For a simple fluid game like soccer, there are many ways to coach it. Some take a philological approach and break it down into details, while others are less verbal and explain it in universal terms. In contemporary times, anyone in the capacity of the sport from team staff to media, have access to an abundance of information, and nowadays, with a culture of fighting for getting the most exposure and explosion of self-claimed “experts” in any field, one coach I spoke to thinks more traditionally. A coach who understands a simple game in simple terms. I sat down with Miguel Alatorre, who reflects the simple yet effective way of doing things as a high school coach.
So first question, I just want to know what your soccer story is? What got you into the sport, was soccer always a part of your life?
For me, it was my whole life. I grew up in San Bernardino coming from Mexico when I was 4 and became a product of the San Bernardino district. I started playing when I was nine, so a little bit later than usual, and ever since then, you know, that became my passion. I attended King Middle School, but there were no Middle School sports yet. And then I ended up at San Bernardino High School, where I played four years, three in varsity and one in JV. Since then, I didn’t have my papers or social or anything. School was limited as far as where I wanted to go. So I ended up at Cal State San Bernardino, and after attending two years and still playing Club all my life once I became too old to play Club, I walked onto the Cal State team and I played four years there.
So you mentioned that you played high school and club level as well as playing college in your adult life. Is there any other level that you were playing growing up or in your adult life?
When I first started, you can say I started with AYSO. Everything was club after my first year in AYSO. But as far as club, I played here in San Bernardino when the San Bernardino Blast existed. Then my last two years (16-18 years of age), I played in Fontana for a club named SCYSO, and that was, I mean, the highest level I got to play in club, which was Premier. Then college started, and that was basically division two, and I never really wanted to pursue (a professional career) it. I was told I should, but my passion was still to become a teacher and help the younger guys.
What position did you play?
I played center midfield.
So that’s your preferred position or have you played other positions as well?
It started when I was young, as a Center back and then transition to forward when I was 11 years old, and then after that, I landed as a Center mid ever since before high school, I would say probably eighth grade. Ever since then, that was like the place to be; you’re always on the ball. Although in college, you have to adjust as the new guy. To get playing time, I did have to play right-back for my first two years, and then I was able to play Center mid my last two years.
Was that a struggle being at right back and not being at your preferred position?
I mean, it was playing time, so that I would say the struggle part was the least of my worries. In my first year in college, kind of our game was to play counter-attack. So I was probably one of the only two that can switch the field at Cal State because it was a huge wide field and I always had strong legs. So I could switch the field and play it to our left mid on the other side to start the counter-attack, use our best counter-attack player, and fast. So that was kind of my objective as a right-back. So it wasn’t tricky but the defending part, you deal with some guys who are just fast as heck and technical, and you try to do your best.
So why soccer? Did you play other sports? Why is soccer your number one sport?
So I tried baseball when I was nine before I started my whole soccer thing. I mean nothing against baseball because it does require its skill, but I was bored. I mean, I couldn’t just stand there and then wait for action, and my passion was always to watch basketball. I grew up watching the Bulls in the 90s. So for me, it was still basketball. Still, I never tried to play in an organized team. It was always Streetball or at school, and then I don’t know, I just picked up soccer pretty quickly. I mean the fitness, the skill is always something I tell my students and my kids as we still argue with my other athletes in my class. I say that soccer players can play any sport because you teach your feet and have the footwork, and that’s the hard part. Your hands are easier to teach.
So you’re telling us a little bit about your playing time and you decided to not pursue a professional career or continue playing and you transition to becoming a coach. So, can you just tell us a little bit about that journey of becoming a coach and how did you ended up being the coach at Arroyo Valley?
I was the only child growing up, so my uncle was like my older brother. So at the time, he didn’t have any children. So I was like, take me here, take me there for practice, and he is the main reason I became a teacher. So, he went to San Bernardino High School as an English learner, graduated in three years, and he started teaching at SBHS when I was attending. Then Arroyo Valley opens, and I was already a Junior in high school. So they were only taking freshmen and sophomores the first year it opened. So it should have been my home school, but I was already a year ahead. So he transferred over with the principal and all the other staff he took with that first year Arroyo opened, so I had to stay behind in San Bernardino, and he started coaching the boy’s team there as soon as it opened in 2001.
