By: Athletic Communications Assistant Erin Madden
BEREA, Ohio – The oft-used term of the "road less traveled" would be an accurate description of the career of Baldwin Wallace University men's soccer coach Reid Ayers.
He didn't really consider collegiate coaching as a career path. He didn't follow the standard track of serving as a graduate assistant to an assistant coach to hopefully running his own program.
"I was always passionate about the game but had no idea it was what I would do for most of my life to earn a living," commented Ayers.
He didn't have to travel far for his first foray into coaching as it happened unexpectedly in his home town of Bay Village. In high school, Ayers ended up helping a "soccer dad" with a youth team.
"I had no clue of what I was doing other than playing with the kids," chuckled Ayers. "Ironically, it may have been one of the best groups that I ever worked with as the team had a 'kid' who played in a few World Cups and another that represented the US on youth national teams. We didn't have many difficult games and I remember thinking, 'This is pretty easy.'"
After a successful collegiate career playing at Hiram College, Ayers moved to Virginia where his formal coaching career began. Out of nowhere, he was asked by his brother's high school coach to take over the varsity team, as he would be out of the country on sabbatical.
"I wasn't as much coaching as I was just out there playing with them and trying to help them," Ayers remembered. "I didn't really know how to teach or to organize sessions."
After three more years working in Virginia with colleges in the fall and high schools in the spring, he moved back to Ohio and became a part-time assistant at his alma mater, where he is among the all-time leaders in career and season assists. Ayers spent four years as an assistant and three years as a head coach with the Terriers before moving over to NCAA Division II Ashland University for two years.
During this time, Ayers was asked to join the Olympic Development Program coaching staff and began serving as a coaching instructor in the Ohio Youth Soccer Association-North while earning his USSF "A" license in addition to his Master's Degree in sport and recreation management. After leaving Ashland, Ayers was at a crossroads in his career with a very difficult decision to make: stay in college soccer or work exclusively with youth soccer and coaching education.
While being offered the Director of Coaching position for the Nebraska State Soccer Association, where he would be in charge of player development and coaching education programs, and simultaneously interviewing for a similar position in North Carolina, BW announced an opening for their first full-time soccer coach.
Although Ayers was from northeast Ohio, he didn't know much about BW. Fortunately, he was granted an extension by Nebraska so he could look into the position and see what he wanted to do.
He interviewed for both men's and women's soccer head coaching position and veteran head women's basketball coach Cheri Harrer took him around campus and introduced him to the coaches, sparking a real interest in the job for Ayers.
"As I walked around, I was blown away," Ayers said. "I loved the people and thought this place, with a little bit of energy and focus, we could build a strong soccer tradition here. I debated long and hard but I really felt a connection to the campus and felt that I could be successful here."
Seventeen years later, Ayers is now the third-longest tenured head coach as well as the winningest coach in the history of BW men's and women's soccer with over 300 victories to his credit.
Throughout his 17 years, Ayers has seen both the men's and women's programs through a lot of growing pains, including two turf upgrades in George Finnie Stadium, the addition of a locker room and, now, the new practice turf behind the Packard Athletic Center.
"In the beginning, we didn't really have anything that we needed to run a high-end program," Ayers said. "But the administration has been very supportive providing us significant upgrades over time that have really helped us stay competitive."
Another area that has seen a lot of growth has been the academic profile of the student-athletes. When Ayers first got to BW, he set out to find kids that would come to BW for the right reason – to get a degree and be successful after college – and not just for the four-year soccer experience.
"We talk about it a lot during recruiting that we want to bring in 'BW guys' that have BW values that have aspirations and the character to contribute to the entire college community and not just the soccer program," Ayers said. "We want our players to be leaders around campus, great students, as well as athletes that can certainly help win you games on Saturday."
Helping to form those aspirations and character traits in his student-athletes is perhaps one of Ayers' favorite things about being a college coach.
"The day-to-day interaction with the players is the one thing that's just really cool about coaching college," Ayers remarked. "You can have discussions with them and, in some ways mentor them. You can help them to shape lifestyle habits that are going to make them successful soccer players, successful employees, successful leaders, successful husbands and successful fathers down the line."
In reverse, the student-athletes have also taught Ayers a number of lessons across his 17-year career like having to find different ways to inspire and motivate them.
"One thing that is in some ways frustrating but is also just the nature of the beast of college is that your team never stays the same," Ayers said. "You're always graduating players and you're infusing new players. Every year, that dynamic changes. You have to learn how to find ways to really create a culture and how to deal with individuals to help them perform at the highest level, knowing that not everybody is the same."
By the time the student-athletes graduate from BW, Ayers hopes that the one thing he has instilled in his players is the "winners find ways" attitude that has become the mission statement for the men's soccer program.
"Ultimately, it really comes down to not accepting mediocrity, not just going through the motions," Ayers explained. "If we've been able to teach that to our players and they've been able to carry that into their post-BW lives, I would be pleased with that."
Overall, Ayers credits his success to the overall environment of BW athletics, the support he finds from the other coaches and the regard he has for the entire university. But he's not going to stop there.
"I think I've accomplished some things but I never stop striving to accomplish more, just like we challenge our players to be the very best they can be," Ayers finished. "I continue to push myself and the staff to continue to grow and develop. Every year, we're looking to get better with our ability to teach and inspire and run a high-end program."