by Trent Merfeld
In the seven-year period before he came to Cal Poly, Paul Holocher served as the head soccer coach at UC Santa Cruz, Director of Soccer for Santa Cruz and its 5,000 youth players, and founded the Catalyst Soccer Club. He did all of this while also teaching physical education at the private school Aptos Academy.
“It was a labor of love, because it was four part-time jobs that all were interconnected to each other around the game of soccer. That’s kind of how I piecemealed my livelihood together,” Holocher said.
Holocher grew up in the soccer-oriented environment of Seattle, Washington. His father was a former goalkeeper, and his mother grew up around soccer as well. He said soccer was a big part of his childhood and his father would take him and his brother to every Seattle Sounders game, the MLS club in Seattle. Holocher said he regularly attended Sounders’ games, and he didn’t think he missed one home game.
[Seattle] has an amazing soccer culture. Every kid up in Seattle plays soccer. You start when you’re seven years old, and there’s a lot of passion around it,” Holocher said. “I remember the very first game I ever played, I was playing on a little team called the King Fishers. I remember picking up the ball and being able to dribble and do good things. I scored a couple goals and after the game I got a lot of compliments from the team and the parents, and I realized that I loved the game,” Holocher said.
Holocher said doing a massive amount of coaching allowed him to realized where his passion was. He said he likes everything about the game. In his free time he watches soccer, and he loves to read and talk about the game.
“I don’t mind waking up early, and I love being on the field and analyzing the game, and helping players grow and seeing them develop. [I like] just seeing players develop before your eyes, whether over weeks or months, and to see the smile on their face when the team moves the ball well and scores a goal,” Holocher said. “I feel very blessed to have this profession.”
Holocher said this past December he was searching for himself as a coach, trying to find how he could improve himself as a coach for Cal Poly and his players. He had been admiring Spanish soccer club FC Barcelona for the past five to six years, so he decided to observe how they train. Holocher went over with a group of coaches, one of whom was a former assistant coach at Barcelona. He spoke with FC Barcelona’s director of youth. He and various coaches, and observed training sessions in the training grounds.
“It was the biggest a-ha moment of my life. To see how they develop players from seven years of age and on. Going over there was really an epiphany of how to develop into their style of play. We want to develop that here at Cal Poly,” Holocher said.
Holocher said early on in his coaching career he felt like he had to do something special that was his own way of playing. But he said what impressed him was how Barcelona was so open to the whole world with what they do.
“It’s up to you to now as a coach whether you want to reinvent this wheel or implement this wheel. So what I’ve decided is to begin implementing that wheel because it’s a beautiful way to play the game.” Holocher said.
Holocher said FC Barcelona’s great soccer culture was evidenced by how humble they were when they scored. He mentioned how Barcelona’s players would join together in a circle and hug each other as a sign of unity after they scored.
Holocher said, “They emphasize humility, love for the club, love for each other, and a hard work ethic. I think that’s at the core culture of any winning team.”
Holocher said Barcelona emphasizes a lot of unselfishness and that is exactly what he wants to have.
“That is the kind of stuff you want to have, to develop the whole person, not just the player,” Holocher said. “It’s very similar to the Cal Poly and Mustang way. We’re here to teach much more than X’s and O’s, we’re here to be good people for each other.”
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The last meeting in San Luis Obispo between Cal Poly and UCSB set attendance records, and most remember the historic ending. After a goal in the finals minutes of the game, Center Back Pat Sigler hit a game-winning PK that sent a roar throughout the city.
Sigler said, “It was once in a lifetime, and something I won’t forget.”
Sigler said it really makes it that much more fun when the fans are involved, and it brings the schools together.
Listen in to my interview with former Cal Poly Center Back Sigler, where he talks about his relationship with Holocher, and the emotions in the UCSB game.
“Just to see passion from the student body brings goosebumps to my arms. Every game is special, especially when you have a rivalry one and a half hours away, so there’s no love loss between the programs,” Holocher said. “After the game, it was like a gigantic dance party on the field. [It was] just a testament to what sports can do.”
The Santa Barbara game had an even bigger meaning to assistant coach Ryan Hopkins, who was going through a very difficult time in his life. He had multiple deaths in his family in the fall, so he said the Santa Barba game was a special moment at a time when he needed one.
“The game in of itself was an emotional time just because of the fans and the big rivalry,” Hopkins said. “It was kind of what I needed to get out of the things I was going through, and get me back [to where] it was okay to move on with life again.”
Holocher showed he isn’t just a coach, but a friend for his fellow coaches.
“Paul was very supportive and called [to check in]. When I had to leave for a little while, he was very supportive in the time off, and when I came back he was checking in,” Hopkins said.
Hopkins said that what makes Cal Poly Soccer so successful is the amount of time that Holocher puts in.
“He puts so much into it, it’s not a job for him, it’s a lifestyle,” Hopkins said.
Holocher worked hard as a young coach for himself, and for the improvement of his players. Now, an older and more experienced coach, not much has changed.
Sigler said,” Paul transformed me into the player I am now. He would work with me day in and day out. I’m the player I am today because of the [three coaches].
Holocher mentioned that the hardest part of coaching can be the short term nature of college sports. In college soccer, there are 20 games in two and a half months, so it can be a challenge to balance the importance of winning over player development, an area that Holocher tries to focus on.
“I want to be remembered as a coach that brought passion, loved his players, and helped develop his players,” Holocher said. Also, as someone that did more than just win or lose games. Someone who brought a work ethic and character that the school could be proud of.”
Get to know Paul Holocher
If you weren’t a coach you would probably be a: Filmmaker because I love movies. I love going out on a Friday night and being there with a bunch of people.
Favorite Athlete: Johan Cruyff from Holland, and most recently Xavi from Barcelona because he’s a genius on the field.
Favorite Quote: “Find a way to win” by my coach Steve Sampson at Santa Clara.
Also: “It’s not the end of the world. My dog will still lick my face whether I win or lose.” – Michael Biondi, Olympic champion.
Favorite Food: Central coast tri-trip.
Pick One Drink: A good glass of red wine or water.
Pick One Band: Kimbra.
Favorite Thing About Cal Poly: How stimulating of an environment it is. There’s really great people, and it’s just a beautiful place to wake up to every morning.
Funny Moment This Past Season: I was teasing the guys that they were drinking coconut water, and I guess it’s supposed to help you in some way. So after we lost a game I told the guys that the coconut water wasn’t working and we had a good laugh about it.