Situated in the beautiful San Bernardino mountains, the city of Big Bear and surrounding areas are home to many attractions. From Big Bear Lake to the various ski resorts to the beautiful hiking trails with gorgeous views. One thing, however, that isn’t very situated in the mountains is the game of soccer. Among the many talented players and vibrant soccer culture in the Inland Empire’s lower elevations, that’s not the case in the mountain communities.
In the major metropolitan areas around San Bernardino and Riverside, there’s an abundance of options for kids and adults to play the game recreationally and competitivity. There are various major youth clubs with strong reputations like Legends FC or Surf to numerous scholastic college programs with 13 universities and junior college options from the high desert to Hemet, to several adult amateur teams in national and regional leagues. Big Bear doesn’t have the lions share in comparison. The entirety of all mountain communities have two high schools; Big Bear high school and Rim of the World high school. Both of which are the only ones that provide teenagers an outlet to play at a high level. There is only one recreational league, Big Bear Soccer League, beyond that there are no organized adult leagues or youth club chapters in the mountains. Among other reasons, besides the lack of teams, is the climate of cold winters and lack of open fields to distance of outside competition being miles away downhill.
Despite the numerous challenges, one outsider with a passion for the game and an avid perspective of soccer decided to face the shortage of the beautiful game in the mountains and start his way of changing the landscape. His name is Fredy Diaz, a native of the Inland Empire who knows the game’s reality in the region. I had the chance to interview him about his uphill battle of inspiring the youth about the game in an area that has multiple reasons not to be inspired.
Tell us your soccer story? What got you into the sport, was it one event or something that’s been a part of your life?
Soccer has always been a part of my life, being born in Mexico. I remember going to my dad’s Sunday league games every week and wanted to play. Throughout the week, all the kids in the block would play in the streets until the sun was down. My uncles loved Chivas from Guadalajara and would bet their hair and eyebrows for their team. Growing up, I had the honor of going to El Stadio Azteca in Mexico City. It was one of the most memorable things and made me want me to play in front of a crowd. Soccer was always in my family.
What level did you play growing up and or in adult life?
I played Silver Elite in a club team as well as varsity soccer at Cajon High School. As an adult, I played at San Bernardino Valley College and then transferred to La Sierra University D1 NAIA. After that, I was trying out and participated with various semi-pro teams as they began to develop from 2013-2018: Riverside Coras and So Cal Soccer Club in San Bernardino.
Why soccer? Did you play other sports, or why is soccer your #1?
I was talented with the ball at my feet from a young age, and it just allowed me to meet a lot of people. I did various sports growing up, Volleyball, Baseball, Track, and field. But ultimately, soccer was where I fell in love. Something about the freedom to run, pass, and develop skills that don’t compare to other sports. It gives you the ultimate freedom to be creative, and once you are on the field, anything can happen. In High School, I played other sports, but all done to benefit my soccer abilities. I was the football kicker, and it allowed me to have a 6th-period gym and build up my leg strength and work out with the football players. I ran cross country to increase my stamina. I did Track and field to improve my sprint, reaction time and ran 400m, 800m, 4x400m 300m Hurdles.
How was your journey becoming a coach? How did you end up as Big Bear high school coach?
When I was playing, I was a team captain in my club, high school, and college; it was natural for me to take the lead and be a leader. I had always been asked to coach based on my knowledge of the game, but there was never enough time. Going to school, playing, and also a soccer official, it was hard to take time to coach. Part of my school programs and some of the teams I played, we would host clinics with younger players and fell in love with teaching and seeing kids grow. I then pursued in being a coaching aid at practices with my brother’s team, or help with middle school teams. I then moved to Big Bear for my work. Big bear does not offer a lot of soccer, no leagues in mid-week, and driving down the mountain is long for games. I began to miss soccer and looked around. I met a high school player in Big Bear, serving my fiancé and me when I was out for dinner when he recognizes my Surf jacket. We started talking, and he mentioned Big Bear has a team. I immediately emailed the AD and school if they needed any help and volunteer my time. They were excited to bring me on board, and I was the JV coach and assisted with Varsity. In the Spring, I became the head coach for the middle school program to create a feeder system for high school. The following season, the varsity coach steps down, and I took his position. I became the head coach in Winter 2019.
With everything going on with the pandemic and its effect on schools, what is your thought process with your team?
It will be difficult and challenging. With the limited time to train and the ability to practice, some athletes will lose their skills and fitness. Games are limited due to travel, being in Big Bear, we do not have a lot of local schools to play, travel is 1hr+. We will continue to have a team, but we’re limited on what we can and cannot do.
Based on your experience in playing/coaching or just watching, what do you think is the player’s level from Big Bear compared to other players from other places?
The level of players from Big Bear is different from other places. With snow, limited playing areas, only local competition in the recreational leagues, it creates a bubble for the players. Some get comfortable and not a lot of competition to challenge those players who develop better skills than their peers. Just like any other place, some players grow and become better over time. It varies based on the coaches they have, and if some can travel down the mountain to a youth club.
Have you coached or worked with any players that achieved success? If so, what makes them stand out?
My coaching career is young, a lot of players I have coach are still in middle school, high school. I am hopeful some will make it to a college team, just a matter of time. I hope I can give them the resources and knowledge to play at the next level.
What is one positive trait, and what’s one negative trait that big bear players have in a general sense?
One positive trait is the heart. A lot of players love the game and take the time to love the game. They talk about their favorite teams, players, and when they try, they can be talented and not give up. They take losses personally and enjoy the wins, even small achievements. One negative trait is they get too comfortable. Growing up, some players become the best in their recreational team, however on the mountain, with a small population, there is not a lot of competition. It is really easy to get comfortable with the skill level they develop. Once the team or individual travels down the mountain, it can be an abrupt realization of other teams’ skills that play year-round. It can be discouraging, and some want to give up. We need the right mindset to push them, guide them, and challenge them to get better.
Last question when your career or involvement in soccer is over, what kind of legacy would you like to leave to the IE soccer community?
I wish to provide young players the chance to leave the IE. There are more opportunities outside of the IE. Many players get comfortable and tend to stay here. There is a lot of opportunities that soccer can offer, a career, education, and coaching opportunities. We have to find them, and our youth does not know or get informed about these opportunities. Let soccer be more than a hobby, a passion, but a lifestyle that can be passed down and shared.