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Q&A: Folsom Lake Surf Executive Director Fritz Libby

Note: NorCal Premier Soccer regularly sits down with an influential figure in the youth soccer landscape to pick their brain about a variety of different topics that are relevant in the current soccer environment in the United States. For this edition we spoke with Folsom Lake Surf Executive Director Fritz Libby. As a player, Libby captained Chico State University before playing in Chico Rooks, Reno Rattlers, and New Mexico Chiles in the USISL as well as for clubs in three different continents. During an 18-year stint abroad, Libby founded soccer schools in China, Indonesia, and Greece before returning stateside to found Ethos Soccer Club. In his current role at Folsom Lake, Libby was awarded the Positive Coaching Alliance’s prestigious Double-Goal Coach award

NorCal: How did you fall in love with soccer?

Libby: I watched my next door neighbor juggle the ball about a thousand times when I was about five or six and it completely blew me away. I just got hooked at a young age, discovered I was good at it and became totally obsessed with soccer.

NorCal: You grew up in Walnut Creek and played for Walnut Creek Soccer Club. What was your youth soccer experience like?

Libby: I had a pretty traditional experience for its time. I climbed from recreation to comp soccer moving on up from third team to first team as I got older and better. This is something I miss in our clubs today. I have so much fondness for my youth club and my coaches who helped me grow up and were such advocates for me when I needed it. Today, with so much bouncing around by families and players between clubs, I see so many players miss the opportunity to benefit from what I did.

NorCal: You had something of an eclectic playing career in a time where there weren’t a lot of opportunities for American professional players. What was that like?

Libby: After finishing my fourth year playing at Chico State,  I was picked up by the New Mexico Chiles of the American Professional Soccer League, which was one of the failed predecessors to the MLS. Following that I bounced around between teams in the regional league (USISL) that followed the break up of that league. I balanced this with graduate school back at Chico along with supporting its soccer program as an asst. coach. Upon graduation and getting married, I took what was supposed to be a one year assignment as an administrator at an international school in Greece where I could work and play soccer; this turned into an overseas journey that lasted 18 years.

NorCal: Where were you based out of overseas?

Libby: I lived, worked and played advanced levels of soccer in Greece, Indonesia, Australia and China- the last 11 of those years as a co-founder of a group of international schools that we grew into a leading network of schools in Asia. Since I was in the development side of establishing new schools in these places, I was able to establish parallel youth soccer programs for local and international kids living overseas. This was an amazing experience for me as I learned so much from families, coaches and kids from all over the world. I am still in touch with many of them today.

NorCal: With the amount of experience you have in all those different areas and living in other countries, what can you take from those experiences and pass on to the kids that you see now?

Libby: The most important thing I took away is that there is a unique and common global culture related to soccer. Young players have the same struggles, you can find multi-generational pick-up games and juggling sessions in parks and on beaches just about anywhere, the sense of humor around the players is similar and the passion around national team pride reverberates globally. I think this is why it is called “the beautiful game” and I truly wish we understood this better here in the US. I believe a better understanding of this global culture would benefit our young players. There’s just more to the game than loving it and being good at it.

NorCal: You’ve just won the Positive Coaching Alliance’s prestigious Double-Goal Award. What does it mean for you to win an award such as this, that you’re recognized as one of those positive influences in youth soccer?

Libby: It’s unbelievable and I would like to thank those who took the time to nominate me. I have spent my entire adult life building communities around education and soccer with an understanding of the day-to-day impact that a coach or teacher can make on a player or student. It’s a huge responsibility. You have to go all in! The funny thing is kids recognize imposters and kids know if you are sincere in your efforts to really work with and understand them. I am proud to win this award because it shows my “all in” approach to working with my players hasn’t gone unnoticed. So I guess what I do is working and that’s a great feeling.

NorCal: Is there anything else that you’d like to add?

Libby: I eluded earlier to how lucky I was to have great coaches looking after me as I climbed the ladder. I was that kid that didn’t have much and without the support of two coaches in particular, I know I wouldn’t have gone far. They believed in me and mentored me through rough times and gave me the tools I needed to make good choices. It is through this lens that shaped what I want to do for kids. As corny as it sounds, part of it all has been to pay this forward and give back.