BALLSTON SPA – If you follow your heart, good things can happen.
Ballston Spa resident Andrew Werner, 50, changed jobs several years ago within the New York State Police to allow more time at home. That professional switch, too, guaranteed free weekends so he could help coach his daughter Abigail’s youth soccer team.
Werner has been at the helm of his daughter’s recreational and travel Ballston Spa Soccer Club teams for the past six years — and, last month, the senior investigator out of the NYSP’s Saratoga Springs station earned a new title when he learned he had been named the Eastern New York Youth Soccer Association East Region Girls Competitive Coach of the Year.
“It’s been a complete shock,” Werner said. “I didn’t even know I was nominated until I found out I won.”
Werner is now one of four nominees for the US Youth Soccer national award. The winner of that award will be announced on Jan. 14 at the US Youth Soccer Awards gala.
Werner began coaching his daughter, now 11 years old, in the Ballston Area Recreational Commission program six years ago. Two years later, she advanced into the Ballston Spa travel program where her dad continues to coach her team.
That path from soccer in a recreational setting to a more competitive one was familiar to Werner. A product of the Clifton Park Soccer Club, Werner played varsity soccer at Shenendehowa before graduating in 1988. In the fall of 1987, he was part of the Plainsmen’s team that made it to the state semifinals.
Once he started coaching, though, Werner learned his playing experience would only help him so much.
“It’s a whole different process, learning how to deal with kids and getting the message across, and dealing with parents,” Werner said of coaching. “Understanding the game, it has changed so much since I played. The level of competition and the level that these kids are playing at, they play at such a high level at such a younger age now, it’s amazing.”
Prior to making his career switch, Werner worked as part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s detail team.
“I was in a position where I was working every other weekend and traveling a lot. I decided I needed to leave that position, transfer out and go to a more stable work schedule because I wanted to make sure I was there coaching with her.
“I couldn’t commit to coaching when I was with that position. It was a conscious decision I made, and I’ve never looked back.”
Werner entered the New York State Police Academy in 1994 after graduating from the University of Buffalo. His interest in coaching Abigail was aided by what he has seen on the job.
“I’ve seen a lot of idle kids — that are great kids — have nothing else to do and they’re going down the wrong path,” Werner said. “They didn’t have the support, or they weren’t involved with outside activities. It hits home that this is even more important than just learning soccer, it’s keeping these kids on the right path, staying out of trouble and keeping them busy and being part of something that they’ll never forget.”
Werner said coaching his own child has its own unique challenges.
“I don’t know if it’s always been great for Abigail. You do expect a lot more of them,” Werner said. “She’s a very good player, but you want her to maintain that level. I try to be fair with everybody and you want to make sure she maintains a high level, so other parents aren’t [saying], ‘Well, that kid’s only playing because her dad’s the coach.’”
The COVID-19 pandemic limited the travel of the U12 girls squad this spring and summer. From a distance, Werner engaged his squad by communicating weekly challenges, including training for a 1.5-mile race or an upcoming juggling contest.
“After a while they just wanted to get back to see their friends and play,” Werner said.
He has also had to manage his daughter, the student, at home during this time.
“It’s been a challenging year — especially as a father to see my daughter going to school two times a week,” Werner said. “I never thought I would see an 11-year-old say, ‘Dad, I miss school. I just want to go back to school.’”
The Werners and their Ballston Spa team are early in their indoor winter season, always playing with masks on and limited to one spectator per player, per Ballston Spa Soccer Club and state Department of Health regulations.
Werner is committed to coaching Abigail and her teammates through their teenage years playing club soccer.
“I’ve taken the philosophy that I had a very successful high school team that I played on and we still get together and talk about it, how much fun we had,” Werner said. “If you guys can stay together and play together, you’ll be one of the few groups of girls that made it all the way through high school playing together and it will lead to success at that level because you’ll have played together so long at a high level.
“That’s my goal,” Werner said, “is to get these girls to have a wonderful high school career.”