dutch player and founder of Premier International Tours, remembers seeing him play. “Pauly was one of the best young players I have ever seen,” van Zijl recalled. “All of the clubs clearly recognized his talent.”
Dolinsky was a standout playmaker on his youth soccer team. With National team tryout experience and endless trophy hardware collected during his youth, Dolinsky was selected to the U.S. National Soccer Team for ages 15 and under. Quoted as saying, “It will be a challenge to see where I am really at against the best players in the country,” Dolinsky hungered for more. In 1983, when Dolinsky’s USYSA ODP Boys team took on Chile, newspaper coverage claimed Dolinsky as a big part of the win.
For a boy barely in his mid-teens, moving to another country with a different language and culture can be an incredible and exciting challenge. After playing for two seasons with Feyenoord, and later Heerenveen, Dolinsky decided to return home to the United States. Upon his return, Dolinsky joined the Chicago Fire, playing with the team’s Reserves. Dolinsky is a player-coach who is on top of his game, he began coaching youth soccer, eventually moving to San Diego to work with San Diego Surf SC, then worked with Carlsbad United briefly and returned back to Surf SC last year.
Diane Scavuzzo sat down with Dolinsky to talk about his experiences and his views on youth soccer. Dolinsky, now married with adorable twin boys and a new baby daughter, has become a powerful and motivating youth coach who knows what the dream of becoming a pro before turning eighteen is like.
Diane Scavuzzo: When did you first know you wanted to play soccer professionally?
Pauly Dolinsky: My dream from a very young age, when I was six or seven years old, was to play in Europe and become a pro. My father was born in Germany. I knew if you want to be the best you have to train with the best.
Diane Scavuzzo: How did you get to be good enough to be scouted by European clubs?
Pauly Dolinsky: I was a true student of the game. There was a ball attached to my foot 24/7. I was always practicing and challenging myself to do better.
Diane Scavuzzo: How good would you say you were as a young player?
Pauly Dolinsky: I would rate myself a seven or eight out of 10.
Diane Scavuzzo: Who would you rate as a 10?
Pauly Dolinsky: A 10 would be someone in the highest level of the game, say the top-tier MLS or someone like a Ronaldo or Messi.
Diane Scavuzzo: How old where you when you went to play in Europe?
Pauly Dolinsky: I left the United States when I was 15 and arrived the next day, on my 16th birthday. I could not play in Europe until I was 16 years old, and so they flew me out on my birthday.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why did you come back to the United States?
Pauly Dolinsky: I was very young when I was playing abroad. I missed my family very much. Everything happens for a reason. I have a wonderful life here in the USA and coaching is very rewarding.
I am very fortunate today to have my wife and my two young sons around me, but I still dream at night about when I played pro soccer in Holland. In fact, I dream in Dutch.
Diane Scavuzzo: Who would you say were your biggest influences as a young player?
Pauly Dolinsky: The first would be my father. His knowledge of the game, love and passion for the game, and commitment in all aspects to the game were contagious. I went to all of his games and was even taken out of school at a young age to go to some practices while he was still playing and coaching professionally.
We did everything together, and the majority of the time soccer was the focal point. He would drop everything to go out in the back yard and train with me. I can’t even begin to count the number of 1v1 games we played in the basement. All he had to offer to me about soccer, he did. I still pick up the phone today for affirmation about what I am attempting to give back to kids I work with.
The second would be Andre Stafleau. “Trainer,” as coaches go by in Holland, was my first coach at Feyenoord Rotterdam. He took me under his wing. He “coached” me to the fullest. At first it was a language thing, me being 16 and trying to learn Dutch. He attempted to make my time on the field as enjoyable as possible. He was my father figure.
I have so many great memories from my time in Holland, and I made some pretty good friends. I don’t think I would have the stories I have today if “Trainer” wouldn’t have provided the mental toughness and stability he did.
Diane Scavuzzo: What was the difference between playing in Europe compared to here in the United States?
