Tom Saxton is head women’s soccer coach for the Michigan State University Spartans. He joins Michigan State University president Sam Stanley and Spartans athletic director Bill Beekman on MSU Today.
As coach of the Spartans for over 30 years, Saxton reflects on how MSU and the sport of soccer have changed.
“It’s an honor for me to have coached at my alma mater and worked for such a great university all these years; it’s really something I'm very, very grateful for,’ Saxton says. “There were only two Big Ten teams that sponsored soccer when I started. And now there are over 330 Division 1 teams including all the Power Five conferences that sponsor women's soccer. That growth has been incredible and been fun to be a part of.
“And then, here on campus, just the evolution of our athletics department and our university over the years has been incredible. When I played here, I finished in '82, we played on what is now the football practice field. We were lucky enough to move down to a beautiful space at Old College Field in the mid '80s. I’ve watched that space grow and improve. It’s a spectacular place for college athletics. We have our own stadium, we have lights. It's been just year after year growth and support from the university. We really appreciate it.”
Saxton talks about the special partnership he and men’s soccer coach Damon Rensing share and how it helps both programs.
“It's been great for our student athletes primarily because, unlike what we might hear at other universities, there's really a great deal of support between the two teams and a great relationship. That's evolved out of the fact that Damon and I both grew out of the coaching tree of Joe Baum.”
Saxton talks about the rise of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team. He says there isn’t much difference in coaching strategy between men’s and women’s soccer. And he talks about the team’s offseason regimen and looks ahead to the season next fall.
“It really doesn't matter how tall you are. Speed certainly matters, without a doubt, and yet technique and the ability to maneuver the ball - what you can do with the ball - is most important of all. We were able to, with the development in the women's game in the United States, to recruit very skillful student athletes.”
Saxton adds that the top priority for his team is academics.
“It's a team goal that's right in your face when you walk into our locker room. We have goals in different areas; in community service, what we do on the field, our preparation for training, but academics is at the top. And it's been a tradition I'm very proud of. I'm a graduate of our College of Education. I was a teacher. I believe I still am a teacher. I think we, as coaches, regardless of the level we're competing in, we're in the education business. I take that very, very seriously. I'm very, very proud of the tradition we have within our program.
“We let our players know when we recruit them, when they come in, that this is what we're all about. You're getting a great degree here at Michigan State and you're also getting to compete in intercollegiate athletics in one of the great conferences in the country. They go hand in hand, but academics is always first and our student athletes know that.”