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  • Writer's pictureKiteTalks

Tom Byer, Founder & President - T3 (Interview)

Updated: Mar 29, 2021

An interview of Tom Byer - former professional soccer player originally from New York but who is now based in Tokyo, Japan as one of the most decorated and admired grassroots soccer coaches in the Asian region.

Q) We want to know about you, about early on in your career. I know you currently are in Japan, but you're from the US. How did you get into football and where did it all start?

A) I'm originally from New York. I got involved in football because of my brother. My brother started playing, so I used to hang around with his friends. So it's a little bit down to culture and environment. So that's how I started playing. My area had a Community College soccer team that was a national powerhouse in the United States. This had a very huge influence on me because the coach, George Vizvary, was a former Hungarian national team player. He wound up as the head coach of this Community College. That's how I started off playing then with the Community College for two years and then I got a scholarship, went to the University of South Florida, had success there, and eventually I wound up over in Japan, but that's a little bit of my background of the states.


Q) Did you know that you would be working in player development or is that something that just happened by chance? How did that path pave itself?

A) I was hoping I would be much more successful as a player, but I was not as good as a player as I am as a coach, so it worked out a little bit different, but I can tell you that I'm happy and wouldn't change anything that I've done up until now.


Q) I want to talk about your early days in Japan. As an American in Japan, what sort of challenges did you face? How did football develop you as an individual at that time in your career?

A) Here's a real quick story which I think is important for anybody who is in the football business or in any kind of business, to show you the potential of never giving up and really chasing your dream. When I decided I wanted to stay in Japan and go around, I couldn't speak any Japanese so at first what I did was, I started cold calling different places that I thought might accept me to come in as a coach. In Japan, there's a lot of US military bases so I could speak English. I could go right there, and they've got huge programs with thousands of kids to play football. They also have international schools. I went to an International School in Kobe, Japan called the Canadian Academy, I went there and offered to do a free clinic for kids. About 40 kids showed up at the International School and this is the luck that I had - I asked only one boy out of the whole entire group, I said how long you been here in Japan? He said I've been here a couple of years. I said well why are you here? What does your father do? He said my father works for Nestle. That's all he said to me. So, I got back to Japan and then I opened a Japanese newspaper to a full-page Nestle ad, they were hosting the Milo International Cup.

I called the kid from the school, I said, hi, this is Tom Byer, blah blah blah. I said, hey, you said your dad worked for Nestle. What does he do? And he goes “He's the president”. I had a 30-minute chat with Alan Yost. I remember it like it was yesterday and I explained to him what I wanted to do. I said I'm looking for a sponsor. I want to do these football clinics and he connected me to the brand manager of Milo. I went in and had a meeting with one other guy. I walked out of that meeting having convinced the boss to let me start running clinics under the name of Milo and then starting in 1989, I committed to 50 events. Then I had to go through and figure out how I was going to do this. Many people have kind of a vision or an image of what the outcome is going to look like, but they're not quite sure how they're going to navigate it, and that's what happened to me, and that would be a big major start for my career in Japan because I did that for 10 years. I ran this huge national clinic program. They took me all around Japan, all 47 states using the guy that was the famous guy at the time to basically bring people in and that really launched my career here in Japan. I've got a timeline of wonderful things that happened along the way, but that was the beginning of my football coaching career in Japan.

"You cannot imagine how many phone calls I made, a guy who couldn't speak Japanese, calling every person you could imagine. It's about being persistent. It's about being relentless. It's about never giving up. It's about seeing that image. If I were to quit the first time I hit the wall, I would have been dead. I wouldn't even be sitting here talking to you. I just refused to give up and I was relentless in business and that's something that I try to teach to my boys as well. If you don't succeed at first, you gotta try try try again. That's the way that life is in general."

Q) Soccer starts at home. That's your mantra, that's what you believe in. Tell us a little bit about it and how did that evolve or where it's at now.

A) I was doing an event and Adidas asked me to sign autographs on these balls to give away to just a bunch of kids at the end. My first son had just started walking and I thought, small ball small foot, so I asked the Adidas guys to send me a couple of these balls. I thought he could play with them. They sent me a huge box, came to my house, 20 balls. So I put a ball in every room in the house. Because I'm a technical coach, I discouraged him from kicking it and I encouraged him for ball manipulation, ball mastery because I knew the importance of keeping the ball close. Then I became really, really obsessed with development. I started studying and wondering why out of 211 FIFA Member Association countries only 8 have won the World Cup.

What I started seeing with my own kids was that you could indeed actually teach them things from a very very young age. So what I did is that I made this ball the favorite toy, I set my living room up literally to an environment that made it very conducive to playing with the ball. Every time the kids will come out, they'd see the ball. I could see that it was working with my child, became very interested, could do things, was imitating but I couldn't understand the science behind why everything was working so well.

When I started understanding the science behind it, that's when it all came together and that's where I just was convinced that the most important part for a child's development is entry-level. I became fascinated by the neuroscience of what was happening. I had inadvertently set up my house here, almost like a laboratory. Every time my child would play, he would be trying to get my attention, you know, and from the neuroscience part of it, anytime a child can yell or scream “Mommy, daddy, I did it! I can do it!” That's very powerful because it's self-belief and it's confidence from a very young age. So that really fascinated me. Then I started doing a lot of correlating and I started doing a lot of research and I started studying players of past generations. All of them have this common denominator that they all started playing football around their home between the ages of around 2 to 5 and credit to their fathers and their mothers with their love and their success with the game. So if you're a Football Association or a club or whoever, if you understand this, you can set up a strategy to basically develop players.

I believe in it so passionately that it can make a difference because if we can educate parents, especially in a country like India where you've got close to 100 million children under the age of 6. That's massive, but what happens is everybody's got their ladder on the wrong wall. They put all of their attention into the most expensive part. That's the elites. That's the professionals. You need a culture of understanding that players develop much earlier than the football world supposed. Technical skill acquisition happens much earlier than everybody supposed. It doesn't happen at 9 and above. It happens earlier.


Q) You have a coach's mindset; you're constantly studying and constantly learning and you’re humble. That drive is fantastic for us to understand who you are and for us to take away. It tells us that this is what you gotta do to be somebody like you.

A) Yeah, we have a saying, which I love. If you're the smartest guy in the room, you're probably in the wrong room, so I always try to surround myself with people who I think are much smarter than I am, coaches that are much better than I am, and you have to be a little bit humble in life and you, and I think that's the difference between someone who might become very successful early on versus someone who catches it later and that is that the younger guys have had some experience. It could be education, could be family, but they figure things out a bit quicker than other people do.

You have to always be striving to be the best. I've tried to be the best Tom Byer that I can possibly be within my limited abilities. But nowadays ignorance is a choice. I just try to go around and try to inspire families, try to inspire anybody that's working in the ecosphere. People ask me, who's the target of your message? Well, parents are obviously, but also, every single person that is involved in the game.


To watch the complete interview, please click here

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