Leadership outside the box: Student coach Max Pollak PZ ’23 guides Claremont men’s club soccer to a 6-2 record, inviting team culture

5C Men's club soccer team
The 5C Men’s club soccer team in their last game of the fall 2022 season at an away game at CSU San Bernardino. They won 3-0. (Courtesy: Max Pollak)

With the sun beating down on Claremont McKenna College’s Parents Field, the cheers of players were matched by the crowd of students gathered on Green Beach, all going wild for the men’s club soccer team as they celebrated the game-winning goal. According to coach Max Pollak PZ ’23, that is what the Claremont Colleges soccer club is all about: having fun doing something you love with the people you love doing it with. 

The Claremont Colleges men’s club soccer team is an organization open to any male-identifying students at the 7Cs. The team holds “open training sessions” at the beginning of each semester to determine who will make the cut. Once the rostered team is determined, they practice bi-weekly and compete with local universities on weekends. This year, they are 6-2 overall and 2-1 this semester. 

However, unlike many other teams in their division, the men’s club soccer team is unique in its leadership. Their coach is a student at Pitzer. 

“Pretty much all the other coaches are actual adults,” Pollak said. “But I think it’s something special we have here at the 5Cs to have a student coach the team. The connection between all the players and the comradery that we feel I think is a lot greater because of it.”

When Pollak first came to Claremont in 2018, he was competing on the Pomona-Pitzer varsity team, but he decided to leave after his freshman year. 

“I loved playing soccer but the time commitment for that team was so huge,” Pollak said. 

Despite leaving the Saghens men’s team, Pollak didn’t want to stop playing the sport he loved. The following year, he began attending occasional practices for the club team, but didn’t throw himself into it until the spring of 2022. This fall, Pollak was asked to step into the role of coach and obliged. Since taking the job, he said he has been taken aback by the positive treatment he received from his players.

“When I first became the coach, I was really surprised by the amount of respect that I got from the guys on the team who I totally just saw as my peers,” Pollak said. 

Jan Charatan PO ’23 has been competing for the club team since his first year. For all four of those years, the team has had a 5C or Claremont Graduate University student as their head coach. Charatan said that having a student as a coach can be uncomfortable at first, but over time both the coach and players get used to it. 

“I think at the beginning since a lot of [past coaches] didn’t have coaching experience it was sort of an unnatural position to take,” Charatan said. “But they definitely grow more comfortable into that role and as the season progresses everyone then learns to respect them more.”

Charatan originally joined the team with the same intention as most of its players: to find a community to continue to play soccer in college that would offer an in-between level of commitment and play of intramural and a varsity team. Charatan said that having a fellow student in the role of coach is helpful in creating the atmosphere that he and many other players are looking for in the club.

“We all sought out the same thing and want to keep the club fun while keeping it competitive,” Charatan said. “Having the coach be a peer, he shares that same goal with us and understands the kind of environment we want to create.”

According to Pollak, creating a competitive yet welcoming environment is a top priority for the team. He said club soccer is a great place to meet people from other colleges and it attracts a diverse group of students from around the 5Cs and the world.

One of those players is Marco Sievers, a language resident from Germany who is studying at Pomona College for this academic year. Sievers joined the club team last fall after hearing about it from a professor. He said it was love at first practice. 

“The players were really nice to me and really appreciated that I was there,” Sievers said. “It was a nice training session, so I joined the club team. It was the best decision I could have made.”

Before ultimately committing to focusing on his education, Sievers spent ages 14 through 16 playing soccer at the semi-pro level in Germany where he competed for Freiburg soccer club. However, he often had to choose between school or soccer. Now studying at Pomona while still able to play the sport he loves, Sievers said he is very happy with the culture and, because the team makes cuts, the high playing level of the team.

“It’s competitive because not everyone who wants to play for the club can play for the club, but it’s also a very friendly environment,” Sievers said.

According to Pollak, the team is hoping to continue their so-far successful season in pursuit of winning the league, but he ultimately understands the final scoreboard is not what it’s all about.

“My favorite part of the team is the friendships that I’ve developed on and off the field,” Pollak said. “In this environment where we’re all out there, doing something that we love, having fun together, I think it’s very easy to make those connections. I now have friends from [first-years] to seniors at all of the schools. That has been something truly special about it.”

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