Coach’s Corner: Meet Ryan Gyaki
By Gage Smith, Sports Editor
The sports world has been dramatized and romanticized.
Every player is a character and every play is a scene. It makes sense. That’s how you get an audience to tune in, stay invested, and ultimately spend money on the product.
This is why sports media treat sports like reality TV. It’s all about character development and dramatic moments.
Ryan Gyaki, the Mount Royal University (MRU) Cougars men’s soccer Head Coach, had a playing career that definitely had some of those dramatic moments. For example, he played in a national championship game representing his province in a U17 league that was an absolute nail-biter.
“I remember it was our third try to win nationals. In the 90th minute, the ball rolled to our striker. Open net. Two yards out. His shot went over the bar. It was gut-wrenching. When we went into additional time, someone had to score the ‘golden goal’ to win the game. Our winger managed to sneak the ball into the net. It was a pretty cool feeling,” Gyaki recalled.
You can just picture that in slow motion with epic music swelling in the background. Can’t you see the camera zooming in on spectators to show their bewildered reactions? Can’t you imagine a shot of the team dogpiling on the winger who scored the golden goal?
Or what about another time later in Gyaki’s playing career when he was representing Canada in the U20 world cup?
Gyaki said, “It wasn’t often we would get our names on our jerseys like players do now. So the first time I ever saw my name on a jersey was when we walked into the locker room for the U20 World Cup. To see your name on your national team jersey is a very proud moment for sure.”
Again, can’t you picture a scene where Gyaki and his teammates slowly open the door to their locker room to reveal the names on their jerseys? The exhilarating scenes write themselves.
Another big moment in his career was when he signed a two-year contract with Sheffield United, a professional team in the United Kingdom. Gyaki had been struggling with injuries, so he described that signing as a big relief.
Even with all of these storybook moments to choose from, Gyaki said that when he looks back on his time playing soccer at some of the highest levels, the individual moments don’t overly stand out. For us normal people who are used to seeing reruns of athletes winning championships and making unthinkable highlights on social media and TV, that might seem a bit weird. Isn’t it all about those few hours of glory?
For Gyaki, it was always about the process. It was always about getting the job done.
“I remember going through every single tryout nervous that I wasn’t going to make the team, even if it was for a community or club team. Even when I was one of the captains of the U20 national team, I was worried that I wouldn’t be on the next trip. I would still be focused on making sure I performed my best, regardless of which game or team it was,” Gyaki said.
When asked if he ever had a “holy crap, I’m going to be great at this sport” moment of realization, this is what he had to say:
“No, I didn’t recognize that. I was always super excited about each step. I was always just trying to improve. I was a hard-working, aggressive player, I wouldn’t classify myself as incredibly technically talented.”
Gyaki’s playstyle isn’t that different from his coaching style. He uses his memories and experiences from his playing career to help guide his MRU Cougars through the inevitable disappointment and frustration they’ll need to deal with on and off the field.
“You can keep working and looking to improve, and it does pay off. But it takes time, not three days, but three months of effort before you start seeing any sort of glimmer of results,” he said.
That sounds tough. Not everyone’s built for that type of work. Not everyone has the discipline. But, as Gyaki said, it’s important to be excited about every step, not just the picture-perfect moments.
“Coaches say it all the time: enjoy the game. Because you don’t get to play it forever.”