Braun named 2011 IHSSCA Assistant Coach of the Year
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By Gary Larsen
There’s the man and then there’s the men behind the man, and Naperville Central head coach Troy Adams is happy that Jim Braun is one of his assistant coaches.
“It’s not too often that one of your assistant coaches is someone that used to be your coach,” Adams said. “He was my sophomore coach when I played at Naperville Central. He did back then exactly what he does now; he makes sure players are doing what they’re supposed to do to be successful.”
Veteran coach Braun was rewarded for his efforts this season, earning the IHSSCA’s Assistant Coach of the Year award for 2011.
Braun started as a volunteer assistant coach at Central under long-time coach Jim Paskvalich back in 1981 and has played a vital supporting role to the program ever since.
His evolution as a coach began decades ago as a player at Wheaton North, where Falcons coach Tom Bridge introduced him to the game. Braun’s education in the sport took another leap forward when Paskvalich took him under his wing as an assistant at Naperville Central.
“Pask is really the one who taught me the game from the coaching side,” Braun said. “For the formative years of my coaching career, it was he and I. Back then I was one of the few coaches that had actually played soccer, which has obviously changed over time. Coaches at the high school level today likely played the game at the college level, so their knowledge of the game at some point exceeded mine, and I respect that. I think I get some respect because I’ve been coaching for so long.”
Braun has more value at Naperville Central than just tenure, however.
“He’s got outstanding knowledge of the game and he puts that knowledge to the kids in ways they understand,” Adams said. “Sometimes as a coach you can forget you’re dealing with 15-17 year-olds, but he makes them feel valued. He makes every player understand that they matter to this program.”
Along with Adams and fellow varsity assistant coaches Ed Watson and Mike Ortiz, Braun helped this year’s Redhawks all the way downstate this season, where they placed second in Class 3A.
“He has been in the program so long and he makes such an impact on us,” Central senior Mike Plant said of Braun. “He comes to games and practices and he’s never afraid to chime in what he thinks and how he thinks we can get better. He gets his point across if he needs to be strict but he wants to be open with us; he’s great with his players and he’s a great coach.”
Braun has coached at the sophomore, junior varsity, and became the school’s first JV2 coach when that level was added in recent years. In 30 years, Braun has helped supply quality varsity players to Paskvalich, Adams, and former coach Jay Konrad.
Over thirty years of coaching has seen Braun’s coaching style naturally shift.
“It has developed over the years,” he said. “I try to make a point in practice to give kids their compliments, which is pretty easy when you’re focusing mainly on effort. You can accept mistakes when they’re trying. It’s about high expectations while still remaining positive. When you’re younger it’s all about the winning. I enjoy the kids more as the years have gone on, and I’ve enjoyed the process of coaching.”
As a sophomore soccer player for Central back in the day, Adams himself got a lesson in humility from Braun.
“When I was a sophomore I thought I was better than I actually was, and he told me I wasn’t nearly as good as I needed to be,” Adams said. ”He knows when it’s time to give you a pat on the back and he knows when it’s time to lay into you. I think every kid he has coached knew he cared about them more than just as soccer players. He cared about them as people, and that can’t be undervalued because when kids see that you actually care about them, they’ll buy into what you’re trying to coach.”
As head coach of the girls’ program at Central, Watson nominated Braun for the coaching award once before. Adams nominated him this year, and concluded the nomination resume with the following:
"The players at Central enjoy playing and working hard for Coach Braun, and he makes their season memorable, which is the ultimate compliment to a coach. Seniors at Central have a tradition of naming their favorite soccer memory on Senior Night. Every year there are several seniors who mention Coach Braun in their memory. It could be a game they played in with him, an expression he used, or a practice activity they loved. But over the last 30 years, Jim Braun has had a positive impact on hundreds of soccer players at Naperville Central. This is the reason he should be Assistant Coach of the Year."
An IHSSCA award and a trip downstate? That’s a pretty good season for any coach, assistant or otherwise.
“It was a pretty amazing run. It was definitely fun,” Braun said. “The players decided to come together and buy into what we’re doing and Troy did just an amazing job with this group. Over the summer it was a different combination of kids and formations each week, and he did a great job of sorting that out as the season progressed. I was really impressed with the way Troy handled the boys.”