August 21, 2018

As a native of Trinidad and Tobago, Lumumba Shabazz has brought nearly 30 years of international soccer experience since taking over as the head coach of Kalamazoo College in Michigan on April 9, 2012.

Prior to entering the coaching profession, Shabazz enjoyed a twenty-year amateur, collegiate, and professional playing career with teams in Germany, the USA, and the Caribbean. In his first four seasons, Shabazz took the Hornets to the Michigan Intercollegiate Athletic Association (MIAA) conference tournament, with his most successful season coming in 2014 when Kalamazoo finishing 12-6-3 overall.

As he enters his 7th season, he continues to hone his craft and credits the knowledge and expertise that he has gained over the years learning from some of the best clubs in Europe. We had the opportunity to sit down with Shabazz to learn more about his travels, coaching philosophy and experiences. You bring great expertise to Kalamazoo, how have your travels to renown clubs such as Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, and others helped you to shape your coaching education?

My study abroad learning has been pivotal to my specific and overall development. This is no knock on some of the great work that we are doing here in the US, but the expertise regarding methodology, technical and tactical development, as well as organizational management, team building and leadership is far more extensive. Training abroad has made me a much better coach because the expectations and standard of education is much higher. You are now entering your 7th season at Kalamazoo, when you took over in 2012 and led the program to the MIAA conference tournament in the first 4 years, did you expect the program to have instant success?

I truly did. I managed to take a team from last place to losing in a conference championship on penalties. Since then, we have finished in 2nd place for quite a bit and have only had one year when we did not make the playoffs. However, making the playoffs is the least that I expect of myself because I know how hard I prepare, and how hard I work in order to be a success. Last season, we started close to 8 freshmen and finished 3rd, and really we should have finished 2nd. This year, our aim is considerably higher. Some of our coaches do not believe in coaching licenses which I think is a mistake and it doesn’t allow us to be on an equal playing field with our peers, you have a USSF “A” License, NSCAA Premier Diploma, just to name a few, how important is it to have all of your coaching licenses and diplomas in this day of age to be a college or professional coach?

Coaching education is key to a coach’s development and I have found it particularly useful in organizing my thoughts and giving some logical structure to my work. This is not to say that you cannot be a good coach without having licenses, but gaining the licenses generally means that you have exposed yourself to a particular criteria of work and should be held accountable to that standard.

Of course, there are coaches who just seem to gather licenses for the sake of having them. I am not a fan of that. I believe that remaining open to new ideas, being flexible and being open to challenging what you think you know is far more important. In 2014, you were awarded an SAQ Advanced International license, believed to be the world’s foremost authority on Speed and Agility for elite soccer performance from Alan Pearson who has taught these methods at Arsenal, Tottenham, and Bayern Munich among others, can you tell us a bit more about this license and how it has helped to improve the players at Kalamazoo and players from other programs that you have coached?

The SAQ license like most of the others I have gained was useful in providing me with another reference, and it generally served to broaden my expertise. Even more important than that license has been my membership in the World Football Academy under the Dutch expert, Raymond Verheijen. Raymond over the years has been a great mentor and has opened doors at Barca, Feyenoord and Valencia, where I’ve worked as a opposition scout analyst, and worked with teams to prepare and train players. These experiences have been extremely valuable because I am always challenged to operate outside my comfort zone in an environment with very high standards, along with candid feedback. If you are serious about developing as both a coach and role model to your team, these are the type of opportunities you must seek out. In 2008 and 2009, you completed a two-week internship at West Ham United, a club who has developed the likes of Jermain Defoe, Rio Ferdinand, and others, can you tell us a bit about that experience?

I was fortunate because Paul Heffer and Tony Carr, then the assistant director and director of the West Ham Academy was gracious enough to open the door for me to apprentice there. I wrote them a letter out of the blue and they invited me in. They didn’t have to and even though I was only supposed to have a very limited role, they were really impressed by my work ethic and desire to learn, and work with Alan Curbishley, who was the manager at the time, and allowed me full access.

I spent time with all the youth teams, reserve teams and first team training. I would go into the ground from 8 am to 10 pm and soak everything in. It was a great education for me because Nigel Reo Coker, Anton Ferdinand and Jerome James, who eventually became first team goalkeeper coach were good friends.

Working with all of these teams, observing the fret coaches at work and helping out at times have made me a much better coach and prepared me for everything that I have experienced in college soccer. Back to Kalamazoo, can you tell us a bit more about what you look for in a student-athlete and your style of play?

Ideally, our style of play at Kalamazoo would be fast flowing attacking football that emphasizes individual creativity, and rapid transitions while looking to dominate the possession of the ball. At the same time, there is a flexibility in my approach depending on the quality of the opponent, and the quality of my team from year to year.

At Kalamazoo, the student-athletes that I recruit must be players with character and integrity who believe in the essence of teamwork, who are committed to excelling in the classroom, and who must be top footballers at the same time. For me, none of these qualities can exist without the other. For that reason, my team is always on the honor roll with an average 3.3 GPA (at the number 1 rated college in all of Michigan), and I am always most proud when they graduate and go on to the careers in medicine, engineering, business and law, as most of them tend to do. That is really what coaching is all about; it’s about coaching the whole person and helping my players to achieve something special in life rather than just eliciting a soccer performance. What are your plans for Kalamazoo in the short and long-term future as you continue to build the program?

My plans are to continue doing this work that I have been blessed to do. I love the challenge of being out on the field. I love being challenged every year to raise the bar by many of my mentors and I am looking forward to maybe leading a youth national team on a World Cup qualifying tournament. I used to want to coach at a top Division 1 school because I am certain of my quality, but there are a number of factors there that I don’t control. So my focus now is simply being the best that I can be every day without making excuses. Lumamba, thank you for one of the most insightful Q&A’s that we have had this month. To follow Lumamba and the K (short for Kalamazoo) all season, you can click here to view their schedule as they kick off the first game on August 31st at Illinois Wesleyan.

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