BY JEFF FALK
Good leaders in the field of play make good coaches. And good coaches make good players.
The line between playing and coaching has always been a thin one. It’s one that Dustin Bixler not only walks, but also blurs.
Dustin Bixler is both a coach and a player.
On the soccer pitch, Bixler is a solid 6-3, 185-pound defender for the Harrisburg City Islanders, a local entrant in the USL-Pro League. On the soccer sidelines, the enthusiastic Bixler is an up-and-coming head boys’ soccer coach of the Cedar Crest Falcons.
Think one isn’t connected to and intertwined with the other? Think again!
“At this point, I’m a coach who plays soccer,” said Bixler, a resident of Mechanicsburg. “Over the past few years I’d say I was a soccer player who coached. But over the last couple years I’ve gotten more and more into the coaching aspect of it.”
Bixler recently finished his eighth season with the City Islanders. The minor professional soccer league in which Bixler competes runs its season from December to the second week in August.
Though the City Islanders’ season doesn’t overlap all that much with the Falcons’ scholastic season, there’s not a lot of down time for Bixler when going from player to coach.
“I heard about the Cedar Crest job by word of mouth,” said Bixler, a graduate of Red Land High School and Kutztown University. “I just went in and applied and got the job. It was a very easy process.
“Yeah, I could only hope it (his playing experience) helped,” continued Bixler. “I think being part of the Islanders definitely helped me get the job.”
Bixler admitted that his professional playing career adds a certain element of credibility to his instruction and mentoring of the Cedar Crest boys’ soccer players. First and foremost coaches are teachers. And teachers can not teach if their messages aren’t received.
“It’s more related to the kids,” said Bixler. “When I say things to the kids they know I’m encouraging them, because I want them to do some of the things I do on the field.
“A couple of them have come to our games,” Bixler added. “Just to see how the team plays and how professionals play.”
An accomplished player throughout his playing days, Bixler caught the coaching bug while in college at Kutztown. Because a certain amount of soccer knowledge was instilled in him, Bixler was moved to pass it along to others.
“As soon as you start playing you’re around so many great coaches,” said Bixler, who’s in his third season of leading the Falcons. “Eventually you figure out if you want to do it or go on to something else. In college I had a great coach who inspired me into coaching.”
At the ripe old age of 29, Bixler’s playing days may be coming to a close, which would mean he would have all the more energy to devote to coaching.
When asked about it, Bixler would not say that he’s definitely retiring from playing professional soccer. But one was left with the distinct impression that he is contemplating it.
“The playing aspect is kind of getting to the end,” said Bixler. “We’ll figure that out in the next couple of weeks. My days may be, possibly, as a player could be coming to an end. But I’d love to come back as a coach for the Islanders.
“Once you get into coaching you get into it for life,” Bixler continued. “When you’re a player you go as long as you can. As long as the body allows it. Right now, I feel great. When you play this long at this level you’re going to wake up with some sore muscles, some sore joints.”
With a good portion of his life still in front of him, it could be that Bixler has a difficult time imagining a future that doesn’t include soccer or coaching.
“Yes, absolutely,” said Bixler. “I love coaching. Just being around the kids. Just being a part of the game. It’s in your blood. You just want to be around the group that’s playing and fighting and battling.”
After a disappointing 3-15 campaign in which they finished last in Section One of the Lancaster-Lebanon League with a 2-11 mark, things are looking up for Bixler’s Falcons in 2012.
“Theyr’e going great,” said Bixler. “This is absolutely the deepest we’ve ever been as a team. We shrunk our roster a bit. The boys came in excited and ready to go. At each one of the positions there’s almost two guys battling for starting spots.”
To this point of the season, Cedar Crest has lost close matches to Ephrata and then Hempfield. Each time the outcome was within reach, before the Falcons were outscored late.
“It looks like we tired out a little bit at the end,” said Bixler. “Let’s face it, every year you want to get to the playoffs. It’s kind of like, ‘Can you get in?’ If we don’t get in I’d like the boys to progress and win some big games.”