By Salvador Torres
Rialto is home to three high schools: Rialto High School on the border with Colton in the southeast, Carter High, the youngest located north of the 210 freeway, and Eisenhower High located centrally between the two and the oldest high school in the city. I had the pleasure to connect with Coach Erik Sabogal, the current coach of Eisenhower girls varsity soccer team.
Coach Erik, 30, has been involved with the game since his early teens and has been coaching youth in Fontana, Rialto, and Colton before making his way to coaching high school. A 2008 graduate of Rialto High, Erik has always been connected to the Rialto soccer community and has a passion for making it stronger with his expertise and experience. In the interview, I learned about Erik’s soccer story, his thoughts on local soccer culture, and his plans for making a difference in his community.
The first question I just want to ask you is what’s your soccer story, what got you into this sport, was it one event or was it something that has always been a part of your life?
Soccer has been a part of my life. By age 12 and 13 I started refereeing here, being local in the Rialto youth soccer league, playing here in regular AYSO. I had aspirations to learn the game but now trying to become a professional referee. I started coaching at age 18 in the Rialto Youth Soccer League.
What level did you play growing up and in your adult life?
In my adult life, I played high school soccer, and that’s it. So I’m just focused on learning the game and teaching the game through my experiences of refereeing. Before COVID-19, I was doing UPSL, NPSL, WPSL, and everything but Division 1 college for the past 4 to 5 years. So my adult experience has been more on the refereeing side at the amateur and college level.
Why soccer? Did you play other sports growing up? And why is soccer your #1 sport?
I played baseball and football. Baseball and basketball in high school and I wrestled and played basketball here for the city of Rialto. Soccer has mainly just been a passionate sport on my own and then being able to bring it to the youth, a game I love more and more to help through refereeing. The coaching has increased my love for the game, just loved it as a kid playing it.
With everything going on with the pandemic and its effect on schools, what’s the future with your team? How are you adjusting with your players?
Well, currently we are doing a 10-week plan for girls JV and Varsity, to focus on the plan that will consist of exercises and strength conditioning that do not require any equipment at the time, any sharing of the equipment, just basic drills that require no people, no touching, no physical contact with players. Keeping the plan simple yet effective with some goals at the end of the plan for them to reach. I’ve worked up some exercises that are required to do as a referee at the FIFA level. So I am incorporating refereeing exercises, running conditioning exercises into the girl’s plan. I feel it’s a different mindset, it gets the girls excited about how referees upgrade to the next level, besides that keeping in contact as well with parent phone calls.
How would incorporate training with your players, if COVID never existed?
It would be a regular preparation with more eagerness. Last year was my first year with the program, I got into it late September and October and a lot of programs are already starting in August and July in the summer. So this year I was planning on getting a basic jump-start that every coach does but, yeah, if it wasn’t for COVID we would do beach workouts, working on our strength and conditioning on the sand. We are getting a new gym built as we speak, a state of the art gym so that would be in the plan to get the girls there. I ref community college, so last year I took the girls to go see a valley college women’s game and after the game, they spoke to the girls. Some of the girls came up to the players and spoke to them and had one-on-ones. I try to get at least two to three college games before the season starts.
What kind of advantage do you think you have from refereeing compared to other coaches who don’t have that experience, how does that help your program?
Well, I gained lots of advantages from refereeing. When my refereeing career took off I went to the highest level of refereeing in this country at the youth level, I got to ref in the Development Academy, ECNL, multiple Presidents Cups, national cups in Hawaii, Colorado, Utah, Idaho. Cal South would send a group of their best referees to go to Nevada for U.S. National League. I’ve been doing that for two or three years. The advantages are humongous, being able to ref at so many different levels, seeing different age groups, teams, coaches, and styles. Being able to see the game over and over again, seeing different gameplays, it’s almost as if the game has its certain direction, certain pattern. Everyone is different, every team, every formation is not the same. It’s amazing to hear instructions, the kids learning different spacing, formations of the backline from club level to academy. It’s a whole other world, I feel like I’m able to explain the game in a much different way. I’m able to see how the ball is kicked or how the ball is moved around in space. It’s almost unbelievable, it’s just amazing. I see how kids learn so fast at the academy level especially how they keep it simple and showing the older kids at the high school level. I’ve been lucky to be sent by U.S. soccer some videos of my games at these showcases and therefore I show my recorded games to my middle school and high school teams. I ref every weekend and I come back with a different plan, idea or strategy, and a different way of explaining things. One thing that I noticed is that iy’s not about attacking, it’s what to do when you’re in trouble.
You’ve seen talent outside the IE, refereeing throughout the country, how do you compare talent from other parts of the country to here?
There is a big difference, first off Cal South as a local association is strong. I’ve noticed in my three years of refereeing outside of California, our teams are always dominating these youth tournaments, for the most part, they are in the finals for each age group. The only difference I see when foreign players from other countries play here. I’ve noticed that on the East Coast, a lot of teams have foreign players coming from Europe and Africa, which in itself is another level. When it comes to the IE it’s different because our kids are not used to playing with kids from other countries, they aren’t used to the idea of playing against them at such a young age at all. However our kids compared to other states, we are very strong compared to other states. The Hispanic leagues here are very connected and close with the AYSO leagues. The Hispanic leagues here are close to the community and I feel like in other states it’s separate. It’s common here that a kid will jump from a Hispanic league to an AYSO club, going back and forth. I feel like other states are not up to par with the Inland Empire, Cal South kids are dominating for the most part.
Last question, when your soccer career is over and involvement has stopped, what kind of legacy would you like to leave the IE soccer community?
I feel being there not only as a coach on the field, which is important, but really what leaves a good legacy is being a good coach who is there when the kids are getting picked up, giving them rides, talking to them when they have problems. Everyone knows in middle school and high school, growing up they have problems becoming a young adult and with that comes so many issues whether it’s being a student athlete learning how to balance grades and sport, family, a job. The sense of having an outlet knowing I’m always there to help with the game, that’s one of the most important things. My goal at the end of my soccer career is to rebuild the AYSO community in the city of Rialto that once was 15 years ago. The youth were able to reach high levels at the Cal State system and that has kind of evaporated and I feel like the natural definition of a coach kind of got lost. Sadly, parents are learning on the fly, learning the ropes, and it’s difficult to see. Kids are eager to learn and the coaches are not up to par and I feel like in the end just having a good relationship with all of my old players grows not only in the game but in life would be a great achievement also to see the next generation. I feel like the most important thing for us in our community is to get the Rialto soccer league strong again, it has been completely changed upside down, I want to leave a very strong legacy with the Rialto youth soccer league to get it back on its feet. What’s more important to me besides my players reaching the highest level is that there’s a sense of strong soccer community that has been lost, I want to get that back. I feel like things need to start changing.
Coach Erik also has a small business called MySoccerTutor where he teaches players from toddler to young adult with virtual/in-person instruction, video games and normal video instruction in a one-on-one setting or in groups. His buiness can be reached on these platforms:
Instagram/Facebook/Youtube- @mysoccertutor Twitter- @mysoccertutor1