Q&A: Carrie Ollom, Tennessee TOPSoccer Coach of the Year

A state championship coach for FC Alliance, which grooms young soccer players for competitive opportunities, Carrie Ollom (pictured with her mother) was named US Youth Soccer TOPSoccer Tennessee Coach of the Year for her work building FCA's program for young people with special needs.

What's the difference in your work for FC Alliance and TOPSoccer?

I coach two girls' teams for the club (U15 and U17) and coach the goalkeepers. Our TOPSoccer unit was started through FC Alliance and has been running for two years, once in the spring and once in the fall. It's an eight- to nine-week session that runs on Saturday mornings at Amherst Field House and each session is one and a half hours long. The two programs do intersect since most of the buddies, volunteers, and coaches come from FC Alliance. We also have buddies that come from the entire Knoxville community and other local soccer clubs that volunteer their time and help make this program great—I created a list of over 35 kids last season and never have a problem getting volunteers

Is there a TOPS player who has particularly succeeded?

Every player in the program has shown improvement. It's fun to watch them come out of their shells and by the end of the session they have more confidence and have improved their soccer skills. It is always fun when parents tell me about the players going to bed with their shin guards and socks on Friday night since they are so excited for the Saturday session. Another great thing is the improvement some of the kids have made physically. Many of the players attend physical therapy every week and this can improve their muscle and motor development. One of the girls couldn't run 50 yards in less than a minute and was able to cut that down to 20 seconds—she now just takes off.

What do you like best about coaching TOPS?

I have really enjoyed watching the bond that the buddies create with the players. Some of the buddies are now considering seeking special-ed degrees, for example. We were also very fortunate to have the Lady Vols Soccer team volunteer their time during the spring season; the head coach, Brian Pensky, also invited the players in both the fall and spring to attend a Lady Vols game. He invited them to come into the circle for his pregame speech and let them sit down on the field with the players during the game. This program also doesn't run without the great parents who are so committed to TOPSoccer and their wonderful kids--some parents drive as much as an hour and half to get here each week because it's the only sport offered to their kids. I am so honored to receive this award but it should really go to these kids and the parents, buddies, volunteers, and coaches.

What is your least favorite part of coaching in general?

The tough part is that things aren't always fair in sports. That's a lifelong lesson; that's life, but it's tough. Ninety-five percent of the players I coach are pleasers, really hard workers, and the hardest thing is when you have to deliver the truth about their ability. You're dealing with parents, and their children, and you never want to hurt anyone but it's important to be able to convey the truth. To balance that, though, I have had the opportunity to coach many wonderful kids and many great teams and been blessed to win state championships. I get to watch kids develop into great young ladies—I get to see them get jobs, get married, and have kids of their own—and some even go on to coach.

What was the highest level you reached as a soccer player?

I started playing at 7 years old, starting as a field player and then became goalkeeper at 11 years old. and very fortunate to play Division 1 Soccer at a wonderful university and play soccer at Samford University in Birmingham—I was the starting goalkeeper for four years and graduated with a fantastic education.

Did you want to be keeper or was it a default?

I made that change to better my position—I could be the goalkeeper on the top-rated team, or line player on the second team. It was also better for my personality, though I'm kind of short for keeper. It improved my ability for my other sports as well: I played softball as shortstop and point guard at basketball.

How much longer do you plan to stay involved with TOPS and FC?

A very long time. I hope to continue to grow TOPSoccer both in this area as well as the surrounding areas of Tennessee.

Do you yourself still get out and play?

I did play on a very successful team in an adult league up to a about a year ago, but now I can't play. I have a lot of sports injuries, and recently had some surgery for that. Once I am healthier, I will get back out there. In the meantime though, I can stay close to sports with coaching—my mouth still works just fine.

For more information on joining TOPSoccer, e-mail Ollom at TOPSoccer@fcallianeknox.org; to learn more about all FC Alliance programs: fcallianceknox.org