Lecturer crushing it as youth soccer coach


Piotr Westwalewicz grew up playing soccer in his native Poland.

There’s nothing remarkable about that because, as Westwalewicz likes to joke with his students in classes on Polish culture, “Ninety-five percent of the population belongs to the Catholic church and 100% belongs to the church of soccer.”

In the 1970s and ’80s, when students in Poland reach high school age, they were given the choice to attend a sports high school, where pursuing athletic goals was an important objective, or one where academics was the primary focus.

His eighth-grade school gym teacher sat young Westwalewicz down for what he calls today his “shortest and most accurate player evaluation” he’s ever had.

A photo of two men, one dressed as a soccer ball.
Piotr Westwalewicz, right, a lecturer IV in Slavic languages and literatures in LSA and founder of Ann Arbor CRUSH, poses with former player and coach Nate Clyde during Crush’s annual Halloween Ball in 2022. Westwalewicz said the photo embodies the spirit of CRUSH. (Photo courtesy of Piotr Westwalewicz)

“He was a big guy with a big beard, funny and jovial but brutally direct, and was well-loved and respected by me and my friends because he always made our success his mission,” Westwalewicz said. “He said, ‘So, Piotr, how are your grades?’ Oh, excellent, straight A’s. He said, ‘I think you should stick with that.’ And he was right. I am a much better coach than I would ever have been a player.”

Westwalewicz went to a high school where academics are stressed, made his way to the United States in 1985 and the University of Michigan not long after, and serves as a lecturer IV in Slavic languages and literatures in LSA.

But soccer never left him. He still belongs to the church of soccer.

He holds a U.S. Soccer Federation A Coaching License and has coached at many levels of the game: developmental, competitive youth travel, U.S. Soccer Federation Olympic Development Program at the state and regional levels, college and semi-professional.

Since 2005, his time and passion have been invested in Ann Arbor CRUSH, a club Westwalewicz started at the behest of a coaching friend who said his daughter’s team of recreational soccer players was interested in playing travel soccer but wanted to stay together as a team.

Westwalewicz was already coaching for the Novi Jaguars Soccer Club and for Concordia University — plus teaching at U-M — when he learned of this team concerned for its future.

“He said, ‘If they go to a travel club, they’d get separated. Would you coach them?’” Westwalewicz said. “And because I wasn’t busy enough, I said yes. I had a team, but I didn’t have a name. I decided to go with orange uniforms, influenced by the remarkable protest movement in Poland, the Orange Alternative, and the girls decided they wanted to be Orange Crush.”

Word spread quickly about the new club, which started with those 15 players, then their siblings, and eventually hundreds of others in the community. What started as a program for girls only opened to boys, and Westwalewicz and his wife, Jennifer, now oversee a club with players ranging in age from 2½ to 19 years old playing on between 20-25 teams, along with skill-building and recreational programs.

A photo of two girls with two soccer balls
Both of Piotr Westwalewicz’s daughters, Zora and Dara, played for CRUSH. (Photo courtesy of Piotr Westwalewicz)

He’s not doing it to win championships or fill the trophy case, although CRUSH teams always play to win. He’s doing it to deliver top-level instruction to serve what he calls the 95% of players not bound for collegiate soccer or beyond, a segment he believes is overlooked in the current development structure in U.S. soccer.

Westwalewicz firmly believes that with proper instruction — CRUSH has four USSF A licensed and two USSF B licensed coaches on its staff — all players can learn the skills and habits to compete at a high level.

“We are relentless in following the best coaching practices from around the world and always focus on building positive life habits,” he said. “Our top players win state championships with their high school teams, and some go to play college soccer. But our biggest success is that all of our players compete with style, class and joy.”

While there is a cost to take part in CRUSH, the program offers scholarship funding for anyone unable to pay the full amount to participate. The scholarship recently was named in honor of a special player, Rachel Ling Salamone, who joined CRUSH when she was 11 years old.

Westwalewicz was one of her CRUSH soccer coaches. His eyes lit up when he talked about the diving header goal she scored in a U-16 game against a Downriver team, a goal he said sent the team into a “collective conniption. Probably the best youth soccer goal I have ever seen. And Rachel was a forward and a goalkeeper, so she saved us on both ends of the field.”

His eyes welled up when he talked about passing by her photo in the CRUSH office. Salamone died in 2020 at the age of 17. Her father, Dan Salamone, continues to be engaged with CRUSH. The Rachel Ling Salamone Scholarship Fund helps about 15-20 players each year.

“We’ve been fortunate to be in a position that everyone who needs financial aid receives some,” Westwalewicz said.

CRUSH has been in its indoor season since November, and will move to its spring season April through June before the June tryouts for the fall season. After summer camps and clinics, the fall season runs August through October.

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It kicks off with a season-opening tournament in Bowling Green, Ohio, in April — the same for the fall season in August. While Westwalewicz expects to bring home a few trophies, he knows the CRUSH tent will be the envy of the tournament and a great memory for players and parents — food and water for all CRUSH players and their families, with more than 1,000 people served over the course of the season.

“It’s a party. We do well competitively, but we also have the best tent and the best club atmosphere of the tournament,” he said. “So as everyone walks by our tent they look longingly at our burgers.”


What memorable moment in the workplace stands out? 

Teaching the “Survey of Central and Eastern Europe” (Slavic 396) during the pandemic. I was asked to teach the course in late November. I had one month to design the course and to select and organize the materials. I also had to hire two GSIs. With outstanding help from the two GSIs (Albert and Joey) the course was a success. I also truly enjoy our annual Slavic department graduation ceremony. Being able to meet the families of all the Polish majors and minors whom I advise and to recognize their achievements never gets old.

What can’t you live without? 

My wife and daughters.

Name your favorite spot on campus. 

Modern Languages Building. When my daughters (Zora and Dara) were young, I would bring them to MLB when it was empty and we would play games. Hide and seek. Tag. All sorts of races. And many more games we invented and promptly forgot to invent them all over again. The sillier the better.

What inspires you? 

The mission to prove again and again that learning and joy can go together. And that joy requires a relentless commitment to excellence. And freedom to take risks and to laugh.

What are you currently reading?

I am re-reading a lot of Polish poetry from the last 100 years. And some of my favorite prose and drama authors: Gombrowicz, Mrożek, Dołęga-Mostowicz.

Who had the greatest influence on your career path?

My teachers and coaches. Professors Carpenter, Ronen, Titunik, Tonsor, Teske. My Polish language and literature professor back home in Krakow, Klementyna Palej. My math teacher back home in Poland, Zofia Goliński. My gym teacher and soccer coach in elementary school, Mister Świkrzcz. Coach Hoffman. Coach Durkin. Coach DeBoer. Their passion and joy of sharing knowledge and commitment to free thinking remind me why teaching and coaching are so much fun. Most importantly my grandmother Wanda Westwalewicz. The wisest person I ever knew. And the most loving.



  1. Elizabeth Sullivan
    on March 28, 2024 at 1:35 pm

    Coach Piotr holds a special place in the heart of my family. Our two kids, Hannah and Jack, both played on Crush teams. We still remember different amusing phrases he would use as he coached the kids. And the way he’d ride his bike to monitor all the Crush games going on during tournaments. Of all the soccer coaches our kids had, he had the most optimistic and skill-based focus to the way he interacted with the kids. I’m so glad he’s still coaching!

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