Profile: Samuel Boateng

Kicking a ball around a  sunny playground in his native Ghana came as natural  to Samuel “Sammy” Boateng  as getting up in the morning and heading off to school.  Soccer was more than just a sport, it was a passion for him and his  schoolmates who played the game for endless hours during school down times, after school, even on weekends.

“In Ghana, soccer is what virtually all kids do,” the office assistant in the Office of Medical Education at the Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine explains. “You start to play early and play until you ‘age out’ and start work or prepare for a career.”

And now that soccer prowess, so finely honed as a youngster on the fields of  Accra, the capital city of Ghana where he lived until coming to the U.S. several years ago, has led to his being named the Next Generation Coach for 2012 by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. Winning the award was a big thrill for Boateng, who played four years of collegiate soccer at Marshall. He currently is a coach for the West Virginia Soccer Club Rowdies and also coaches the Huntington High School team.

Soccer has had a huge impact on Boateng’s life, both on and off the field, as he noted in the essay he submitted to NSCAA.   He learned  a great deal about life through his playing, he wrote. “I  learned about how it is not just about winning and losing, but about the journey and how I have grown from it.…Soccer made a difference in my life by helping me grow from middle to high school, to helping pay for my education in college, and coaching is a perfect way for me to help other kids  That drives me to stay involved in coaching soccer.”

Boateng, along with his mother and sister, settled in the Columbus, Ohio, area when he was 10,  and it was quickly evident that all those hours spent on the soccer fields in Ghana had elevated his skills well past those of his teammates. He became a member of the Blast F.C., a club team that allowed him to stretch his skills and showcase his natural athleticism and speed even more. The Blast, he says, “showed me a whole new light. The club had great coaches from all over the world and from different levels that taught me many things about the game of soccer, but most importantly, a great deal about life.”

After graduating from Gahanna Lincoln High School in Gahanna, Ohio, Boateng was recruited by several colleges, including Marshall, for their soccer teams.  He chose Marshall because of the educational opportunities the university offered and went on to play four years before graduating in 2011 with a degree in biology. He stayed on at Marshall, first accepting a position in the Faculty Affairs office before moving on to the Office of Medical Education. He’s at a crossroads career-wise right now, he says, but eventually he would like to explore the possibility of entering  a physician assistant program.

Actually it was an easy decision to remain in Huntington because he likes the city and its relaxed urban feel.  “Coming to the U.S. from Ghana was a big change for me because things are so much faster here,”  he  says.  “Although I grew up in the capital city and there was a lot of hustle and bustle, still in comparison the pace is much quicker in this country.  Huntington is  a nice mixture of the two; it’s a much more relaxing atmosphere and I really like the people I’ve met here.”

He’s able to juggle his multiple coaching duties because the high school seasons take place in the fall while the club teams play in the spring.  He’s very proud that the teams did well last year. The Rowdies, coached by Marshall women’s soccer coach Kevin Long, won the state championship and the high school boys team made it to the quarter finals.  And Boateng tries to instill in his teams the tenets for success that have been an integral part of his life both on and off the field.

“I tell the boys’ team that they’re not just coming to practice to play, they’re learning a life lesson. They need to not only show up on time but be early, be prepared to play, be willing to learn from their mistakes. I tell them that college coaches look for what you do after you make a mistake, how you handle failure, how you go about fixing what went wrong, and can you make something good come out of a mistake.  To play soccer you need skill and vision and you need to be comfortable with the ball.  You also need to be able to concentrate even when you’re tired.”

Fitness is also a key element to any sport, he knows, so Boateng works hard to stay in shape by running and working out regularly at the Rec Center, many times with his girlfriend Dominika Zaprazna, a member of Marshall’s women’s tennis team. She’s recently introduced him to yoga, which he really enjoys. It’s extremely relaxing, he says. Yoga also helps him stay flexible, which is important because “when I play with the kids, I’m not this old guy running off the field feeling hurt!”   The couple sometimes play tennis together, so who wins when they play?  “Oh she wins, definitely, there’s no comparison.” he says, laughing.  “And the equally athletic Zaprazna  is a real threat on the soccer field as well, he adds.

Later this month, Boateng will be traveling to Indianapolis, Ind.,  where he will accept his award as Next Generation Coach. It will be a proud moment for him, but he is quick to thank the people who helped him get it.  “I owe Bob Gray, the head coach for the Marshall men’s team a lot.  He was … instrumental in helping me get into coaching.  And I’ve really enjoyed being an assistant to Kevin Long.  Working with both boys and girls–it’s been a huge joy in my life.”