Up Close with Karen Kelser
Experienced coach gives back at every level of the game

Karen Kelser has been a member of the DC Stoddert nation for over a decade and currently coordinates player development for the girls’ Under 11 and 12 age groups in travel soccer. A former college player and coach, Kelser holds several coaching licenses from the Dutch Soccer Federation, National Soccer Coaches Association of America, and the U.S. Soccer Federation. In addition to helping inspire and educate players and coaches in the Stoddert nation, Kelser is also a member of the instructional staff for the Virginia Youth Soccer Association.


DCST: Where and when did you first start playing soccer? 

KK:    I had an older brother and was a bit of a tomboy, so I was always playing sports in the neighborhood.  I started with soccer at about ten years old, playing at a soccer camp.  There, I had several amazing, motivating, enthusiastic and knowledgeable coaches, and I was hooked from that first week.  From that time, I spent a lot of time in the neighborhood playing soccer with the boys, played at school and joined a team.

As a youth player, who did you admire (i.e. individual player, coach, club or National Team, etc.) and why? 

I immediately took to goalkeeping, and tried to emulate Sepp Maier.   But I loved watching many of the top German players, now part of soccer history, like Franz Beckenbauer, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and Pierre Littbarski.  I watched Bundesliga soccer on "Soccer Made in Germany" every Sunday, and all the World Cup games and highlight tapes I could find.  I also watched NASL games, loved the New York Cosmos, Pele, and Johan Cruyff.  I feel that these great players in the history of the game had a tremendous impact on the sport, and how it is played today with skill, insight and speed.

Describe your memories as a child/teenager playing the game. Did you play for a high-profile club or youth national team? Were you able to travel overseas to compete? 

My middle school, high school and college soccer were good experiences. But, when I was about 14, I discovered pick-up soccer. As soon as I discovered pick up ball, a huge amount of my time, and my favorite soccer experiences as a youth and adult player, were times spent playing pick-up ball at American University and other parks with the guys from other countries. I used to get off the bus to play there on my way home from school, and play until I was expected to be home. I learned my love for skill and passion for the game there.  

What brought you into coaching? Was there a particular person or life experience that you had that introduced you to coaching?   

My deep love for soccer was fostered through my mentor as a young player/coach. He was a local gentleman by the name of Osi Orlando. Osi was a former national team player from Ghana who had amazing experience and insights.  He was instrumental in teaching me the skills and details that I needed to have success in soccer. He also helped guide me toward coaching, and towards more formal coaching education.

Talk about your coaching philosophy. What do you want players and their parents to know about your teaching style? How do you measure progress in your players? 

Seeing how soccer is played by the international community (from watching it being played on TV and from my time playing) gave me an appreciation of the tremendous depth of skill involved in the game.  I loved what creativity and cleverness could be involved.  Playing with the internationals gave me an amazing perspective on what a beautiful game it can be.  I wanted to share what soccer can be if you look deeper into the game.  There is so more to soccer than being a cookie-cutter player.  Developing high levels of skill makes you composed under pressure, able to solve problems better, and helps you have much more fun.  When the young players can handle the ball, and can build play with skill, insight and creativity, they feel the success.  And, you can see the enjoyment and confidence in their faces.

When not on the soccer pitch, what kinds of things do you enjoy/look forward to doing? 

I have a wonderful husband, Khaled, and two terrific, college aged daughters, Imani and Dina. All of our lives are so busy, but I love spending time with them when we can be together. We love to cook and have meals with family and friends. We also enjoy going to the gym together, and enjoying our family vacations.

Talk about the last book you read and what you enjoyed about the book. 

The Talent Code is the most recent book. It is a great example of "how you train matters".  Just going through the motions of doing something does not make us better. Trying to feel when something is correct, and tweaking a skill to fix and improve upon mistakes, and having plenty of repetitions/exposure to experiences are what influences improvement. This "deep practice" actually affects the brain and its chemistry.

Improving takes significant repetitions with good form and with adequate time on task. Motivation, having passion, taking responsibility for our development helps us have control over our outcomes.  Also having access to master coaches provides the necessary direction for players.  The resulting development fosters joy of mastery of skill, confidence in ability, and enjoyment from participation.

Name (3) people you would invite to dinner. What topics of conversation would you choose to discuss over the meal?     

Three great soccer minds...  Brendan Rogers, Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger - all of whom are coaches that I admire tremendously, both for their ability to build teams and to blend strong personalities. They also prioritize promoting the club culture within their teams.  They expect the all players to exhibit the highest character, integrity and attention to all details on and off the field.  I would love to hear stories of challenges they have had and how they dealt with them. I would also love to hear who influenced them, and more about their views on developing players in the formative years.

If you could choose an actor to portray you in a film, who would that be and why? 

Definitely Jennifer Lawrence.  She is athletic, driven, spunky, and serious when she needs to be.

Which professional players would you choose in your starting XI? Why?   

Gianluigi Buffon (GK) – he’s quick, has great presence and leadership abilities, strong in defending the goal and in building attack, uses feet well.

Carles Puyol (CD), Fabio Cannavaro (CD), Paolo Maldini (LD), Dani Alves (RD) – all have great strength in defending and are capable of building potent attacking transitions from the back.

Cristiano Ronaldo (LM), Zinedine Zidane (CM), Sergio Busquets (CM), Lionel Messi (RM) – all have great power and quickness and foot speed, tactical awareness, unpredictability in play, ability to create scoring chances for themselves and others, and exceptional finishing ability.

Luis Suarez and Wayne Rooney (Forwards) – Both are physical, technical and play with tactical speed. Their finishing prowess is second to none.