So then I graduated high school in 2003, and as soon as I graduated that winter, I started helping him as an assistant coach. I was 18 years old when I first started as his assistant, and then he was suspended for some CIF rule for pulling his players out of the tournament one year in 2005. So this was like early preseason, So I became the head coach in 2005 at 20 years old. These guys are two years younger than me. So it was one of those things where like, why should we listen to you? I had just started playing college that year. So it was a struggle, but you know, he was able to attend the games. He couldn’t be on the sidelines. It was frustrating for him because that was the year they had the best team as far as when the school first opened, and all of those guys were seniors, so for him not to be there on the sidelines barking orders at them was a little different.
I think it could have gone better. I mean, I have no experience at all. And I’m trying to help these guys as best as I could from what I’m learning in college, and we have our best player who is super quiet, doesn’t tell anyone anything, doesn’t lead on the field verbally. Just playing-wise, he busts his butt, and he always led by example on the field. There was no verbal demand to anyone, and so the team could have been better. But I think there are just too many egos, and nobody wanted to listen to the guy that we wanted to step up; he didn’t like to do that. So it was one of those seasons, but we lost in the first rounds in CIF to Palm Springs. And I mean for them, it was an accomplishment, at least they got to the playoffs, but that team had a lot of talent.
What’s your thought process about the future with your team with the pandemic situation?
It’s going to be rough. We really just don’t know what to expect as far as how many games are we going to play. Is it still going to be a dangerous situation, or this pandemic is hard to read? You get one thing, then you hear another thing. I don’t know. It’s just it’s hard to read. So, it will be another obstacle on top of what we already deal with.
Our league this year is changing. So it’s gonna be even more challenging. It became a conference and then split into three leagues from there. So San Andreas League is our league that we were a part of since I played in high school or even before that, and Sunkist are merging into one league, and then Carter is exiting the CBL (citrus belt league) with all the Redlands and Cajon school. So it’s a 13 team conference so-called, but that’s going to be split into three different levels. So you have your top league, your middle league, and your bottom league, and the top league consists of five teams. The other two consists of four, the cool part about being in the top league is, even though obviously it’s the five best teams out of the 13, but three of those get to go to CIF instead of just to like in the other leagues. So they always take up 50% as far as the number of leagues, but it’s an odd number; they always take the higher up. So we’re in the top league, which was my objective. I still tell my AD like I don’t care if I’m playing the state championship, like put them on my schedule. I don’t want to play, the schools around me that we played all my life. I want to get my butt kicked. That’s what I want these kids to experience because there’s only one way you’re going to learn, and it’s not by winning five to zero. So I think that helped.
In the long run, I’ll see they have started doing the points and rankings and all that. I guess losing and beating good teams helped us make that bump into that top league because league wise we weren’t winning a league or, we would come in the top three never came below fourth but still those points in the end against those good teams as probably will bump this into that top league. Now, we don’t play Redlands East Valley twice. Well, it’s unfortunate and fortunate because everybody always banked on those two wins. Well, that’s two wins, which you know, really didn’t belong in our league. So now I’m hoping with these new rankings, they level out, and I’m excited because I really hope it’s what we expect, which is, making it competitive, and there’s nothing better than to have that when you’re going into playoffs because you’re already used to it.
So you’ve been talking about your coaching career, has it always been high school? Have you coached Club or any level besides High School?
