Coaching soccer was always something Mike Eckberg did on the side, as a hobby because he was passionate for the game.
His passion remains, and today coaching is his career.
Eckberg is head women’s soccer coach at SUNY New Paltz, and he coaches the SDA Hudson Valley 2002 girls.
Eckberg was 12 or 13 when he began playing soccer. His mother was a physical education teacher. He grew up playing hockey and baseball before moving to soccer and basketball.
“I felt like soccer provided me the most opportunity, given where I was at in high school and college,” he recalls. He played defense, as an outside back and a center back. Eckberg says his experience playing hockey helped him with soccer. “Indoor soccer and hockey are very similar in the style of play, movement-wise. Obviously technique is very different, but the tactical side is very similar.”
He attended Luther College in Iowa, graduating in 2007 with a degree in business management and Spanish. Soon after, he started working a corporate job — and, he began coaching with the Bloomington Youth Soccer Club and the Minnesota Olympic Development Program.
When he got the opportunity to volunteer as an assistant coach for the Nittany Lions for the 2013-2014 season, Eckberg packed up his car and moved to Penn State. He had never traveled East, but, he explains, “I just had a really good feeling about head coach Erica Walsh. She made me feel like family the second I was on campus. It made the experience I had there very memorable.”
Leaving his job was easy because after six years, he realized he was not passionate about the corporate world. And, he was beginning to realize that perhaps he could make a living doing what he loved.
He assistant coached at University of Wisconsin in River Falls, and he was recruiting coordinator for Southwest Minnesota State University. After his season at Penn State, Eckberg became assistant coach at Towson University in Maryland. And in February 2017, SUNY New Paltz introduced him as the sixth head women’s soccer coach in program history.
“What stood out with Mike was his vision, drive and work ethic for achieving goals,” SUNY New Paltz director of athletics Stuart Robinson said in a news release about Eckberg’s appointment. “While we had a very strong pool of candidates, Mike’s passion and approach separated him from the others.”
Eckberg says he has high expectations for the team, but his work as coach is bigger than the game. “We use the game as a catalyst to teach life,” he explains, “to teach dedication, and work ethic and attitude and how we interact with our teammates.”
Like his New Paltz team, Eckberg’s SDA team is comprised of players who are there because they want to be. He’s impressed that the players make eye contact when they talk with him, that they are respectful, and that they rise to soccer challenges.
“At the end of it all, they enjoy the game. It’s fun.”