Featured Coach: Rachel Jolley
Rachel Jolley fell in love with the beautiful game at an early age. Watching her older brother steered her towards the sport of soccer, and, after a very successful youth career, coaches from all over Florida started to take notice. Then, at the age of 13, injuries struck. From the first hip pointer at 13-years-old, Rachel suffered a major injury every calendar year all the way up to her freshman year at the University of South Alabama. Despite the injuries, she earned an athletic scholarship, but she suffered an ankle tear during spring training with the Jaguars, forcing her to hang up the cleats. She returned to Florida to finish school, but soccer was meant to be in her life. She was offered a junior training position in 2006 and she’s fell in love all over again. She's been coaching ever since and now has a U.S. Soccer National D(r) coaching license, and is a member of the NSCAA. Here are 18 questions with our featured coach, Rachel Jolly!
How old are you?
Where are you from?
St. Pete, Florida.
How did you get into soccer?
I grew up in a sports-centric house; my mom was a cheerleader and my dad played just about everything. When my older brother started playing rec soccer, I was three years old, but I was always at the field watching him play, and doing some kicking around of my own. So, the first year I was able to play (I was five), I was pretty much begging my parents to sign me up.
Who were your soccer role models growing up?
It was the mid-to-late 90s so Mia Hamm was huge, of course. But, I always had a big admiration for Michelle Akers. To this day I don't think we've filled that role on the USWNT. She was such a pioneer in the women's game, and so far beyond her years as far as her style of play, and vision. To me, she's still the reigning G.O.A.T.
Who are your favorite teams to support?
I love following the USWNT, and I travel to the matches whenever my schedule permits. I'm also a proud season ticket holder for the Orlando Pride (you see what I did there). I enjoy watching other league play when I can, but my heart is invested in the women's game here, in America. And, it is important to push the NWSL forward with support and buzz, especially now that there is such a lengthy break between major tournaments.
What's one skill you think every player needs to cultivate?
Touch. Every time you can have a ball at your feet, do it. For me, touch is the foundation of everything else. How can a player increase their speed on the ball, or improve their tactical vision, if they can't be effective with the ball at their feet? I always had a ball at my feet, even inside the house as a kid; playing it of off the hallway walls and aiming to split the dining room table and hutch, into the living room (GOAL!). It's all relevant.
Is there one skill where you always see deficiencies in players? How can they improve at that skill?
Since I work predominantly with younger players, the one thing they all usually have in common, is being uncomfortable using their weak foot. It is something that, especially in the women's game, I think we can improve on. Like most skills, it's all about repetition. Keep striving, keep pushing, and it will improve faster than you think. I tell my kids to challenge themselves by going through entire sessions with their club/high school teams with their weak foot.
What is your favorite drill for players and why?
I don't have one specific favorite, but I love match condition games. Anything that can simulate a match situation with game speed and pressure, that's what I love to push the most as a coach. In reality, I believe that 75% of the beautiful game is self-taught, so why not let players, play? As far as the other 25% goes, I enjoy making stops throughout the match condition games, and visually showing the players how they can improve, with a real game situation as an example.
As a coach, where do you think the U.S. Developmental system could improve?
I think we've made great strides, especially in the last 3-5 years, as the game has gotten more attention in the states. The infrastructure will change naturally, as we adapt to the game and progression of athletes. That is something we are lucky to have the resources to do, especially for the women's game. I would, however, really like to see more recruitment of female trainers and coaches. Much like how female players didn't see playing beyond college as an option [even five years ago], I don't think we encourage girls enough to consider coaching as a career path. It is definitely a void, and I am hopeful that it improves as we continue to grow the game.
Do you think the developmental system is headed in the right direction?
I do. You know, again, that's something we are really lucky with, here in the U.S. We have resources and options to groom some of the greatest athletes in the world. Every year I see the reach of the Development Academy program, growing. I love that. To me, that means another group of kids are going to be exposed to opportunity, growth, and skill-building that we didn't used to have access to.
You went through a lot of injuries that ultimately ended your career. Surely there are more people out there that are experiencing the same thing- what would you say to them?