It’s always been high school. So I started there in 2003, and then I did that one year by myself as a head coach. Still, then I transitioned to mostly just JV to help the younger guys develop for varsity. Then once my uncle had his first kids, he stepped down and asked me if I was willing to take over, and I told him no the first time because I was still in college, playing and having fun. I don’t want to be responsible for 40 kids. So I didn’t know what that was. So I said no, another teacher took over at that time, and I was still his assistant. So I was always around once he had his kids and was ready to step down, and that’s when I took over. And I was already working at Arroyo as a sub, and I took over the program in 2013. That was my first year, I did as an intern for teaching, so I was already there on-campus kids knew me, so it was a really easy transition.
Do you plan on always staying at AYHS? Do you plan on going to another school or venturing into some another coaching position as elsewhere?
This season is supposed to be my last season as a coach. I had already kind of made that decision, and I told my AD before all this happened, you know that this was it like I needed a break. It just takes a toll on you, and you care more than the actual players, and you can’t teach that, and it gets frustrating. Some of these guys never really played competitively, and nothing against them, but you know parents don’t have time, money, or don’t want to take them, so for most of these guys, to see, like actual club and competitiveness is different. I get maybe a handful of that do, and the rest is kind of “oh, my dad says I’m a forward,” well, guess what, you want to play? You’re going to play defense, so it’s a shocking transition for them because they think it’s easy. After all, they are scoring five goals a game, and over here on Sunday league, they can’t even get the ball off their feet before they get it taken away, so it’s an eye-opener for some. It’s been a long journey for me. I need a break. Like I told my friends and some of my assistants who are former players of mine, if I go back to coaching, it would be somewhere else to test water somewhere else. Change is scary, but it’s always good.
Have you seen talent elsewhere outside of the region of the Inland Empire? Have you coached outside of the IE?
No, never, I mean, Club always presented to me by a lot of my college teammates and making extra money. I just always enjoyed my weekend’s and especially now, with my wife, we like to travel and so it’s like for me if I do Club or take it to another level, it would just be like no time for us at all. So it’s for me, it’s always just stuck to only High School and in the IE.
So based off your experience in playing / coaching or just watching in general. How do you compare IE players to other regions of the country?
I mean, the talent is there. It’s just the work ethic that separates everyone, and that’s what I try to tell them. There are guys that I know play at the next level after college and UPSL. They have all these opportunities, and so if you want to, yeah, of course, you can do that. Well, how much are you willing to sacrifice? How much are you willing to put into it? Because things aren’t just going to happen for you. If you’re trying to work, money’s not going to just show up because you’re good. So for me, it was always hard work beats talent any day. I prefer that, and that’s kind of like the model we’ve tried to push on to these guys, especially trying to go into college where now you’re really competing against everyone in SoCal trying to play in the same school as you, not just students that attend your high school. So it’s one of those things where I’ve seen kids in San Diego, up north, the East Coast I been around, and I try to watch games whether it’s my family’s kids playing, stuff like that, but the talent is everywhere. It’s just how much work you are willing to put into it that is not required for you to do. You know, like extra stuff. Look at the Kobes, the Jordans, and the LeBrons, it’s like, they talk about it all the time. They’re the first ones in and the last ones to leave. How many kids actually do that or even think about that, and in their teenage years, they don’t.
So it’s very rare when you get that one that just understands what you’re saying a hundred percent, and they take it in, and it shows. We had a few this year that we’re hoping to play at Valley college and actually got playing minutes. The hard part for most of these guys is just the support, like do they have that? Support at home because that’s where everything starts, and I always tell them like, I’m here. Let me know if you need anything. Just let me know like I’ll tell you straight up, and they know I don’t sugarcoat anything. So it’s that’s all you can do is try to show them and explain to them. You’ve been there. You’ve done it. You tried, you failed, and that’s why you’re here explaining.
Can you name one positive trait and one negative trait that IE players have in general compared to other players from other places?
One positive trait I would say they want the dream. I think that’s one part of it. I think everyone, coming from low-income areas or anything. They all dream, and then it’s there. The most negative trait is they talk about it too much instead of doing it. So I think that’s the biggest problem, you know, especially with social media now. Everyone is a model, everyone’s a professional, everyone is everything, but that’s just what a picture shows. So, you know, one year, I was so frustrated with the team, and somehow we were too soft. I told them, “you know what, some of you guys are worried about how you look in the uniform for IG than what you’re going to do on the field for us as a team. That’s all that you think about”. The following year most of those guys stepped up; they knew what I was saying. We were able to make a playoff run. Came in second place in the league. It was a different change.
