GIRARD — Damon LaRiviere was an assistant coach for the Girard High School boys soccer team last year, and the 52-year-old often would demonstrate some of the agility drills for the Indians.
“One of my attributes is my quickness,” LaRiviere said, laughing as he told the story. “These kids are like, ‘Wow, coach, you’re 52? I hope I’m in shape like you when I’m 52.’
“I’d laugh, but that’s the fun of it for me is I get involved with them and try to inspire them.”
He’ll have even more of an opportunity to do that starting in 2021.
LaRiviere was named the new boys soccer coach at Girard, taking over for Zach Stamp, who took the same position at South Range High School in June.
LaRiviere, originally from Westland, Michigan, actually didn’t grow up playing soccer. He got involved about 15 years ago, right around the time his children were beginning to show interest. He played in some recreational leagues and then began to attend coaching clinics.
“About five years ago, Girard started a travel team for the boys, which was a feeder program to the high school,” he said. “It was at the seventh-and-eighth-grade level, and I was teaching them the finer skills that weren’t being taught in rec (leagues). Rec is usually mom and dad going, ‘Just kick the ball!’ Kids just running around in a very unorganized way.
“So then I got my E license through Ohio North, which the travel teams go through, and I’ve been coaching now for five years.”
The more interest his children showed, the more LaRiviere was around the game, and his passion for the sport grew.
His daughter, Madeline, 15, and son, Dante, 17, are both soccer players at Girard. He said Madeline has been playing since she was 5. Dante used to be involved in several sports, but he started to focus on soccer more recently. Damon did the same.
Coaching has been something LaRiviere enjoyed for years. While he’s now mixing in a newfound love for soccer, his coaching beliefs stayed the same.
“For me, coaching is more than just the game itself,” he said. “For me, coaching is about developing a sportsmanship within them for development as a person and what sports have to offer for that — teamwork, confidence and just becoming a responsible person. That’s the bigger picture for me.”
LaRiviere understands he has some work to do.
Girard finished 5-11 in 2019 and only has fielded a varsity boys team since the 2013-14 school year. He said he enjoys the challenges and already sees progress. He prefers training that is more specific to the actual movements players will be using in games over general exercises.
He already has noticed a difference in their desire to perform the drills.
“I’ve really separated from what some other coaches might have done in the past to a newer style,” he said. “Right now, we’re in conditioning. Some coaches in the past might say, ‘Go run 3 miles.’ For me, that wasn’t my idea of conditioning a soccer player. A soccer player needs to condition like a soccer player, not a cross country runner. Everything we do is from plyometrics to burst-speed training, agility — a lot of agility. So, it’s of quick-speed bursts, and these kids are huffing and puffing.
“They’ve really enjoyed that, like, ‘Wow, this is really different.’ “
LaRiviere hopes it pays off when play resumes next season.
He added that he intends to implement a defense-first mindset into the Indians’ style of play. He has enjoyed success with that format at different levels, and he’s confident there will be similar progression at Girard.
He’s excited to see how quickly his tactics take shape.
“I keep it fun and interesting,” he said. “They have no idea what’s coming the next day. They’re always asking me, ‘What are we going to do tomorrow?’ And I’m just like, ‘You’ll find out.’ It’s a lot of keeping them interested and not boring them with the same old, same old.
“I’m having fun with them but keeping it very challenging and of course building their mental toughness. That’s what a lot of this is, teaching them not to give up on the field (during a workout). If you get a goal down, you can’t give up on yourself. You have to learn to come back from adversity.”
Today’s breaking news and more in your inbox