SANFORD, Fla. — When Orlando City defender Seb Hines hung up his boots three years ago, he wasn’t sure what would come next.
He’d been waived by the Lions after two injury-riddled seasons. He couldn’t stay with the team, but he wasn’t ready to leave, either. Hines was stuck in a limbo that’s familiar to most professional athletes — the overwhelming uncertainty of life after they can longer play the sport they love.
“I didn’t have a backup plan,” Hines said with a laugh. “You’re a footballer and you always want to be a footballer, so you try to prolong that as long as you can.”
Hines knew one thing — he didn’t want to leave Orlando. His family was rooted in the city. His children — two sons and a daughter — were enrolled in school locally. He and his wife were content to stay.
Even more so, Hines felt he had something more to give to a city that had welcomed him at the end of his career.
“I could’ve easily gone back to England, but I still feel like I owe something to this city,” Hines said. “I think when I was playing for Orlando, we under-performed a little bit. I can’t do it as a player, so I’d like to do it as a coach because my body can’t do it anymore.”
Hines had always hoped to end his playing career on his own terms. But his body betrayed him throughout his final years in the game — a knee injury in 2015 limited him to 23 games, then flared up again in 2016.
He felt he still had more to give. But when he was waived, Hines was forced to accept he was no longer physically able to perform at his full ability.
“It was hard at first, I’m not gonna lie,” Hines said. “I’d watch games and I’d feel like, ‘I can do that.’ But then I’d remember that my body is not capable of doing that consistently. It definitely was difficult to hang up my boots, but in hindsight it was probably a better decision for me. Once you step on that field, there’s no excuses. For my satisfaction, I couldn’t do it anymore.”
As he looked at coaching options in Orlando, Hines knew it would be too uncomfortable to return to the Lions under the coach who had let him go. So he turned instead to Tom Sermanni and the Orlando Pride. Sermanni immediately welcomed Hines to the team, and his role as an assistant coach for the club has grown ever since.
Last season, he led preseason training before coach Marc Skinner arrived in the United States, and defender Ali Krieger credited him with preparing her for the 2019 season with the Pride and the World Cup with the U.S. women’s national team.
For Hines, the ability to both coach and learn from World Cup athletes such as Krieger and Marta offers a unique experience at this point in his career.
“I’m in a very privileged position to work with some of the biggest names in women’s soccer,” Hines said. “Not very many players that go into coaching straight away get this opportunity, so I’m very thankful for what I can do. … These are World Cup players and you don’t get that very often.”
Pride midfielder Kristen Edmonds said Hines played a critical role in her growth last year, helping her move out of her comfort zone and onto the backline to accommodate for injury absences in the latter half of the season.
A young coach himself, Skinner said he embraces any opportunity to work with other coaches at the start of their careers. He said Hines already has established the most important key of any coach — an inherent reliability that comes from his experience and ability to relate to players.
Now Skinner says the next step is honing his style, tactics and communication.
“You can see that the players trust him, believe in him,” Skinner said. “Because he’s so experienced in his actual role and what he’s played, he can transfer that experience across. It’s vital that we keep him on board and grow with him. I think he has a really bright future as a coach.”
After establishing his role with the Pride, Hines was brought on board for the Orlando City youth affiliate teams. He now also coaches the U-13 and U-16 youth teams for the Lions. That means long days — 8 a.m. training sessions with the Pride in Sanford, followed by afternoon and evening training sessions with his youth teams. But the hours are worth the variety of experience he’s gaining.
Hines isn’t the only former player to return to the club through youth coaching — teammate Antonio Nocerino most recently announced he would spend his first years of retirement as an academy coach for the Lions.
Hines has found the game changes when a player transitions into the role of manager. He’s still molding his own style of coaching, plucking different aspects of previous coaches and mentors to emulate with his own teams.
“As I started to come to the end of my career, I started looking at it from a different perspective,” Hines said. “I see how teams manipulate other teams with their movement, how you want your team to play, how you want your players to perform. I definitely watch games with a different eye now.”
When his career came to an end, Hines knew he didn’t have to stay in America. He lived the first 27 years of his life in his home country of England before he was loaned in Orlando, and the bulk of his family and friends remain on the opposite side of the Atlantic.
But Hines is happy here. He welcomes the challenge of giving back to the Lions, and his family loves the life they’ve built in Orlando. His eldest son is enrolled in the Orlando City youth affiliate teams, and Hines is able to watch him learn the sport wearing the same kit he used to wear while competing with the Lions.
Now Hines is able to see that this is not the end of a career. It’s just the next step.