As the longest tenured coach for Team Atlanta, Mike Wolff has been coaching at the Maccabi Games since 1998. His resume is well-decorated with seven medals to show for his work: four gold, two silver and a bronze.
A lover of soccer, he has coached both boys’ and girls’ soccer for the games for 21 years, and this year will be leading the girls ‘red’ soccer team at the games, along with coach Daren Silberman.
Wolff also brings a unique perspective to this year’s hometown festivities as one of the few to have seen the games in 2001, the only other time they were hosted in Atlanta.
“It was great. One of the things that makes the games so successful is volunteers, and we had a ton of them. The building at Zaban Park had also just been renovated, so it really was showing off our new facility to the rest of the delegations.”
He estimated that the 2001 team was made up of about 450 participants, and this year’s 572 athletes and 78 coaches are set to eclipse that total.
“Typically, when we go out of town, we have about 100 kids with us,” he said. “When it’s here, we can have a lot more kids participate because it’s a lot more affordable — costs for families are a lot less.”
While Wolff enjoys being able to travel and see different cities and communities with the games, there is a level of comfort having it on home soil.
“When we’re away, coaches leave the hotel in the morning, are out on the field all day and then go to the evening event and are back at the hotel in the evening. I’m just wiped out,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, I love going away, but this year I get to come home and be in my own bed every night, and we’re really proud to represent Atlanta.”
Wolff is also feeling confident about this year’s team. “I don’t want to jinx myself by any means, but they did a really good job of promoting the games when it was time for tryouts back in January and February. We got to look at 50 to 70 girls, which was huge,” he said.
Unlike many other sports at the games, which are broken up into two age groups, 13-14 and 15-16, girls’ soccer includes all eligible ages, which, for the host team, can include 12-year-olds.
“We did collect a 12-year-old and two 13-year-olds, and they’re just really good ball players,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a while, and this is the most talented group of girls that I’ve ever had. Our hope is that we do very well, and we think we will.”
In discussing what has changed since he first donned the whistle back in 1998, Wolff explained that his outlook and style of coaching are among the biggest factors.
“When I first started coaching in my 20s, I was loud, very energetic and always involved, constantly yapping. I’ve mellowed over the years and let things flow,” he said. “I like to do more of the talking at halftime now. I’ve figured out that I can let things play out more.”
He also noted that he’s learned that his enjoyment of the games isn’t entirely dependent on his teams’ successes.
“I got some of the medals in my earlier years, and I always wondered, would I have as much fun at the games if I didn’t win? Winning and getting that recognition puts the icing on the cake, but I found out there’s a lot more to the games than winning, and even a lot more than just playing your sport.”
In terms of what keeps him coming back over the years, there are three major factors: his love of the game, the atmosphere and his fellow coaches.
“Certainly, my love for soccer is at the forefront,” he said. “I started playing when I was 9 or 10 years old and have been playing all the way up into my 50s.”
Wolff also worked at Camp Barney Medintz for more than 20 years, and noted that Maccabi, in just a five-day period, manages to capture some of that camp magic.
“The kids are obviously there for a sport that brings them to the games, but once they’re there, it takes on a lot of the things that one might get by going to camp,” he said. “Some of these kids will make some lifelong friends at these games.”
He also noted that the camaraderie with all the coaches was important but called out two by name.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two guys I’d coached with over the years,” he said. “One is Bob Meyer, who started just a few years after I did and we coached girls soccer together for a number of years, and the other is Daren Silberman, who played for me when he was in high school at The Weber School, and will be by my side this year.”