Soccer Stars coordinator Riccardo Oliva has soccer in his blood. He reminisces about being a 7-year-old boy playing soccer barefoot and then his first pair of shoes arrived. Since Oliva’s goal was to play professional soccer, he decided it made sense to sleep in his soccer cleats because he was so excited to have them. Ever since then, Oliva has been about soccer and nothing else. Three years ago, in conjunction with the City of Rohnert Park and Rohnert Park Community Services, Oliva started Soccer Stars, a recreational league intended to teach the game of soccer to children ranging from 5-10, both male and female.
“I started the program since we didn’t have any year around program for soccer,” Oliva said. “Soccer would end in November, then there was no soccer until the next fall. I saw how many kids we had interested in doing a sport and I had an idea to talk with Rohnert Park City and Community Services to make some program for year around.”
“The program is teaching soccer; it’s not competitive,” Oliva said.
Coach Riccardo said he shared his program with Chris Morgan, Rohnert Park Community Services Coordinator and the City of Rohnert Park. They thought it was a good idea and then Soccer Stars was born.
Oliva was clear to emphasize he didn’t start this program for money, he started this program because he has a love for his community and felt a calling to serve it.
“They are paying $35 for every twelve sessions,” Oliva said. “It’s not much money because I told them it wasn’t about making money. I always like doing something for kids because I have five myself.”
“I understand that some families don’t have time to bring their kid into some expensive program,” Oliva said. “This program is perfect because it’s accessible for everybody. It’s very enjoyable for kids.”
Under normal circumstances, Oliva would have two groups of 20 kids. One group is 5-7 and the other is 8-10. However, because of Covid-19, the program is much more limited. According to Oliva, the program consists of just 10 players for each age group and there’s massive safety measures required to play.
“Rohnert Park City gave me the new Covid rules for the program,” Oliva said. “They told me I had to show them a plan of how I would work with the kids during this pandemic.”
Coach Riccardo combined ideas from different soccer programs to come up with a plan that was feasible for not only California, but also Sonoma County as well. The plan consisted of lots of sanitizer, temperature checks, mask wearing by the parents and assigning the ten kids their own personal space within the confines of the field.
“My plan consisted of groups of 10 kids, standing six feet apart,” Oliva said. “There was a spot for me to stand by myself and the parents also had to be way behind the field wearing masks. I also made sure to clean the hands of each kid when they arrived at the field.”
Other parts of the plan included each child having their own shirt and soccer ball. Finally, whenever a child leaves the field to use the bathroom, he or she has to wash their hands with sanitizer before being let back on the field.
“I only spend one hour teaching soccer and an hour and a half sanitizing everything,” Oliva said. “I spend more time sanitizing than I do teaching soccer, but it’s not a problem for me because my goal is keeping the kids safe.”
Anyone who is a parent can understand the toll Covid has taken. Children need to be free, need to run and get exercise and that’s been harder to come by because of the Covid restrictions. Coach Riccardo and the Soccer Star parents have always had good communication and trust. He says the parents are extremely grateful for his program.
“The parents are very grateful,” Oliva said. “They are very grateful to have somebody doing something good for our community during this difficult time because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to coach and teach soccer in this new format.”
World events like the Covid-19 pandemic reveal people’s true character. Some people prove they are selfish and don’t care about anyone but themselves; others show they are creative and maybe pick up a new hobby and others like Coach Riccardo show they are good-hearted and care about their community and will do whatever they can, even if it means changing up the format to suit life in 2020.
Soccer Stars has been a family for three years now and it’s clear they have gotten even closer in the three months (April, May and June) the program was away. There’s no reason to think Coach Riccardo won’t continue to serve the City of Rohnert Park as he has done for many years.