Coaches love to devise tactical plans that take their opposite number by surprise, but that seems like a tall order for Randy Waldrum when his Dash side face FC Dallas ENCL Under-23 on Saturday night. After all, the Dallas coach is his son.
Ben Waldrum had a nomadic playing career, spending time in Texas, Germany, Mexico and Denmark, where he signed with FC Copenhagen. Even at a young age he realized he had inherited the coaching gene from his father and that his future lay in directing the action from the sidelines.
“Early on, growing up as a youth player and beyond, I was always intrigued—asking why we were doing things in training, always observing things. Even as a pro I played in a couple different countries and after training you’d come home and take notes: ‘well, OK, I like this piece of training and I see where the coach is trying to get to’, and that sort of thing,” he told HoustonDashSoccer.com.
“I was still playing when he was born, so he was always out at my games and he seemed to just know when it was halftime and he’d take his ball and go out and dribble the length of the field—a two-year-old kid with the ball at halftime,” the elder Waldrum recalled. “He always wanted to play, he was just around it so much … being around it he just gravitated to it.”
In 2003 the opportunity arose to add his son to the staff of his highly-successful women’s program at the University of Notre Dame and the pair spent five years working together, with Ben acting as an assistant coach and recruiting director. They have never been on opposite sides—until now.
Since the Dash are not in NWSL action again until June 28, when they host the Washington Spirit at BBVA Compass Stadium (8 p.m. CT; TICKETS), their head coach took the opportunity to fill the free weekend with a friendly at Roffino Stadium in Dallas against his son’s team from the developmental women’s Elite Clubs National League.
The pair have already exchanged some light-hearted banter on Twitter. “It’s a competition but it’s obviously a very friendly competition. We think a lot alike so I don’t think there are going to be too many secrets out there from each other,” said Waldrum senior. Especially since his son spent the past couple of Dash games assisting him on the bench: “He was in town so I put him to work. Having on the bench with us in those two games was a big help.”
While working so closely with a relative can be a test for any family in any job, the Waldrums think their tight relationship and close understanding has bred a trust that has been a big asset. “We learn from each other, absolutely,” said Randy.
“It’s been fun to watch his career grow. He’s a much better coach at his age that I was at his age. He sees things really well tactically. Having him on board at Notre Dame and the few times I’ve had him with the Dash, I’ve said ‘watch the other team and tell me what they’re trying to do, I’m focusing on watching ours.' He’s good a good brain so it’s nice to have somebody where you can sit down and kind of challenge each other on tactics, and you value his opinion when he says ‘hey I agree with you on this, but have you ever thought about that?’
“Being family, he’s never afraid to say, ‘hey Dad, here’s something you ought to try. I see what you’re trying to do but have you thought about this?’ Sometimes you get an assistant who’s just kind of a yes man, and I think the one thing with Ben, because of the relationship we have he’s not afraid to say, ‘hey, I think you’re wrong, or I think you ought to look at it this way, or think about this.’ And he’s good enough that I’ll go, ‘OK, yeah, let’s look at that’.”
Ben sees his father—who is being inducted this weekend into the Irving ISD Athletic Hall of Fame—as the ideal mentor. “The way he handles himself, the way he handles the players, always being very professional and the way he communicates, is something that’s been a big impact. The way he teaches, the way he gets his message across in training, those kind of things have been extremely impactful,” he said.
“I know he’s my dad, I know I’m a little bit biased, but he truly is one of the best coaches in the country in the men’s game or the women’s game, he’s done both. We’re always picking each others’ brains.”
With soccer such a dominant part of their professional lives, do the Waldrums try to change the subject at the dinner table? Not a bit of it. The sport is far more than just a job. “To me it doesn’t seem like it ever goes away, it’s something that we’re both passionate about and when we get together it’s hard to take that piece out of the equation. Certainly there’s family time and other moments when it doesn’t cross your mind but it’s something that’s a big part of our lives,” said Ben.
“Being able to coach as a profession is something that we’re truly blessed with. I don’t know how many people can come home after work and be 100% happy and passionate about what they do. We’re definitely lucky.”
Tom Dart is a contributing writer to HoustonDynamo.com and HoustonDashSoccer.com. Former editor and reporter for The Times of London and reporter for SI.com, Dart currently freelances for The Guardian.