The Special Olympics Unified Cup 2022 is underway in Detroit, and the U.S. Unified Soccer Team is among the 22 teams completing. The team's coach, Phil Dryer, is a Chicago-area high-school teacher and athletic trainer who has been a Special Olympics coach for seven years and helped coach the Chicago Fire Unified Soccer team for three years. This year, he's coaching the U.S. team at the Unified Cup.
Gallagher is a Silver Level Sponsor, Insurance & Benefits Broker and Official Coaches Sponsor for this international competition, so we asked Coach Dryer to share his thoughts on the week-long event.
Q. What does the Chicago Fire Unified Soccer team mean to the players, the local community, and the Chicago Fire organization as a whole?
A. To the players, it's an opportunity to continue playing a sport that they love at a high level while representing their city. Not many players can say that they represent the city of Chicago. In addition to soccer, our players develop life-long relationships with their teammates and coaches. These relationships are the most rewarding outcome of any Unified team, whether at the youth, high school, or collegiate level and more.
As for the local community and the Chicago Fire organization, the Chicago Fire Unified Fire Soccer Team is an opportunity for our young adults — with and without special needs — to represent their communities. Providing our athletes with such an opportunity demonstrates the willingness to support Special Olympics and the Unified movements.
Q. How has Special Olympics coaching evolved in the seven years you've been a coach?
A. When I first took on coaching Special Olympics, my first impression and expectations were focused on athletes as individuals. Essentially, we participated in individual events, such as bowling, track and field, and various skilled competitions. Very quickly, I realized the opportunity for team sports at various skill levels. Within three years, I caught on to the latest Unified Sports opportunities and came to understand the amazing relationships that were developed during such opportunities.
Q. What's the makeup of the U.S. Unified Team you'll be coaching in the Unified Cup in Detroit?
A. We have players from as far east as Florida and as far west as Utah, as far south as Florida, and all the way north to Michigan. Despite only being face to face for two days, our team is a close-knit team. We video conference on average two times a month to practice.
In addition to our practices, the team is constantly interacting through our group chat as well. Seeing how the group members interact with one another and how they cheer each other on as they compete for other Unified Teams — such as the Real Salt Lake and Atlanta United — shows me how they truly care for and support one another.
Q. What are your expectations for the Unified Cup in Detroit?
A. I personally am looking forward to providing the players of the USA team a positive experience that they will be able to look back on later in life. Off the field, that's providing the players an opportunity to bond with their teammates and develop those strong relationships that I mentioned earlier. On the field, my goal is to help the players to play their best for as long as they possibly can and have fun with it.
Q. What's your personal coaching philosophy that you look to instill in your players?
A. I want our team to control what they can control. Throughout a tournament such as the Unified Cup, there will be ups and downs. Many of what happens during a game or tournament won't be up to one person. Each player can only control their own focus, attitude, and effort. The more we can do that as a team, the more we'll play to the best of our abilities.
In the end, as long as we play our best and have fun while playing, we'll accomplish my goal for this team.