In sports, great stories often hinge on the concept of ‘mental toughness” and are dependent on a team’s ability to intrinsically withstand the elements. Perhaps no one understands that more than men’s soccer head coach Chris Apple. Just look at his seven-year tenure as a Yellowjacket coach, where a large part of the unprecedented success he has achieved stems from the philosophy he has imparted on his players.

‘We stress concentration, effort and willpower,” Apple said. ‘Our goal, both individually and collectively, is to always strive to reach our potential. It’s one of those elusive and ever-changing goals that is always in front of us, and that’s how we like it.”

What does emphasizing concentration, effort and willpower look like in the UR record book? In Apple’s case, it translates into seven postseason appearances in seven years, two University Athletic Association championships and a cumulative record of 103-25-20.

The list of accomplishments hardly stops there. Apple and his staff were named UAA Coaching Staff of the Year in 2001, 2005 and 2007, and, in 2005, he led a Yellowjacket campaign that posted a UR-record 16 wins in the regular season.

But Apple wants his teams to focus on more than just wins.

‘Those kind of goals are fine,” Apple said, referring to what he qualifies as ‘result-oriented” motivators. ‘But the problem with some of them is that if you don’t achieve them, does that mean you’ve failed, even if you gave everything you could possibly give? If you do achieve them, does that mean you’ve arrived or succeeded or can stop pushing? We’re looking for the more intrinsic motivation.”

The coach strives to be ‘ever better” in areas outside of the UR soccer pitch as well. Apple serves as as a coach and the director of coaching education for the Rochester Jr. Rhinos Youth Club.

‘There’s so much joy in coaching kids,” he said. ‘It’s the game at its purest level when you see a bunch of kids running around the field, chasing a ball, and there’s something really rewarding about that.”

As rewarding as seeing his team win a UAA championship? Or post 10 shutouts in a season? Perhaps, but for Apple, it seems that the sense of fulfillment he gets from coaching the ‘Jackets comes from knowing that he and his players have put in the work to get to that point.

‘Like most things in life, to be successful, there’s rarely this one silver bullet kind of answer,” he explained. ‘It’s a lot of things and a lot of hard work.”

Accepting the head coach position in 2001 meant that Apple was coming full circle in the Yellowjacket soccer program.

Almost 20 years ago, he anchored the UR midfield during an era when the name of the game was success for the ‘Jackets. He twice received All-American honors and, as a junior, was honored with Academic All-American recognition.

In 1992, Apple graduated cum laude with a dual concentration in German and history and quickly put that German to use, traveling to Weiden to play for a third division German soccer club for a year. By the fall of 1993, Apple had returned to the U.S. and took his first job coaching as an assistant at Harvard University.

After his stint in Cambridge, Apple coached for a couple years at North Carolina Wesleyan College and then headed to University of Notre Dame to take a position as assistant coach.

‘That was an incredible experience,” Apple said of his tenure with the Irish. ‘Just to be an assistant at Notre Dame is such an education in coaching.”

Prior to accepting the job at Notre Dame, however, Apple had to decide whether he wanted to continue as a coach or pursue a Ph.D. in teaching.

‘One way or the other, I was going to teach,” he said. ‘I kind of feel like I teach now, just on a soccer field instead of in a lecture hall or a classroom.”

Perhaps that reasoning also factors into why Apple has been successful at UR. Whatever the reason, there is at least the guarantee that the Yellowjackets will always be reaching for excellence.


Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.

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