Being a coach takes lots of dedication, care and selflessness to lead a group to succeed on and off the field. Coach Leslie Lock, with her leadership and experience is mentoring the next generation of student athletes to be successful on and off the pitch. Growing up in North Texas, being a bit of a pioneer, a teacher and head coach, get to know: Cibolo Steele Girl’s High School Head Coach Leslie Lock.
Tell us a little about yourself, where you grew up, attended school, started in soccer (playing and coaching), and current roles besides coaching; fun facts about yourself.
I grew up in Gainesville (North Texas) and went to college in Abilene, TX, at McMurry University. I started playing soccer when I was nine years old during recess in elementary school and then signed up for the recreation league in town. I currently teach English II at Steele High School and previously taught/coached at John Jay HS (2014-2018), Bastrop HS (2010-2014), and Gainesville HS(2008-2010) – this is my 14th year teaching/coaching. Fun facts: When I was 12, my friends and I convinced my dad to start the first girls’ recreational soccer team in Gainesville, but I still had to play on the high school boys’ soccer team. My husband, Ricky Lock, and I are both coaches – he is the head football coach/AD at Southside HS.
How did you get into coaching?
Once I started playing, it wasn’t long before my dad got involved with the league and coaching. I helped him coach his teams, set up practices, maintain the equipment, and run summer soccer camps. Any extra time I had that didn’t revolve around a practice or game; I would spend refereeing. I love soccer and knew that coaching would be the best way to stay involved at a competitive level throughout my life. I coached club and gave private lessons throughout college. In 2008, I was able to go back to Gainesville HS and start the girls’ soccer program.
Before coaching, did you play soccer? If so, what was your experience?
I started playing organized soccer when I was nine in the coed recreation league in Gainesville. At age 13, we moved to club soccer in the DFW area. I played for Mean Green in Denton and ended my senior year playing for Solar out of Plano. I played on the boy’s team in high school because the girl’s school program did not exist yet. I played four years of college soccer at McMurry University and was able to earn a starting spot my first year. I still “play” in the women’s league in San Antonio, but at a much slower pace.
What advice do you have for anyone interested in becoming a soccer coach?
Get as much playing experience as possible. Get as much refereeing experience as possible. Watch other coaches run practice, ask other coaches for advice, and remain open-minded to different coaching and playing styles. Take every opportunity you can to learn something new about your sport.
What does working as a soccer coach mean to you personally?
I love this sport. I feel like coaching and promoting soccer is my way of repaying it for everything it has given me. Because of soccer, I learned how to be a student, I have a college degree, and I have a career. Getting to coach the sport I love every day is a great feeling. I love working with my team in practice and seeing them improve. I love the feeling of a game day and getting to compete. At the end of the day, if I helped even just one person improve in the sport we share, I feel like I achieved something.
What are your core values as a head coach?
Anytime I take over a program, we immediately start working towards two long-term goals: building leaders on/off the field and establishing a family culture throughout the entire program. To achieve this, we work every day to instill the following values:
WE before me
What have been some of your biggest challenges as a soccer coach?
Knowing when to push the players vs. when to practice patience—giving out as much praise as I do critique. Learning which battles are worth the fight and which ones to walk away from.
Do you think a coach is an important mentor and part of a student athlete’s development in sport and life?
Yes, because as coaches, we see them at some of their highest and lowest points in life. We are in a situation to help them learn how to set goals, achieve goals, and celebrate their achievements. On the flip side of that, we also get to teach them about defeat – how to use it vs. letting it define you. I think now more than ever; we need to teach them how to deal with loss. The pressure our kids feel in the classroom, on the field, at work, and at home is unbelievable, and sometimes they don’t know how to deal with not achieving a goal. Putting them in situations where they can/will fail and then helping them learn from it instead of shutting down is just as important as knowing how to win. Knowing how to handle winning and cope with loss is a life skill.
Do you have any coaches or mentors you look for or have looked up to as inspiration?
Coach Manuel – my first soccer coach!!! He taught me how to set goals (setting the smaller ones to help achieve your larger ones)
Coach Salas – my second coach. He taught me a lot about playing the game and loving the game.
Coach Lundy – my high school coach. He taught us the importance of discipline and communication and established the team culture.
My dad – he is one of the kindest people I know. He taught me the importance of being considerate of others.
Being a coach, you have to manage a roster of student-athletes from various backgrounds; how do you bring individuals together to make an effective team?
As a coach trying to bring girls together, creating situations where they must communicate to overcome a problem (your team bonding activities) without the coach’s assistance is the fastest way to get them talking and working together. Anytime you can allow the group to work through a problem independently will help build relationships. However, I have found that letting them be themselves and have fun with each other works better than any group activity or team bonding. As coaches, we try to control as much as we can, but sometimes taking a step back and allowing the girls to be themselves is the best way to foster those relationships.
Cibolo Steele Lady Knights have been quite victorious the last few seasons. What has the experience like to see the team come together, and what were some keys to the team’s success?
It has been impressive to see how close this team has become, especially this year. They are the closest-knit group of girls I have ever been around, and without a doubt, that is a significant reason for their success on the field. To get to this point, we prioritized our core values (focusing on the “WE before me” mentality), and we do our best to limit any distractions that take us away from our long-term goals. Also, we regularly and openly discuss our program goals and our individual goals. Before every game, each player states out loud their personal goal for that night. At the end of games and practice, we huddle up to discuss our constructive and positives from that game/practice (where we need to improve, what we did well). I do my best (it isn’t always easy, and I’m not always successful) to stay out of these conversations and allow the girls to take ownership of their play (the good and the bad). This is when they celebrate together and pick each other up, which has gone a long way in establishing the family culture. Again, WE before me.
What advice do you have for student-athletes looking to continue playing soccer after high school in college, or possibly as a professional?
Don’t limit yourself on options by only looking at one college or level. Be open-minded and see what kind of opportunities present themselves. There is a chance the perfect fit for you will come from a school you never heard of or didn’t consider because it didn’t match your idea of perfect. Also, know your true self-worth – it can either help you find something more significant than you expected or save you a lot of unnecessary heartaches. But most importantly, no matter where you play, be a leader. Be a kick-butt female leader.