If given his way, Dave Eddins prefers to stay on the sidelines, watching his charges and taking notes about ways to improve them. But the local soccer coach, who has helped develop a slew of players and taken both boys and girls travel teams to almost unprecedented heights, found himself in the spotlight earlier this year.
An email came across congratulating him on being named the girls select coach of the year. Instead of basking in the glory, Eddins laughed and reached out to a couple of people thinking it had to be a joke.
“I had no clue. No idea. I actually thought it was a joke when I first got the email,” Eddins says. “I texted Scott (McCreless) and asked if it was a joke.”
Georgia Soccer, the governing body for youth soccer in the state selected Eddins as their 2017 Georgia Girls Select Coach of the Year. Some people might bask in the glory of such an honor, but not Eddins.
“To be honest it was a little embarrassing. It does mean a lot and I got to read what the nominations said and really appreciate it, but it was also a little awkward,” he says. “But this isn’t about me. This is about the players.”
Those five words succinctly sum up Eddins and his philosophy to soccer, which has been helping educate players in Rome for more than 20 years.
Along the way Eddins has coached countless players and been involved with numerous teams from the youngest age groups in the YMCA’s Arsenal Recreation program to coaching U19 Classic and Athena squads.
Eddins started playing soccer in the seventh grade and played at Indian Springs High School in Birmingham, Ala. when soccer was much more of an outsider sport. Eddins graduated high school and went to Berry for college where he also played soccer. During his time at Berry, he did some co-op work in Birmingham and helped coach the Indians Spring girls’ team.
Eddins graduated and landed in Rome and decided to give coaching another try.
“Around 1999, I went to the Y and told Scott that I wanted to get back into coaching and started coaching recreation,” Eddins says. “I coached three or four rec teams and loved it.”
While coaching the rec teams another opportunity presented itself.
“They had a boy’s travel team that had really been struggling. They hadn’t won a game in two seasons. They were U12 and when I took over, they had lost 20 games in a row,” he says.
As in all things new there was a transition period. The team got better, but the results on the field didn’t quite show it.
“I think that team could serve as a great psychology study. We were much better than our record showed, but they were so used to losing that it took a while to break out of that mentality,” Eddins says.
Eventually those old losing ways vanished, and with Eddins at the helm the team ran off an impressive array of victories.
“The team went from losing 20 in a row to having a game ball where we won 21 in a row. Over the last three seasons, we won the division three times and won a lot of games,” Eddins says. “Six players off of that squad went on to play in college. It was a blast. It was pretty amazing.”
The team compiled an impressive 33-0-2 record over those three years. Eddins notes that several times the squad was tied or losing a game but always managed to battle back and get a victory or a tie.
“When that was over I was pretty burned out. I took some time off and didn’t really think much about getting back into coaching,” he says.
However, the love for the game runs deep in the Eddins family and his three daughters not only showed a love for the sport but also a natural affinity for it as well.
Hannah, Tori and Maggie all proved to be great soccer players and have played key roles on Eddins’ teams. And the long-time coach has also gotten the pleasure of watching his crew compete and win state titles while playing for Unity Christian.
“Last year it was a lot of fun, because all three of them were on the field at the same time (for Unity Christian). It was the only time that all three will be on the competitive field together,” he says. “We took a lot of pictures and just sat back and enjoyed it.”
The trio played a pivotal role in the Lions wining their second consecutive state title, while Tori and Maggie also helped the Lions win another state title just a few months ago.
As Hannah approached her senior season, Eddins knew she had a chance to play collegiately.
“You never want to pressure your kids. It was amazing because we didn’t know where she was going to go and she ended up at Berry,” he says. “She got a concussion and missed a lot of the season and then comes back and in the last game of the season scores a goal.”
This past fall, Eddins coached three girls travel teams- one U19 team and two U16 teams. Both the U19 and the U16 competed in Athena A or top travel division in the state.
The U16 A team holds the distinction of being the first YMCA Arsenal girls team to reach A. The squad also won the Academy Cup a few years back and is comprised of several top players, including four players in the Georgia Olympic Development Program. Since becoming coach, the squad has moved up the ranks winning its league a couple of times before finishing in seventh place in A, the top level this past fall.
“The thing I’m proudest about on this team is that we have those four ODP players. I feel like we are putting out a good product and we have kids who are responding to the challenge,” he says. “We push our kids and we are competing and beating teams that are bigger and stronger and sometimes technically better than us.”
But don’t think it’s always easy or that every team wins every game.
“I calculated it one day that I drove more than 370 miles and we gave up 22 goals and scored one. It was a bad day for all three teams, but I just laughed about it at the end,” he says.
Because three games over a very long Saturday serve as nothing more than a blip on screen as the teams and players develop and become better athletes.
As far as philosophy goes, Eddins keeps it simple.
“I think the biggest thing is to be able to teach them just to keep competing against themselves. There is always going to be someone, faster, taller and stronger than you but if you keep working and just get a little better every day those days add up,” Eddins says. “If you’re always competing against yourself then you’re going to get better.”
As for circumstances beyond your control like injuries or weather or other things, Eddins has another simple philosophy.
“I tell them to never become a victim and always work to turn something negative into a positive,” he says.
Scott Akemon, who co-coaches the squads with Eddins and also has a daughter who plays on the U16 A squad is one of may who sings Eddins praise.
“Dave is a big picture guy. He is a very analytical and methodical person and is much more focused on the players’ development than just winning a game or a tournament,” Akemon says. “I’m thrilled that my daughter plays for him. If he quit coaching, I’m pretty sure she would stop playing soccer. That’s how much he means to her.”
And taking a step back and looking at the bigger picture, it’s easy to see Eddins’ influence on the current crop of coaches with three or four of them coming from his former teams.
“It’s great to see these players coming back and coaching. To see their heart and love for the kids is just amazing,” he says.
It’s not an uncommon site to see one of Eddins’ former players come up and hug him eliciting a big smile from the usually reserved coach.
“Coach Eddins is like part of my family. I learned so much from him and he helped me become a much better player,” Llaerton Huskins, who goes by Coach Michael to his U15 squad because it’s a bit easier to say, says. “Now I’m out here coaching and trying to teach these boys the same things he taught me.”
Huskins is one of the members from the three-year undefeated squad and one of the many local players Eddins has impacted over the years.
As time rolls on, his current teams will move out of travel and into college leaving him with another question – what to do next.
“I will probably take some time off.”
How long he can’t quite say, but his next words show the heart he has for coaching.
“You want to have an impact somewhere and I can’t see me not doing this in the future,” he says. “Maybe I’ll go back to coaching boys but I want to start over, because I like to see the long term impact versus the short term.”
That’s how Coach Eddins measures success. It’s not the trophies and the wins, but the impacts on the players and how they can grow and be better players and better people.
And although he looked a bit embarrassed when they read the platitudes about him and handed him the coach of the year trophy, Eddins more than earned the award. Even if he thought it was a joke at first.