‘There’s A Bigger Ceiling For Me’: Nik Ledgerwood Reveals Big Coaching Aspirations
Lethbridge native Nik Ledgerwood is now in his second season as a full-time assistant coach with Cavalry FC, with the 38-year-old simultaneously set to help the coaching staff of the women’s national team through their respective cup tournaments, too.
It’s no easy task to balance club and country, but Ledgerwood – who made some fifty appearances for Canada during his playing days – is no stranger to that.
Having finished a twenty-year playing career ahead of the 2022 CPL season, Ledgerwood’s transition to an assistant coach role with Cavalry saw him learn plenty in year one. He completed his Canada Soccer A license and helped Tommy Wheeldon Jr. guide the club into its fourth consecutive postseason berth, though the coveted North Star Shield has thus far remained elusive to Spruce Meadows.
Ledgerwood has seen and done a lot in his career, but coaching has opened a new pathway to him – and he’s got big ambitions for it.
Nik Ledgerwood: A Future CPL Had Coach?
“I hope it’s not too far down the line,” says Ledgerwood on the subject. “There’s some good players, like David Edgar, Mauro Eustaquio, and myself who have had good careers and stepped into coaching jobs. So, why not? Why not in the near future be a head coach? I think that’s our goal at the end of the day, is to step into it. I think it’s just a matter of time before an ownership group or a franchise reach out and really trusts an ex-international with a chance for his first head coaching job.”
The introduction of the Canadian Premier League has seen an explosion in terms of the professional pathway for players, with new opportunities taking players from U SPORTS and the grassroots level to the CPL, and from there to MLS, Europe, and even the national team. Just like Alphonso Davies broke down barriers with his move to Europe with a plethora of Canadian transfer moves come in the years afterwards, so too does Ledgerwood think a similar barrier will soon be broken with Canadian coaches.
“I think that’s got to be the next benchmark for us, to have Canadian coaches at the highest level. This would also be an advocate for our coaching licenses here in Canada. You know, I think everything needs to keep being pushed in that right direction.”
With the aforementioned likes of Edgar, Eustaquio, Ledgerwood, and now Fordyce transitioning to assistant coach roles within the league, the stepping stones are certainly being put in place.
Ledgerwood’s first season as an assistant coach with Cavalry also saw him help the women’s national team, and he’s long coached at a lower level through the Calgary Rangers. Having wrapped a twenty-year playing career over a full season ago, he’s just as ambitious on the sidelines as he was on the pitch.
“You know the passion that I had playing soccer – I have that same passion for coaching. If I’m honest, I wouldn’t say I’m more excited for the coaching side of it, but I think there’s a bigger ceiling for me on the coaching side, with what I can do, influence, and be a part of. I’d love to be the first CPL player to get an opportunity in a head coaching role, that’s part of the goal, and I’m more than confident in my ability to do it.”
On Coaching With The Women’s National Team
Ledgerwood is currently with the women’s national team for the SheBelieves Cup in the United States, and he’s set to voyage with them to the 2023 FIFA Women’s Cup hosted by Australia and New Zealand in the summer. The opportunity to join the side came last year through Jasmin Mander, who had finished her Canada A Coaching License alongside Ledgerwood.
The team felt that Ledgerwood could offer a perspective as a professional athlete who had played high-level international matches before, and he found it to be a good fit: he wasn’t just a number cruncher spewing data, he was an analyst who has lived, breathed, and experienced the game as an athlete for years on end.
“To me it was a no brainer to be involved in a couple of camps and see how it went,” he says.
Ledgerwood’s first stint with the squad in Australia saw his voice carry merit within the team beyond his expected duties as a performance analyst, and that drew him in even more. By the end of 2022, Ledgerwood had accompanied the team to Australia, Spain, and Brazil, and he’s happy to continue developing as a member of Bev Priestman’s squad when called upon.
