One month ago, Rocky Fresh walked across the US Youth Soccer Gala stage in Chicago and accepted his award for National TOPSoccer Coach of the Year. Rocky won the Washington Youth Soccer TOPSoccer Coach of the Year award in September and within weeks had won the regional and national award. Below he explains his wonderful journey to that moment.
Could you give us a background on your TOPSoccer career?
My son, Wilson, and I heard about the Salmon Creek TOPSoccer program through our club Washington Timbers FC in 2015; we were looking for somewhere to be useful. We volunteered a couple of days, but soccer games and other conflicts prevented us from participating regularly. I reached out again several months later and then decided to make efforts to get more WA Timbers volunteers out there. Somehow, through other coaches’ absence, plus a knee injury to Julie Borghello, our Program Director, I ended up in a coaching role in 2017.
I’ve been a coach–on and off–since I was 14 years old. I love doing it. I’ve been doing it ever since.
How has being a TOPSoccer coach changed your life?
What great people it has brought into my orbit—other volunteers, the buddies, and these incredible kids and families. I’ve been involved in this game for most of my life, but I’m sure it’s not a surprise to hear that this is the most rewarding experience I’ve had in soccer.
Why is the TOPSoccer program so important?
First, it creates an environment where these special players can experience the magic of the game, of the soccer ball. That is the point. That is our focus. A lot of people play a role in achieving that–and a lot of people also benefit when we do it well. Buddies, for example: They make a successful TOPSoccer program. It’s the buddy-player relationship that is at the heart of TOPSoccer. And if you can get these high school kids to just let go and be with these kids–things really take off.
Then there are these families I’ve grown to love. My wife and I don’t have a child with special needs, but even we feel overwhelmed by parenting in some moments. I’ve come to see how much love, grace, and total commitment these parents have in the 24/7 vigil they live for their kids.
I just hope that for the hour or so that their kids are with me in TOPSoccer, they know all is well, and that their sons and daughters are having fun, achieving, and believing in themselves.
For that hour, they can just sit back like any soccer parent and enjoy watching their kids playing this great game.
That’s what it is all about.
How special was it to go from winning the state ‘Of the year’ award to being the West Region winner and eventually the National winner?
Winning the Washington Youth Soccer TOPSoccer Coach of the Year was a totally unexpected. We were at a University of Portland match for a half-time activity, and Julie (Borghello, SC TOPSoccer) had them surprise me with the announcement at half time. It was special to get recognized with so many kids and families there to share in it. Even better, my dad was in town from Ohio and he presented me with the award. Some wonderful people wrote great nominating letters, and that really propelled this whole thing. I learned about winning the regional and national award via an email from US Youth Soccer. It was an honor to be on stage in Chicago to share my TOPSoccer experience and tell people about this great program.
Any last words?
I love everything about it. I’m amazed each week by the generosity of spirit shown by everyone involved: the volunteer coaches and parents, the buddies, the kids, our hosts at Salmon Creek Indoor Soccer. Everyone comes ready to give of themselves. I try to be a source of energy to keep things going. I’m nervous before each session, but that rarely survives first contact with the kids. They disarm me with their genuineness, and I’m able to lose myself in these special moments that make up TOPSoccer. I really love coaching, and I love these kids.