South America is known for its soccer culture and is the birthplace of some of the biggest names in the sport today. The continent has produced a number of good soccer players, such as former NSU player and current men’s soccer assistant coach Juan Rivera.
“Just being born in Columbia, that’s the normal thing. Before you even start talking, you start playing soccer,” said Rivera.
He emigrated from Medellin to South Florida at age 8.
“Over there, [soccer] is a religion. It was still in my blood. It’s kind of your one opportunity to become someone,” said Rivera. “You either pursued soccer or you went to school. You couldn’t do both. Here there are more opportunities.”
Rivera needed to make some minor adjustments to his game when he first arrived in the U.S.
“Style is more technical [in Columbia]. Here it is more tactical,” said Rivera. “Also depends on the players you have.”
Although soccer is the preferred sport of his native country, it wasn’t the preferred sport in his family. He and his father didn’t quite see eye to eye on soccer, but Rivera was eventually able to pursue the sport he loves.
“It’s funny because my dad played basketball his whole life,” said Rivera.
Soccer has consumed Rivera’s life. He played through his childhood and continued through college. Even before he graduated, he had already begun to think about coaching. Rivera did not want to be apart from the sport he loves for too long.
He was a four-year star at American High School, in Miami, before attending NSU. He played at NSU from 2007-2011 and a year after graduating, became the assistant coach for his former team.
“I’ve always had the idea; I just didn’t think it would happen this early in my career,” said Rivera. “I was working on campus and I always had a good relationship with Head Coach Joe Depalo.”
Although he had long thought about being a coach, Rivera had to think about what he wanted to focus on with his team.
“I’m a player’s coach. I got the experience playing here as a player, so I know what players are like. I know the system. I have an easier relationship with players than if I went somewhere [else],” said Rivera.
He has seen all the hard work his former coaches, including DePalo, have put into their jobs to help make their teams better. Rivera knows he will also have to put in this same amount of work if he is to expect results from his players. He has to be comfortable not only with his team, but with his own coaching style.
“At the beginning I was kind of timid. Now I’m getting more comfortable and easy going. You won’t hear me shouting a lot,” said Rivera. “The main thing is, regardless of results or how things are going, is to always leave 110 percent. You always have to be happy with the work that you do.”
Rivera often thinks about the type of coach he would have wanted as a player. He uses those memories to help mold the way he coaches.
“As a player I wanted to have a conversation with the coach, have that freedom. I want players to come to me with no problems. Speak more as a friend than just a coach,” said Rivera. “I had to make that separation between being a teammate of some of the guys on the team to now a coach.”
His competitive playing career may have ridden off into the sunset, but his newborn coaching career has a lot of life left. Rivera will learn every day from new experiences and challenges that he will ultimately face as a young coach, but it is how he deals with these problems that will make him the coach he wants to be.