June 6th, 2012

Hyland's Heroes: Greg Vincenti

Paul Najjar

CSN Staff Writer


Hyland's Heroes: Greg Vincenti
photo from Sally Murr

Coach weaves faith and character into coaching

The following feature is a part of a weekly series, sponsored by Hyland, Block & Hyland, called "Hyland's Heroes" - a set of profiles that will spotlight Louisville area Catholic volunteers, coaches and administrators who assist athletic programs and teams, and help promote excellence in all aspects of sports. Know someone that you think should be featured as the next "Hyland's Hero”? Send your recommendation to editor@catholicsportsnet.com.

Seven years ago Greg Vincenti stepped up to coach a group of 3rd/4th grade girls at St. Albert the Great elementary school. Seven years later, Vincenti is still coaching and is the soccer coordinator for the girls and boys soccer programs at St. Albert.

As head coach of the 7th/8th grade boys, Vincenti’s teams have achieved much success. They’ve won four consecutive CSAA city championships. But when you talk to him, you quickly find out that those wins and losses mean very little compared to the character development of the young student athletes who play soccer at the school.

A graduate of the old Westport High School, Vincenti attended Roanoke College and played soccer there, but only on a whim and because he was a good athlete, not because he was recruited. When he came to Louisville in 1978, he kept up with the game by playing in local recreation leagues here.  

“I got my start coaching when my wife called me after our daughter didn’t make the 3rd/4th grade A team at St. Albert,” Vincenti recalled. “She told me that if no one stepped up to volunteer to coach all the girls who didn’t make the A team, that they wouldn’t have a chance to play soccer.”

Naturally, Vincenti stepped up and the story begins with that decision to serve those kids as coach. Having played soccer in college but never having coached girls’ sports, Vincenti decided to make it a fun experience for all involved.

“I knew I’d have to coach them unlike any way that I’d ever been coached, so I decided to get inside their hearts instead of staying up in their head,” he said. “Those little girls responded beautifully and wound up going undefeated that year. They really taught me a lot about coaching.”

That first team taught him lessons he still employs. He asked them a simple question: what do you want to gain from this experience?

“One little hand went up and she said, ‘I want to make new friends.’ Another hand went up and she said, ‘I want to have fun.’ And a third girl said, ‘I want to learn to play soccer,’” he fondly remembered. “Not one girl said, ‘I want to win it all’ or anything like that. So I said that those would be our goals. We never talked about winning; we just talked about getting better.”

He coached the girls teams until his stepson Spencer started playing in the 4th grade. Vincenti assembled a strong parent volunteer staff, but he also integrated a St. Xavier senior, Phillip Strothman, onto his staff.

“I knew that these kids might be just a little immune to our voices,” Vincenti stated with a hint of irony. “Phillip stepped in there and did a wonderful job with the boys. He was a big help to all of us.”

Having played football in high school, Vincenti relies heavily on the memories and the teachings of his first high school football coach. Vincenti explains:

“I was pretty lost as a kid when my family transferred to Poughkeepsie, NY in 1967,” he said. “I was entering the 8th grade and my father was very wrapped up with his work. Starting with my freshman year, Coach Pannozzo took a special interest in me the two years I played football with him and I cannot tell you how much he influenced me.

“Coach made those years magical for me, not just because we went undefeated both years, and not just because he made me captain my sophomore year, and not just because he invested the time and effort to truly teach us the fundamentals of football,” Vincenti continued. “No what he did for me, and others, was he treated us with respect as he held us to a higher standard of performance than anyone had ever believed possible in us before then. That level of support and trust inspired us to do anything and everything we could to make certain that we never let ourselves and our coach down. When I face tough times at work or in life, I dig deep into the confidence that that coach gave me to find the strength to overcome those obstacles. Today I am who I am partially because of him.”

Vincenti understands that he might be able to have the same kind of effect on his student athletes as his coach did to him. It is those types of sensibilities that he brings to his developing kids.

“I now coach kids with the same intention and effort to make them believe in themselves,” he said. “Coach Pannozzo’s legacy lives on for there are many other kids in this world who feel a lot better about themselves because of what he did for his kids and now I am doing my best to do the same.”

A firm believer in his faith, Vincenti looks to give life lessons as often as possible to his teams. Teaching them about core values and relating them to their young lives is an integral part of his coaching.

“I believe that my primary purpose is to teach my kids to discover their core character and faith,” he said. “Collectively we try to help our players to believe in themselves and appreciate all of their blessings. We pray before every game and Father Wayne has been a huge factor in this year’s journey.

“Our focus has always been about achieving our highest level of performance and not about winning,” he continued. “We focus on what we have to do before every game, not our opponents and ask our players to be respectful, positive and encouraging. Our true character shines brightest during competitive play, but we are mindful of giving back.”

 

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