Coach Jon Ireland enters his fifth season at the helm of the Lipscomb Lady Bisons soccer team with one goal in mind -- the program's first berth in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.
In each of the last four seasons the Lady Bisons have won four games, the most ever by the program in a season. Ireland's team finished 4-14-0 last season. In his three seasons at the helm of the program, Ireland has an overall record of 16-55-4.
Ireland is driven by a love for the game that began when he was 7 years old in Searcy, Ark.
"I was at church and this man came up to my father and told him he should get his boys to play soccer," said Ireland. "We didn’t know anything about it. We signed up and it turned into a life-long passion."
It is a passion shared by the entire family.
Ireland and his four brothers all have played and excelled in soccer. Ireland also has two sisters, one of whom played soccer. One brother, Jeff, coaches at Faulkner University. Another brother, Joseph, is a recent graduate of Harding where he played soccer; he is now an assistant coach on the Lipscomb staff. Josh will be a freshman soccer player at Harding. And he has a 15-year-old brother, Josiah, who is also on his way to a future college career. One of his sisters, Amy, also played soccer at Harding.
Ireland admits the technical points of the game were not what attracted him to soccer at the beginning.
"I enjoyed it, but at the age of seven I think the coolest thing was the uniforms and the refreshments you got after the game," said Ireland. "We played baseball for one year, but our father encouraged us to find something we loved to do and dedicate ourselves to that sport and become the best that we could."
He has goals for his team that go beyond winning games.
"I'm big in terms of goal setting and not focusing just on wins because sometimes we don't have control as to who wins game," Ireland said. "You can do everything you can to win and somehow lose."
"We focus on what we can control such as fitness, discipline, organization, team work and motivation. If you focus on those things the wins will come."
Ireland spends a great deal of time studying the styles of successful coaches, regardless of the sport, from football legend Vince Lombardi to Phil Jackson, the coach of the NBA Champion Los Angeles Lakers.
"I like to read about how they handle situations," said Ireland. "I'm not really sure there is a formula because every situation is different, but there is so much you can learn from those types of coaches regardless of what type of sport they are involved with."
"I want to see how they motivate their teams. I want to find out how they run their camps. I want to see how they treat their players and how they handle discipline situations. Successful coaches have a lot to offer."
Ireland admits he has an "old-fashioned" approach to the game, something he first learned from one of his club coaches.
"He was very strict in terms of people being on time," said Ireland. "Our practices were very structured and we worked very hard. I had a coach in high school who was very organized. He always came to practice with everything written down that he wanted to get done."
"Every coach is focused in on different things," said Ireland. "But one of the biggest things that influenced me, even as a player, was the discipline factor and how important that was in holding things together and making a team work."
Ireland was the head coach for the women's soccer program at Faulkner University in Montgomery, Ala., prior to joining the Lipscomb program. In 2006, his only year working with the NAIA program, he guided Faulkner to a 10-8 record and a trip to the conference tournament. Prior to that, the Faulkner women's soccer team had never won more than three games in a season.
He also spent four years as an assistant coach at Harding University in Searcy, Ark., before making the move to Faulkner.
Ireland's coaching experience covers almost all areas of soccer. He worked as an Olympic Development Program coach from 2000 to 2004. In club soccer, four of his teams combined to win seven state championships in Arkansas from 1997 to 2005.
His licenses include a USSF National "B" License, an NSCAA Goalkeeper Level I diploma and an NSCAA Goalkeeper Level II diploma.
Ireland, a midfielder-defender during his playing days, played college soccer at Harding from 1999 to 2003. He served as team captain in 2002 and 2003. He was an All-Gulf South Conference selection in 2003. He was also the assists leader in the conference as well as a member of the All-Gulf South All-Academic Team.
He graduated from Harding in 2003 with a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology. He is working on his Master's of Science in sports counseling at Harding.
He and his wife, Hailee, reside in Nashville. Hailee is a nurse at Vanderbilt Children's Hospital.