You were mentioning some players trying go to Valley College, have you coached or work with any players that achieved success and if so, what makes those players stand out?
We had our first player come out of Arroyo with a scholarship to Cal State, and he was a man among boys in high school, and we were all excited for him. But in the long run, I always knew school wasn’t his thing. So he played his first year (at Cal state), and he was adjusting to their game, and being that big and fast and strong, it helps everything else. He didn’t stick it out with school, and it didn’t work out for him. But I mean, he got a taste of what it was, how people don’t bend the rules just because you’re good. I mean, the rules are the rules. So that’s kind of reality.
I’ve known players all around me that I grew up with or played with, but most of us kind of didn’t have many opportunities as there are now. Like social media does work for good things, there were options no one in high school told us or advice like don’t eat hot Cheetos and drink a soda before your game. No one would ever think that was going to affect you. Now it’s like these kids are provided with everything. They have nutrition and workouts. I could easily send them a video directly. It’s on them type of thing, but again, I think the area we’re in is just tough because the money is not there to support. Their parents go to work, gone all day, and there are certain limits to what a kid can achieve and try to do on his own. Then the other parents that’s home, able to take them anywhere and not be home tired, cranky after 12 hours of work and yet getting yelled at because they’re just sitting there doing homework instead of washing dishes or something.
It’s hard to say like, I mean Johnny (Johnathan Suarez) playing with Pumas now, he grew up in Fontana. I’ve coached against a bunch of these guys; some of them found a way to get there. It’s awesome to see that because I’ve always known him, and I still play Sunday league and stuff like that. I see kids that I coached against in high school or played for me in high school, it’s fun to talk smack and get up in them and let them know experience kills. It’s way better than youth; we just can’t run as much. So it’s fun to see all that for me personally. To claim I have worked with some of those kids, I can’t say I have, but I’ve seen them grow, and that’s the cool part because you could tell their story from what you saw in your point of view.
Last question, when your career is over or involvement in soccer is done, what kind of legacy would you like to leave to the Inland Empire soccer community?
For me, I could hope that my passion and love for the sport can pass on to as many people as possible because some kids don’t know me until they step on the field with me, and they completely see me as a whole different person on campus. They say that I’m a polite jerk, so one side is business, all talk, and then when it’s time to handle it, it’s a different side. So if I try to pass on as much as I can, I have two boys right now that are about to graduate college, one of them never thought he would even get through school. Unfortunately, he didn’t get to play, and the other one is playing right now and has a potential shot of becoming the starting goalie at Cal State. So, I always tell them that you got to be vocal if you want coaches to give that starting spot. They don’t even know who you are, and they don’t even hear you on the field. You don’t get captain and wear the badge if you cannot bark orders out, and you’re a goalie. You see the whole game like you should see the whole play transpire before it even gets to you. You should already be moving your players around, letting them know that they’re not listening to you, get on them. This is college; it’s not high school anymore. The referees aren’t going to say, “oh, please watch your mouth,” like let them know. It doesn’t matter because everything is left on the field.
I’ve always tried to push them because it takes three things to win a soccer game, as we like to say as Latinos. We always say to play with “those” (Spanish for eggs), hearts, and brains. Those are the three things you need to win a game. Let it all out, that’s always been my main point because I need dedication, and I need hard work. That’s it. Let everything else fall into place with that. If your mind is not there, you’re not going to help us. However, with time, your touch will get better. Your decision making will get better. If you make a mistake, keep playing. Don’t fall into that bad habit because you’ll keep making it because you already made it. So, as they say in Spanish, is “mente fria” but to explain it to them is different. It’s simple, smart soccer; if you play that, you’re set.