DeKALB — Women’s soccer Head Coach Julie Colhoff is in her second year at the helm of the program. Colhoff and the Huskies finished last season with a 2-18 record. The team is currently 1-2-1 and has 14 matches left in the season, including 11 Mid-American Conference matches.
Colhoff is a long-time soccer player, including time as a four-year player at Loyola University – Chicago. She is originally from Buffalo Grove, Illinois, where she attended Stevenson High School.
The Northern Star interviewed Colhoff on her experience with soccer. The following are excerpts of that interview. They have been lightly edited for clarity and consistency.
Q: You played soccer at Loyola; how do you best remember your experience there?
A: It was just amazing. I had a blast. I loved playing college soccer, and I think it’s a major reason why I do what I do today. I miss playing for sure, but coaching is the next best thing. I think the time was great — being able to work with teammates you care about on the field and off — you want to push each other to be better. We were able to win a couple championships. I think, all things considered, I had a successful playing career, and one I’m definitely grateful for.
Q: Outside of playing for schools, what are some of your other soccer experiences?
A: After I graduated from college, I moved to Guatemala for a year, and I worked for a nonprofit called Soccer Without Borders. I was starting educational programs and soccer programs for young girls and boys in Guatemala.
Then I studied abroad during my masters and went to Spain. When I was there, I got to coach with the professional teams that have youth development programs.
Starting in college, I coached with a company called Coerver Soccer. I worked by just developing skills in young players for many years as a camp coach.
Soccer has opened a lot of doors for me, and I’ve made a lot of connections. It’s like an international language in itself, so you can kind of go anywhere and make friends through it. It’s been a great experience for me — a great vehicle to take me all over the world.
Q: What made you want to start coaching soccer?
A: I wanted to be a high school basketball coach. It wasn’t until I went to college that I realized I could be a women’s division one soccer coach.
I never knew what I wanted to do heading into college, but I did know I wanted to help people. Once I realized coaching soccer was an opportunity, it was kind of like the perfect storm for me.
I’m crazy competitive. I think my family, friends, coworkers and players would agree with that. I love soccer; it’s been a part of my life longer than I can remember.
The most important piece is that this is the best way for me to give back through a game that has given me a lot. I always say I tricked someone into paying me to do what I love, so I’m not turning back.
Q: What led you to choose NIU? How did you get here?
A: Growing up in Illinois, I’ve known about NIU my whole life. My brother-in-law went to NIU, I played against NIU as a player and I coached against NIU at every single school I coached at. I always knew about the school and the program, and I always thought to myself, ‘there’s no reason this team shouldn’t be at the top of the MAC.’
When the opportunity arose, I thought it was a really good fit. I knew I wanted to continue coaching at the division one level. I wanted to be the head coach, but for me, fit is really important.
When it came down to NIU, what I was looking for was an opportunity to be able to have an impact on people. I wanted to be able to coach in a way that I’d be supported by a department because I’m really big on the holistic development of my student-athletes.
I think we have great leadership and people that genuinely care about the well-being of the student-athletes.
For me, that just kind of made it a no-brainer. It was a great fit and still relatively close to home, so I get to see my grandma, my parents and my family. They can come to the games, and it’s great to see the support in the stands.
Q: What was the biggest takeaway from your first season here at NIU?
A: Probably one of the biggest things that plagued us last season was injuries. We’ve been trying to figure out all the ways that we can help reduce the likelihood of injuries.
Obviously we can’t prevent injuries necessarily, but we’ve done a lot of things to make sure we’re keeping bodies as healthy as possible.
The coaches are empowering the players to make sure they’re doing everything they can to stay healthy, and that’s a major focus of ours.
The other thing is building culture. I think culture takes time and some patience on both the coaches’ side and the players’ side.
It’s something you have to constantly be focused on and chipping away at, and that’s both on and off the field.
Q: Who’s been a role model for you in your life, whether knowing them personally or not?
A: My parents, grandparents and siblings have influenced my life greatly. They’ve allowed me to live out my dream, so I’m super grateful for them. In terms of coaching, the person that made me want to become a coach was my high school basketball coach, Frank Mattucci. I keep write ups from my high school basketball games from him. I pull from them for a little inspiration from time-to-time. The way I coach stems a lot from the way he coached. Being one of his players, I always felt like he knew his x’s and o’s and definitely taught them well. He also constantly was making sure we were developing as players especially in our mental toughness. Those are things that I’ve kind of pegged, borrowed and stolen from him to try and implement as well. I think that’s the inspiration behind me wanting to become a coach.
Q: Who’s your favorite soccer player, or any athlete from any sport?
A: It’s always evolving. Growing up if you would’ve seen my room as a kid, I had posters everywhere of Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan. Those were the two. The greatest of all time that I looked up to. I think on the current Women’s National Team roster, I’m really looking forward to seeing how winger Crystal Dunn develops. I like the kind of grit that she plays with. I think that she’s versatile. She can play on the attacking side and the defensive side. Obviously the Women’s National Team is an awesome team to be watching, and we use their film at practices as well to help teach our players.
Q: What is your favorite soccer team and any other sports teams that you may follow in general?
A: If I were to pick one team it’d be the Women’s National Team for sure, I think just watching their dominance, and their mentality. They know they’re going to win this game, but they work for it and I think they’re a good example in a lot of ways not just for young women’s soccer players, but for people everywhere. The national team is willing to use their platform to speak up about things other than just soccer, so I think kind of holistically that I really admire them on the field and off the field. I’ve always liked the way F.C. Barcelona plays the “tiki taka” style. Some other professional teams I like to watch are the Chicago Bulls, I mean I’m a Chicago girl so I gotta support them. Chicago Cubs, I got to rep them when they won the World Series that was an awesome time.
Q: If you could play soccer anywhere in the world, where would it be?
A: I think it would be amazing to be able to rep your hometown, so probably like to be able to play for the Chicago Red Stars. I think that would be an awesome opportunity. I loved my time in Spain, so to have an opportunity to play in Spain would be awesome. I think to be local and inspire the people that are growing up in the same neighborhood you grew up in is a really cool opportunity to be kind of that role model.