Professor/soccer coach sets goals with students - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Professor/soccer coach sets goals with students

July 10th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Professor/soccer coach sets goals with students
Sports and Recreation



Nik Chawla is an Arizona State University professor by day and a coach in the American Youth Soccer Organization in the evenings, guiding 9- and 10-year-old Chandler boys on a soccer club called Challenge FC.

Challenge uses volunteer licensed coaches and plays other top teams around the Valley in the Arizona Youth Soccer Association.

Chawla grew up in Brazil after his Indian parents immigrated to Brazil in the early ’70s. That’s where his love of soccer began.

“I grew up playing and loving the game,” said Chawla. “In Brazil, soccer is a way of life, it’s in the blood. Brazilians are very passionate about soccer.”

In junior high, his family moved to the United States where Chawla continued playing soccer in high school and college. He also was a referee.

When his oldest son was 4, Chawla became a coach after attending a parent meeting for recreational soccer.

“We went around the table and somebody asked if anyone was willing to coach?” Chawla said. “And I said I was really busy with my job at ASU and traveling but I’ll be happy to be an assistant coach. That’s how I got started.”

Being an assistant coach didn’t last long.

“I remember going to the first practice and the coach in charge was kicking the ball around but not really doing anything,” said Chawla. “He did this for three or four practices. And I remember some of the parents approaching me and said, ‘You have a soccer background. Would you mind running some drills and getting the kids going?’”

Eight years later, he still coaches through the American Youth Soccer Organization, a 20-year-old group.

“It is a passion for me,” Chawla said. “From that moment eight years ago or so, I really got passionate about coaching. It’s really about teaching and that’s what I do at ASU as well. So, I really enjoy the teaching part of it and watching the kids grow and actually learning the fundamentals.”

Unfortunately, many kids don’t get involved in soccer due to the cost. “It’s not unreasonable to pay $2,000 a year to have your kid play on a club team,” explained Chawla.

Challenge costs around $600-$700, according to Chawla, and that includes the tournaments, uniforms and the training fees. Competition starts in August and runs to April.

Chawla noted that coaching soccer is more than teaching kids about the game.

“The most important thing that we as coaches can teach the kids are really life lessons – how to work in the team, how to handle losing and how to work hard to get better at what you’re doing,” he said.

“It’s really satisfying to see how kids after six months or a year have gotten so much better, more confident as a team. They’re kind of like brothers out there. Sometimes they fight but they always stick up for each other. It’s very rewarding.”

During the day, Chawla is a full-time professor of material sciences and engineering at ASU. He has a group of about 10 doctoral students and a research scientist who study how materials behave under mechanical and thermal stresses – forces that can affect airplanes and cars.

A recent example is the Southwest Airlines accident involving a defective engine which suffered from metallic fatigue where material is being cycled over and over again.

“If you have a defect there, the crack can grow and you can have a catastrophic event like what happened,” said Chawla.

“In my lab, we study a lot of these type of things on metallic fatigue, on corrosion. And we’re using a variety of really neat techniques like x-ray microtomography, similar to what you’d get done if you went to a doctor’s office to get your cat scan on your knee or hip except we’re doing it at a much higher resolution,” he added, noting:

“We’re looking at structural material and how it changes under different kinds of conditions. We’re replicating the kinds of things that hopefully won’t happen on a Southwest flight the next time you go on one.”