Seen here during the 2017 Jackson Cup final, Cowichan LMG defender Tyler Hughes has traded in his playing kit for a coach’s clipboard and is reviving the U21 program. (Kevin Rothbauer/Citizen)

A new challenge for Tyler Hughes

Cowichan LMG defender retires to start U21 team

After deciding to wrap up his decorated career as a soccer player, standout defender Tyler Hughes is turning his focus toward coaching.

After eight seasons with Cowichan LMG, Hughes opted to call an end to his playing career when the 2016-17 season finished, and is now looking to renew the Cowichan club’s U21 program that has been dormant for close to 10 years.

“The club needs a team to bridge the gap between youth soccer and the adult teams,” Hughes explained.

Tryouts for the team started this week, but there had already been lots of interest even before the first field sessions.

“We’ve had quite a bit from kids still in youth soccer to younger guys that played Div. 1 or Div. 2 this year,” Hughes said. “To other kids north of the Malahat who have been playing in Victoria the last year or two.”

The next tryout sessions will take place on Tuesday, May 23 at 8 p.m., Thursday May 25 at 8 p.m., and Thursday June 1 at 8 p.m. No pre-registration is required, and there are no fees. Players need to be born in 1997 or later. It’s not necessary to attend all sessions, but it would help.

“The more you attend, the better I’ll get to know you,” Hughes noted.

Glen Martin, who coached Hughes with Cowichan LMG, will be assisting with the tryouts, and players who make the U21 team could get chances to play with the senior men’s teams.

“Players on the U21 team that are doing well will get the opportunity to train with Div. 1 and if needed could be brought up to Div. 1 or 2,” Hughes said.

Hughes is well-qualified for the coaching position: he has his National B certification and coached for five years in the V.I. Wave HPL program, is the technical director for Cowichan Valley Soccer Association and runs the Duncan-based Tide Soccer Academy.

“The more coaching I do, the more I’m enjoying it,” Hughes said. “Working with the academy and as technical director, though, I’m not working with a team. I’ve missed that the last year and a half.”

In Hughes’ eight years with Cowichan LMG, he reached seven Jackson Cup finals, winning four times, and helped his team qualify for the provincial tournament each year. Prior to Hughes’s arrival, the club had never reached the Jackson Cup final, and had qualified for one provincial tournament.

“It was a good stretch,” he said. “We really took steps and improved each year. The first year or two, getting to the Jackson Cup final was a real accomplishment and playing in provincials was a huge feat. The last few years, the goals have been to win the league and the Jackson Cup and win provincials. The mindset of the team changed to more of a winning mentality. You could see it from year to year: as we became more successful, we attracted better players.”

Hughes gave Martin a lot of credit for what the team has accomplished.

“The secret behind our success has been Glen,” he said. “Guys travel up here from Victoria on their own dime and their own time. As soon as they come to one practice, it’s always, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t come here sooner.’

“I’ve had opportunities to take technical director jobs in Victoria and play on other teams. I always got along well with Glen. From a player’s standpoint, you always love to play for a guy like him. I wanted to stay here, play with him, and win a provincial title with him.”

Retiring as a player wasn’t an easy decision for Hughes.

“It took a lot of thought,” he said. “The last four months I had the feeling that my time was up and I wasn’t as eager; I didn’t have the same drive as previous years. My focus started to be more on wanting to coach younger players.”

Hughes had a hall-of-fame NCAA career with Coastal Carolina, and played professionally and internationally, but Cowichan has been one of his favourite places to play.

“This is the longest I’ve played for one club,” he said. “When you play professionally, you play for the length of your contract, whether that’s one year, or two years or whatever. This is the longest I’ve played with one club, by far. There’s been a rotation of players, but it’s a good group of guys. They love to train together and they love to play. It’s been a special part of my career for sure.”

At 36, Hughes could have several years of soccer left to play, and he has been approached by the Cowichan 49ers masters team, but right now, he’s looking for a break.

“I’m not gonna say no, but as of right now, I want to focus on getting the U21 team going,” he said. “I want to take a bit of time off playing. I’m sure I’ll be training with the U21 team, but I want to spend more time coaching, and a bit more time with my girlfriend.”

Not particularly familiar with the U21 league, Hughes hasn’t yet set his expectations for the 2017-18 season.

“Maybe we’ll be a top team,” he said. “Maybe it will take time to get used to the league. I’m not sure what to expect.”

For more information about U21 tryouts, email tyler@cowichansoccer.com

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