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HFX Wanderers Coach Stephen Hart Excited For His Return To Nova Scotia To Help Pro Soccer Thrive

Stephen Hart | Head Coach | Halifax Wanderers Football Club

So now that I have been given the opportunity to be part of the HFX Wanderers and the CPL in this city, I feel privileged. It has always been a dream to see professional soccer come to Halifax.

Stephen Hart

Head Coach

Halifax Wanderers Football Club

× The interview with Stephen Hart was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.

You are the current Head Coach of the Halifax Wanderers, one of the 7 inaugural teams during the CPL’s first season in 2019. Halifax is where you moved to first in Canada to play for the Saint Mary’s Huskies, where you also coached their women’s soccer team in the late 1990s. What does it mean to get to return to Halifax to coach their first professional team in almost 30 years?

Halifax holds a very special place in my heart, for so many reasons.

Yes, I attended St Mary’s University, was an assistant coach and coached the Women’s team. I also worked within the High School program, Youth Clubs & Provincial program.

When the Clippers (part of the now defunct Canadian Soccer League) were formed, I was invited to be part of the squad. However, it never materialized due to a perceived conflict with my employer Soccer Nova Scotia.

So now that I have been given the opportunity to be part of the HFX Wanderers & the CPL in this City, I feel privileged. It has always been a dream to see professional soccer come back to this city.

During your first tenure in the Maritimes, you coached the semi-pro club King of Donair and the SMU Huskies women’s soccer team. Towards the latter half of your time with SMU, you had an opportunity to coach with the U17 national team, which started a 15 year stretch of coaching with a Canadian national team from U17 to senior men’s. How did this opportunity arise? How did those first few years with team Canada elevate your coaching career?

As the Technical Director (TD) of the province, I was asked to fill in as the Canada Games Men’s coach, due to complications with the coaching staff. Believe me, it was not ideal.

However, we had a good run at the tournament. Holger Osieck was the TD of Canada Soccer at the time and he approached me to join the U17 squad as an assistant to Otmane Ibrir.

This was a very positive experience for me. Otmane was one of the most detailed coaches I ever worked with. His approach was very different and I will always be thankful for the way he shared his thoughts and experiences with me. I learned a different way and that is always useful.

Once Otmane moved on, Ray Clark was placed in charge of the U15’s and I also assisted Ray. We had known each other for years, but it was my first real opportunity to work under his guidance.

Again, Ray brought a different approach. He was also very detailed but had a good eye for individual behaviour. Mr. Osieck then asked me to take over the program in 2000.

Frank Yallop, the Canadian senior coach, attended one or two camps and then invited me into the senior staff along with Dale Mitchell. Frank resigned before 2006 World Cup in Germany and Dale Mitchell was hired as the head coach. However, he had to fulfill his duties as the U20 coach for the FIFA Youth WC in Canada, so I was placed in an Interim role for Gold Cup 2007.

I was fortunate to have an excellent staff with Tony Fonseca, Paul Dolan etc. The team was in a good moment, players were at the right age, eager to show themselves and quite a few were playing consistently at a good level. Once Dale took over, I remained as one of his assistants.

I must admit I learned a lot in that time period. Dale along with Nick Dasovich were excellent at analysing the opposition and preparing the team. Once Dale moved on, I was placed in charge at a time period when I now had a full understanding of the squad and some of the players from U17 were breaking through.

Obviously, I was now in a position to bring my own ideas to the team since I had the opportunity to coach against some top coaches and teams World wide.

In your tenure coaching on the national level, you have experienced many ups and downs. How did you learn to deal with the team’s fluctuation in performance and what did you learn about yourself as a coach from these experiences?

Good question. Maybe because of my background and upbringing I have learned to put things into perspective. I have never been a good loser on the inside, at times I felt I had more passion than the players.

To be honest I realized that I had to show empathy to the players, since winning and losing are always a possibility. Players don’t deliberately go out to play badly or make mistakes. Deep down if I feel I have done everything in preparation and the players gave everything that is all I can ask.

The sun still rises the next day! I also do not read the media, win, or lose.

This way I don’t get carried away with praise, or criticism. Everybody knows what should have been done after the game is played.

Having said that the responsibility lies with me, I prepared the team and I selected the players, etc.

This year during the CPL’s Island Games in PEI, the Wanderers made it to the final, just one season after they finished bottom of the table. What does this feat say about the character of your team? What things did you to as a coach to aid this turnaround?


Personally, I set the standards in training and I do not accept players who do not want to improve upon their game or have poor training habits. Learning has no roof.

Concentration, application, hard work and an understanding that you will have trying times to overcome, is the foundation of all learning and achievements.

The mentality of the group was strong. This was evident from day one in training. Standards were demanded and a few players took it upon themselves to support those players that needed to get acquainted with my methods, or were not at their best, while constantly reminding them to stick to the process.

The game belongs to players. They must accept the responsibility in and out of possession, within their roles. Having said all that, I really believe you must enjoy what you do.

After all, we are privileged to be doing something we love.

With the CPL here to stay, what are your goals for where you want the Wanderers to go from here?

Obviously, we are in the competition business and we want to be at all times a competitive team that contends for the title.

We would love to win the title and get the opportunity to compete in CONCACAF. We are also conscious of the fact that we have a special relationship with our fans.

I want this club to be THE Halifax Team, to be an inspiration to all the young players in the region.

We will also like to be known as a club that nurtures talent in the right way and hopefully progress that talent to bigger and better things.

How far has professional soccer in Halifax and Canada come as a whole since the beginning of your coaching days?

The interesting thing is that I came to Canada when we had the old NASL and Toronto Blizzard, Vancouver Whitecaps, Edmonton Drillers and the Montreal Manic were involved. These teams were made up of mainly Canadian professional players and they made up the bulk of the National team.

However, that died and was replaced with the CSL. It was exciting times, again with the majority of players being Canadian professionals.

Unfortunately, once again the league did not last, yet we were fortunate to have quite a few players applying their trade in Europe and a few Canadian players scattered in various leagues.

We have always had vibrant youth soccer programs coast to coast. The missing element in the pathway was the senior professional league within Canada. Far too many talented players were lost because of this and our professional player pool became small.

Presently, we now have three teams in MLS and 8 CPL teams. We also have several very talented players in Europe.

Basically, within Canada, we now have the pathway to not only keep players in the game longer but an environment where they can be exposed, cut their teeth (so to speak), develop and learn to be a professional.

We have a long way to go, but it is a start. It belongs to us and with the right guidance, it will flourish.

Matias Bueno Matias's Final Thoughts

It was outstanding to interview HFX Wanderers Head Coach Stephen Hart. He has a plethora of experience coaching in the national ranks in Canada and can bring that to Halifax to help the Wanderers excel. His ties to Nova Scotia make for a great story as his return is familiar to those in the city. His outlook and philosophies he has gained from years of coaching experience show in the way he describes the Wanderers team that did so well this year at the PEI Island Games contrary to the previous season. Stephen is the right man to lead the Wanderers to success and shape them to be an inspiration for local youth in the province for years to come. 

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