There's a quote about life, and not being able to connect the dots going forward; that you can only connect them going backward. When it comes to recurring injuries, I know it doesn't all make much sense while you're in it, and sometimes it is so senseless, that you'll want to walk away from it all, like I did. But, now that I am able to really connect the dots, looking backward, there are two dots that won't ever be connected, because of a "what if" that I have to live with forever. Everyone is different, and at the time, my decision made sense; but, to those who are where I was 10 years ago, make sure that if you are walking away from the pitch as a player, that you understand 1) the entirety of the decision, and 2) that it will be a part of your life, for the rest of your life. If you love the game, keep going. Rehab sucks, I know. But injuries, even when recurring, are temporary. Remember that walking away from playing, is permanent. So, the advice? Find your muse, and keep going.
What are some of the best rehab techniques that you would suggest to players? (Ankles, knees specifically)
Things to keep you strong while you're healthy include wall-ball (even playing by yourself) with a good pace on the ball, stretching, and yoga. As far as rehab techniques or exercises, I will leave that part to your therapist. But, I will say, that as important as your exercises are, it is even more important that you practice them daily. Get in a routine of doing your rehab exercises on your own watch; and although it can be tedious, keep your eyes on the prize (playing again).
How do you think the sport of soccer has grown in the U.S., especially for women? Where do you see it in 5 years?
Gosh, it has grown so much! Like I said before, even five years ago, girls weren't looking at playing professionally as an option. I think this past tournament was a huge testimony to the women's game. Don't get me wrong, I was as bummed as anyone about the USWNT loss. However, it was so exciting to see the level of competition going into every single match. Back in the Mia days, and when I was growing up, you didn't see more than one or two teams hang with the USWNT. It was practically world domination at that point. But, now, what a beautiful thing to see that girls all over the world are growing their craft, and beyond that, that their countries are supporting them (for the most part). We have a LONG way to go, but it makes me so happy to see it growing, and to see more girls catching their dreams. In five years? That's a tough one. You've got this big gap between major tourneys, and unfortunately, the USWNT got knocked out early in the Olympics. With the culture in America, it is hard to predict if the wave of support will continue to amplify, or if it will dwindle during that break. But, I believe :)
For young girls who want to play professionally, what is one piece of advice you would give them?
It's all about balance. You have to put in the work, and the overtime, when no one is telling you to "go out and work on this (or that)"; and there is going to be sacrifice. But, if you are motivated by passion, you will succeed. At the same time, don't burn out. Listen to your heart and to your body as you progress through the different levels of the game; they're the best compass you have. And always remember: success is never lasting, and failure is never final.
What motivates you everyday to coach young kids?
If someone had told me when I was in my last years as a player, that I would coach at some point, I don't know if I would have believed them. I'm motivated by those "ah-ha" moments; when a kid perfects a new juke, or they have a stellar match and want to tell me about all the things we've worked on, and how they were applied to their game. I guess I'm motivated by the story; every kid has one, and I just feel privileged to get to have a paragraph or two in it
What is your best experience involving the beautiful game?
Man! That's a loaded question. I can't possibly pick one. I think just the camaraderie, and the friendships that were molded over the years. I have SO many amazing, fantastic, and hilarious memories with my teammates. They've made me the human I am today, and I am so, so grateful for that.
What other sports and activities do you enjoy when you're not coaching soccer?
I love sports, in general; if there's a sporting event happening, I'm there. Family is a huge part of my life, so I am always looking for ways to spend time with them. I'm a creative as well, so I practice photography and videography, both personally and professionally. Pretty much anything that involves travel, outdoors, food, or creativity, I'm into it!
What aspirations do you have as a coach?
You know, this has been something I've thought a lot about lately. I don't have a definite answer to that. I've considered moving up in my coaching license, and possibly trying to get into the collegiate space. But right now, I'm focusing on my kids here, and things are going well. It is also a dream of mine to have a non-profit for girls soccer; I hope to get there within the next 5-10 years.
Learn more about Rachel Jolley by clicking here!