Interview: Sebastian Serrano - A True Coaching Veteran

Coach Serrano is a well known name across Europe. He has been coaching for 22 years and counting. He started in Spain, however, he has also competed on an international level with Team Spain and Team Portugal, as well as being a part of numerous camps all over Europe.

How did you start coaching? What do you think are some of the biggest changes you made in your style of coaching throughout the year?

I started Coaching back in 1995 in Madrid (Spain), at that time my Team, the Madrid Bears, was going trough a bad economic period and hiring American Coaches was almost impossible for the organisation. We only could hire one American Coach/player, so the team brought an Offensive Coach and I was asked to take care of the defense, as I was the most experienced player and the Team Captain at that moment. I remember how hard it was to get information or film in Spain and how difficult it was for me to play and be the defensive coordinator at the same time, but I guess it worked out, got used to it and since then, I coached the Bears defense until 2004. I became the Head Coach in 2010 until 2014.

My style of Coaching has changed with me troughout the years, I was 22 when I started coaching and I am 44 now, that defines pretty much how I have changed as a Coach and as a person, of course, I have changed much in both things.

I am a lot more calm and understanding now than I was back then. I must say that all the Coaches I have worked with have shaped my coaching style, Gifford Lindheim, William Pienias, Wim De Heij and Vince Pagliaro are the ones that I started working with and the ones that influenced me the most in my early years. Since then, Mike Singletary, Ada Quintana, Giorgio Longhi, Johannes Woudenberg, Jim Criner, Marcos Guirles, Aitor Trabado are the Coaches that I have learned more from, of course X&O´s, but more importantly I have learned from them that whispering some times is much more efficient than shouting, and that being a HC is something that requires being hard, resistant and flexible as a reed in the wind.

What are the most common mistakes European coaches make? How to avoid these mistakes?

There are "common" mistakes that all Coaches do, including American Coaches. I would say that one of the most common I have seen is when coaches do not base their playbook on their personnel. This is something that I have seen many times and that can be really disastrous for the team, it is important as a coach to make sure that the schemes you will use match with the players you have, make sure you evolve as a Coach and use different approaches depending on the players you count on, get out of you comfort zone and learn new philosophies. Adapt & evolve.

One of the biggest problems with domestic players is practice attendance. How do you motivate the players to come to practice? 

This question is worth a million dollars. It always depends, but having a healthy and clearly defined Team Culture is the base of the attendance, you have to make sure that everybody understands and accepts that the Team goes first, that practices are the most important part of winning and that being part of that team requires being on the field to practice.... This is one part, the other part is the personal motivation, player by player, you must find out what motivates them, maybe you cannot have a personal interview with all of them (have it if you can), but you can hand them a questionnaire about their goals, dreams and motivations, you can use this information to encourage them in the way they personally need. This is something that will help you help them focus their minds on the right direction and want to come to practice.

Do you think having USA HCs is essential for football programs in Europe? And, do you think it's a good idea having imports to coach teams (without an american HC)?

I do not think is essential, there are very good Coaches that really know the game (European, Mexican, Canadian, Japanese and more), but we all understand that US is the heart of football in the world and that the level of coaching is the highest.

Having the imports coach the Team is sometimes inevitable, budgets are tight with most Teams in Europe, so if you only can bring one import to your team, you will look for an experienced player that can also coach. It will depend then on the capacity of the import to manage both roles at the same time, some do good and some cannot handle it.

Of course the ideal situation is to bring players just as players, and coaches as coaches, but I think is not a bad option for small teams, just make sure that whoever you bring, you look for references and talk to his former coaches/teams before you sign him.

How do you scout for players you'd like to sign?

I use different platforms, there are many new digital platforms that are really helpful but, at the end, I always listen to the Coaches to make a final decision. Coaches are normally sincere and direct when it comes to talk about players and their capabilities they will give you the most realistic feedback.

What are some of your most memorable moments as a coach?

My first DIV1 Tittle as DC with Madrid Bears and the 5 Spanish Cups we won are definitely between them. All the times I have stepped on the field as DC/LBC with Team Spain in all the categories (junior/women/men) are very special to me too, and of course my appointment as Head Coach for the Portugal National Team, this last one makes me really really proud.