Interview: Coach Saleem

With a nickname like “The Dream,” who doesn’t want to find out more about our clinics coach and Soccerworld socialite Coach Saleem? You can find Saleem coaching our indoor and outdoor soccer clinics, subbing in for just about every team in our leagues or at Myodetox fitness classes during the day. Our staff caught up with Saleem to find out more about the life behind the Soccerworld legend.

Getting to know Coach Saleem

Q: When did you start playing soccer?
A: I started playing when I was five years old at Kingsview Soccer Club in north Etobicoke. I used to go two times a week with my cousin—we joined the house league there.

Q: When did you start playing competitively?
A:  We ended up joining an all-star team from our club and we travelled around Ontario playing in different tournaments on weekends. From there I got selected to play for the Toronto Blizzard Youth Academy (some people might remember that if they’re old enough).  I also played in high school and in university at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon…and now I’m here at Soccerworld grinding it out in our rec leagues.

Q: What encouraged you to become a coach?
A: I have always organized teams for the past 10 to 15 years so at some level I felt like I was coaching.  I did some positioning, helped with game strategies and got everything set up for the team to be ready every week. More officially, I think about five years ago I started doing clinics and I really enjoyed working with beginners.  I liked sharing my knowledge of the game and helping them to learn the skills to become better soccer players.  A couple of years ago I got my coaching certificate and then started coaching at the University of Toronto, where over the past three years  we’ve won three championships in six seasons.

Q:  What do you like best about the coaching clinics?
A: It’s quite rewarding when you teach somebody and they might not get it the first week but the second week or third week it clicks and you see them do it. It really feels satisfying to see them gain that skill and if you see them playing and they’re able to adapt what they learned to use it in their league game…that’s the best feeling.

Q: Do you prefer coaching youth or adult clinics?
A:  I like both for sure. I’m newer at coaching youth so I’m learning how to work with the kids a little bit more just to keep them more engaged. I’ll do a bit of technical work with them but also have to wrap it up in a fun package so they stay engaged and don’t get bored.  It’s tough because you want them to have fun but also develop good skills.

Q: What are your top three coaching tips?
A: I’m big on fitness. I think it’s important to develop the ability to feel comfortable on the ball with different touches. Finally, communicating and working with your teammates is key. I think I can be a bit of drill sergeant sometimes, but I know if you’re not fit then you won’t be able to get through the game and the skills that you learned are just going to go by the wayside if you can’t keep up.

Q: What do you like most about coaching?
A: Seeing a team come together—the whole team comradery and spirit is what I love most…when you see a team that fights for each other it really shows and results will just follow.

Coach Sal says Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen were among his idols growing up.

Coach Sal says Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen were among his idols growing up.

Q: What is your top coaching moment?
A: At UofT, there’s been some good moments.  At the beginning of the year of an outdoor season we were down 2-0 and then I gave my players a really good talk at the half, not a tongue-lashing or anything, but a good, intense energetic talk and we didn’t give up and fought back to win 5-3.  It was the second game of the season, and it really turned the season around for us and lead us towards the outdoor championship, which was great.

Q: Who’s your favourite team?
A: Liverpool. When I was young I used to watch Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen and they were smaller, skilled, quick strikers… I was a striker too so I always looked up to them because I’m kind of a smaller guy as well and wanted to be like them.  Fowler’s nickname was God and he’s just scored so many memorable goals for Liverpool so he caught my eye and I loved him as a player so I grew up to love the team as well.

Q: Tell us about the best footy action you’ve seen live?
A: I went to England this year and got to see the League Champs Leicester City play at home at the King Power Stadium. I also watched Crystal Palace face Liverpool. I sat with the Liverpool supporters in Selhurst Park and got to see them win 2-1 on a last-minute goal which was awesome. The atmosphere was unreal, nothing that I’ve ever experienced before. It was just amazing to see how everybody was so passionate and vocal—they really supported their team, their loyalty is remarkable.

Q: Best memory at Soccerworld?
A: Getting to meet Sebstian Giovinco.  He was down here for his kid’s birthday party so that was a fun experience, the staff got some pictures and he signed a ball for us. Now I watch him play at BMO Field and it’s pretty cool knowing he’s been to our dome.

Q: Most embarrassing moment at Soccerworld?
A: There’s a photo of me that Matt (Soccerworld GM) uses for marketing that’s pretty embarrassing. I subbed in net last minute for my friend’s team.  I was wearing sweatpants that I just pulled over, a random shirt that I threw on and I am pointing my finger and screaming at someone with my mouth is wide open in the picture. I look so stupid, so it’s pretty embarrassing.

Q: Do you have any nicknames?
A: Saleem the Dream. It goes back to my days when I was doing membership sales at a gym. I was one of the top salespeople so my friend said “you’re a machine, you’re like Saleem the Dream Machine” and then it was “Dream Boat” and now it’s just “The Dream!”



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