Team Offutt member coaches team to international competition

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Rachelle Blake
  • Staff Sgt. Rachelle Blake
Growing up in the '70s and '80s playing football and baseball in El Paso, Texas, some may wonder how one Team Offutt member ended up coaching soccer, leading his team to the Schwan's USA Cup and having them selected as ambassadors for the international Handshake for Peace program.

"I started coaching soccer in 1995 while stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska," said retired U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Richard Esparza, 55th Medical Group medical readiness manager. "My kids wanted to play and all the kids' parents were asking who knew anything about soccer. I was the only one who knew a little bit about it, so I was elected as the coach; and that was the start of a great love."

He has been coaching for nearly two decades now at various levels to include clubs, high schools and collegiate. Last year, he juggled coaching two Omaha teams for the Phoenix Futbol Club.

"I coached under-18 girls premier team Freedom and under-15 girls premier team Fiera," Esparza said. "Both teams went on to win their respective premier age divisions in the Fall 2013. Freedom competed in the Las Vegas Mayor's Cup International Showcase and finished 2nd place in their division."

This year, he has continued coaching with just Fiera. He said the team practices four times a week with a game or tournament mixed in.

"I coach Fiera with another great coach, Gauthier Scherlizin," Esparza said. "He and I complement each other in our coaching styles, abilities and team direction. That in itself allows for a positive outcome and is a definitely a win-win situation for the team."

Another new addition to this year's coaching team is his youngest daughter Victoria Caswell, he added.

"I coached her all the way from micro-soccer through high school and now she has decided to join the coaching arena," Esparza said. "She tells me this is a way for her to give back to a sport that provided lots of opportunity and growth for her."

Victoria said the girls they coach look up to Esparza in a way that makes her want to become a role model for them as well.

"What made me want to become a soccer coach was seeing the positive influence my dad had on everybody," Caswell said. "He's helped so many others, including myself, with the way we look at the game. He's just genuinely a good person. Whenever he coaches, I can tell that whomever he is talking to, they are taking in the information."

She said making the transition from soccer player to coach has been very difficult, but she is starting to get the hang of it and having patience and compassion is the key.

"There have been so many instances in my life where my dad has been there for me in times of hopelessness, not only as a coach, but as a father," Victoria said. "He always taught me to keep my head up, and how to look past my mistakes with the countless 'that's okay, you'll get it next time.' I hope one day I will be able to impact these girls' lives as much as he has. Slowly but surely, I aspire to be just like my father."

Team Fiera recently competed in the largest youth soccer tournament in the Western Hemisphere, called Schwan's USA Cup, in Blaine, Minnesota, where they were selected as the U.S. representative to serve as ambassadors for the new Handshake for Peace program. The mission of the program is to build a better future through soccer.

The other team, Oslo's Ovrevall-Hosle, was from Norway. At the opening of the tournament the teams met on the field to shake hands.

"We're showing that it doesn't matter what culture you're from, what language you speak or what your beliefs are," Scherlizin said. "Everyone can find a common bond through this game we love."

For Esparza, the sport isn't his only concern when it comes to his players.

"I love coaching because it allows me to interact with young people when they are still open and receptive to a positive influence," Esparza said. "I not only try to teach Fiera a little bit about soccer, but also about the importance of being good students, people and stewards of the game."

From his previous team, Freedom, eight of the 12 players who were graduating seniors and wanting to play college soccer, received soccer scholarships.

"I frequently remind them, scholarships wouldn't be possible if they don't put in the time with their school work; they are called student-athletes for a reason and the school piece comes is the fluff," Esparza said. "They do all the hard work, and I get to sing their praises to prospective coaches. Seeing my players get selected and offered college scholarships is a great feeling, and then receiving a 'thank you' from the player and parents is the most makes all the blood, sweat and tears worth it."

If all his accomplishments weren't enough, Esparza has taken his love to a new level recently.

"I am in my fourth year as President of Nebraska State Soccer, so I do try to give back to this great game not only from a coaching perspective, but also from leading from the front as I represent the state to the U.S. Youth Soccer Association and U.S. Soccer Federation," said Esparza.

He said he has no plans of slowing down.

"I plan on coaching until I physically can't do it any longer," he concluded.