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Friday, Jun 21, 2024

Keeping up with Kim

Two days before the start of the 2004 women’s soccer training season, then-assistant coach Peter Kim learned of an abrupt coaching staff change that left the team without a head. After only a year on the Middlebury coaching staff, Kim became the prime candidate for the head position.

Just over a year before, Kim had been working at a youth nonprofit, continuing a track he had set for himself years earlier when he pursued and earned an M.A. in public administration. He wanted to provide consulting services to nonprofits, helping them to run more like highly effective businesses. But after 10 years in the nonprofit world, Kim wasn’t enthused. In addition to his day job at the nonprofit, Kim had founded and was running a youth club in central Vermont, Capital Soccer. “I felt like I was doing more for kids after work than in my day job,” he explained. He decided to leave the nonprofit and took time to regroup. 

It was the summer of 2002 when Doug Holly, a friend of Kim’s and coach of the Vergennes High School soccer team, called Kim. Holly informed him that Diane Boettcher, then coach of Middlebury, was looking for an assistant coach. Kim had no desire to coach college at all, but Holly convinced him to go down to Middlebury to meet with Boettcher. Soon after arriving on campus, Kim realized he had the potential to make an impact on the team. He took the job. 

Coach Kim’s eagerness to jump into leading practices paid off when Boettcher left unexpectedly in 2004. “The players didn’t even know [of the staff change] when they got here; they were expecting Boettcher,” he explained. Despite this rapid transition, Kim felt obligated to to maintain the level of success of the previous few years; Boettcher had led the Panthers to the dominant position in the NESCAC in 2000, then second and third places for 2001 and 2002, respectively.

Additionally, when Kim joined, there hadn’t been a long-standing coach in the position for most of the team’s history. Coaches were overextended because of the three-sport coach model where they would head a different team each season of the year, leaving very little room for program growth. This left them with no offseason to help train their athletes, let alone develop training and game strategies. 

Kim was the first women’s soccer coach to shun this model, instead devoting a significant amount of time and energy in the offseason to better develop the team. This included making workout packets, conducting bi-weekly training sessions and developing the schedule for the next season. Given more time to settle into the job, Kim found himself loving the position and eager to channel his best coaching ability. 

The most noticeable development in Division III athletics during Kim’s tenure, however, has been the explosive growth of recruitment effort made by both teams and prospective players. Approached by more than 800 athletes a year, Kim communicates with each player individually and devotes an extraordinary amount of time seeing her play, ideally multiple times, before “the moment of truth,” when she decides whether to apply to Middlebury early decision. Kim was quick to criticize this American recruiting system. “It leads kids to make their college choice for the wrong reason. They wait to get tapped on the shoulder by the coach on high who dubs them worthy of playing for them, when it should be all about the student choosing the school that’s right for her,” Kim said. Nowadays, it isn’t rare for him to receive emails from sixth- and seventh-graders proclaiming their allegiance to the Panthers. “It’s terribly unhealthy,” he frowned. “In what world would that make sense?”

Kim’s skepticism of this “elite” mentality extends into his coaching philosophy. While an undergrad at UVM, Kim sustained a devastating concussion that pulled him from the sport early in his career. From then on, he had to focus exclusively on a doubled academic course to graduate on time. This profoundly influenced his current emphasis on athletics as part of the greater picture of college life: “Injuries can happen, and if that happens and suddenly you stop loving the school, then you’re probably at the wrong place.” In this way, Kim’s philosophy is perfectly tailored to the Middlebury student. “When I was in college, academics were not prioritized. You got it done to the extent that it was important to you. Middlebury kids, to their credit, love school, and then they come down and play at a Division I level.” He cited how one of his goaltenders played a major role in a theater production last semester and smiled with pride. “That’s a testament to who you guys are as students here.”

Kim’s overarching coaching philosophy is paired with a core set of team values, all of which rolled off his tongue with sharp familiarity. First up was academics. Second, he said, “We play the game; we believe in the technical game and to keep it on the ground.” Next on the list was community service. “I am very proud that we are one of the leaders in community service on this campus. We’re spoiled rotten here, and we try to maintain a culture of gratitude because we are just so lucky.” Finally, with a twinkling smile, he mentioned the family culture of his team. “Class lines are blurred almost to the point of being erased, and students become family with players three years older and younger than them. It’s that chemistry, which is difficult to explain, that is the central aspect of the team. If we didn’t have that, we wouldn’t be successful.”

Upon being asked what success meant to him, Kim, unsurprisingly, presented a long list. “This year was a success because we made it all the way to the finals, and we won the state championship, and we played beautifully, and we won the NESCAC Championship, and we’re a family, and we’re killing it in the classroom, and we’re leading the campus in community service. I think that kind of sums up what Middlebury is about: the word and.”

For full staff issue coverage, click here.