Pauly Dolinsky: The difference between playing in Europe compared to the United States is simply the fact that I was not the odd man out.
In Europe, we all lived, breathed, and ate Voetbal. In the USA, I was the best player on the team. In Europe I wasn’t, and it was a great challenge. I had to play at my best day in and day out or my spot would be easily filled by the next guy waiting for his shot. Fortunately that never happened.
Diane Scavuzzo: So what was it like playing in Europe?
Paul Dolinksy: I loved it! It was awesome, being able to compete with and against players of a very high caliber on a regular basis. Traveling via bus, train, or plane to “compete” week in and week out was incredible. Showing up for practice and walking into the locker room, the structure from the volunteer drivers and the laundry ladies all the way up through the system to the President of the club – it was all amazing.
It was a well-oiled machine that happened to be “a dream come true.” I was living my dream, playing in Europe. In the United States I just didn’t have that same appreciation and understanding of what “it” was all about.
Diane Scavuzzo: Would you recommend that a 16-year-old go play in Europe?
Pauly Dolinsky: Absolutely. And I would recommend that the player enjoy every opportunity to play great soccer.
Diane Scavuzzo: You are now a successful youth coach here in San Diego. What do you like most about coaching?
Pauly Dolinsky: The sense of accomplishment on a players’ face when they achieve what they are trying to accomplish. I look for success in practice and training sessions. Developing to become a great soccer player is much more than winning games.
I have really grown as a coach and as a person in the last few years. I’ve matured. I have always thought of myself as a true student of the game. I love being a coach. Coaching is where I thrive.
Diane Scavuzzo: Why are you a coach?
Pauly Dolinsky: It’s what I love, what I know and what I am best at.
Passion and love for the game inspires me. The amount of knowledge gathered in my professional playing career and the fact that I am a young coach enables me to relate very well to the players at a unique and special level. After all, I can remember years ago when I was a teenager and playing as a pro in Holland at Feyenoord and Heerenveen. Sometimes, it is like yesterday when I was scouted when I was 14 years old playing with the Midwest Region II youth soccer team at a tournament in Spain. I went off to Europe to train at 15 for two weeks with Feyenoord and was signed a few months later.
Diane Scavuzzo: What position did you play back then?
Pauly Dolinsky: Mid-Center. I was always involved in the play both offensively and defensively and felt that I really contributed to the team’s success.
Diane Scavuzzo: When did you become a youth soccer coach?
Pauly Dolinsky: As a Chicago Fire reserve player, I became involved in the Chicago Fire Youth Soccer Program and discovered my appreciation for coaching. Teaching a child something new and helping a player master a technique and reach a new level of play has it’s own rewards. I am motivated to help youth soccer players reach their potential.
Diane Scavuzzo: How would you describe yourself as a Coach?
Pauly Dolinksy: Fun, demanding and a great communicator. I think of myself as an educator of the game.
Pauly Dolinsky: I don’t do it for a paycheck. It is my passion. My passion goes above and beyond any dollar amount. I am committed to the players I train and to the game itself.
Diane Scavuzzo: What do you look for in a youth player?
Pauly Dolinsky: I look for dedicated and committed players that want to learn. I would prefer to train a hundred average players with a great attitude then a few prima donnas who are highly skilled technically.
Diane Scavuzzo: Where you a prima donna, or were you somebody that you would like to train?
Pauly Dolinsky: Most of the time, I would’ve liked to coach me.
Diane Scavuzzo: What is your coaching philosophy?
Pauly Dolinsky: I believe in the creative, free-form, attacking-minded style of soccer. I believe having the ball is the best defense.
Diane Scavuzzo: One last question, who is your favorite professional player to watch?
Pauly Dolinsky: Mesut Özil who recently joined Arsenal. He is incredibly smooth and crafty on the ball. He can also find teammates with passes that most other players cannot. He is, in my mind, the complete player.