Of course, the 2023 Canadian Premier League season also sees him resume his coaching duties with Cavalry FC. By this point last year, he had predicted that salaries would go up and a players’ union would be recognized. Both have since happened, and he’s hoping to predict the next big step: club franchises truly sticking with their communities.
“You don’t want to have an Edmonton scenario again, right? We need to have franchises that are continuously building fanbases, and have the right people in the league offices pushing to get up to that ten or twelve team benchmark.”
Growing The Game
Beyond his assistant coaching duties with Cavalry FC, Ledgerwood is also in charge of the club’s community relations. As a league still in its infancy, there are many soccer fans out there – even in Calgary – who remain unaware that not only does a professional soccer team exist in the city, but that it’s one of best teams in Canada’s top flight.
“The hardest pull is to bring that person into a stadium or to a game for the first time,” admits Ledgerwood. “After that happens, they see Spruce Meadows, they see the product we put on the field, and I would say nine times out of ten they’re in awe of it, they’re like, ‘holy sh** this is here in Calgary, and I never knew this was here. It’s unbelievable. So my job is to create that awareness in our community.”
Ledgerwood has worked hard with reaching out to local clubs and bringing them into the same ecosphere. Year one of the club program was positive, with local sides getting youth players involved as ball kids and youngsters walking out with the team, while half-time matches between them occurred on the field. It’s a smart move not only in terms of introducing the club to families, but ingraining the culture of Cavalry into the next generation of fans, too.
“You have to be able to go out and show it and actually open the eyes of the soccer community, that’s what my job is. We’re building great relationships with clubs, we’ve had ten to twelve on board last year and we’re shooting for more this year. We’re doing more camps than we’ve done, and getting the brand out there with more players in the community.”
Through this long-term initiative, Ledgerwood hopes to nurture a city-wide football culture from the ground up, though he knows the team – like the league as a whole – still has a long way to go.
“The next step is to have franchises stick and stay – you don’t want to have the Edmonton scenario. We need to have franchises that are continuously building fanbases, and that we have the right people in the league office to get up to that ten or twelve team benchmark.”
Leveling Up: What’s Next For Ledgerwood
At 38, it’s fair to say Ledgerwood has runway aplenty ahead of him in his aims to crack a head coach role. For now, he’s set to continue his development as an assistant with Cavalry and the women’s national team, two professional sides who have a track record of consistent greatness.
While he’s seen a lot throughout his career, he knows he’s in comparably new territory on the sidelines, even with a storied playing career behind him.
“I had over twenty professional coaches as a player, and from each coach you take a little bit of experience – whether good or bad, you see how some stuff works, the response of some team talks in the locker room, and you bring those experiences with you. Now as I get into that coaching role, it’s about what philosophy do I want to stand behind and who I want to be a coach.”
The Lethbridge native is a firm believer that a leader needs to be their authentic self if they’re to get players to buy into their vision, and he’s keen to pick up more experience and continue molding himself at every opportunity.
He isn’t the only Cavalry player the club has helped transition to the next stage of their career, either. Ledgerwood believes that players-turned-staffers offer a unique perspective for clubs to build a culture on.
“It’s not just a next job type of thing or checking the box: we all still really want to grow soccer in Canada, and we’re passionate about it. Whether it be coaching or things like Mason Trafford being our commercial director or Oliver Minatel, who just joined at the recruiting sides of things,” he offers. “We’re starting to bring these players with backgrounds of playing, but at some point at the end of their careers, they’re doing something else. It’s great to have them on board because they know what exactly what it’s like to be in the trenches, so to say, here with Canada Soccer.”
For the time being, of course, his eyes will be locked on the path ahead of him as a candidate for a head coach role – something he hopes can lead further up the rungs of global soccer, too.
“It’s the next step for this country after the players,” he says. “I wish Bobby Smyrniotis would have gotten the job in Montreal. I think it would have been really cool to see that pathway as well, because there has got to be a pathway in Canada for Canadian coaches to reach the highest level.”
Header Image Photo Credit: John Jacques