Reaching out

Folsom coach giving back in attempt to reach troubled youth
By: Matt Long
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Joe Mihaljevic is in the business of teaching soccer, but lately he’s in it for a more important purpose. For the last month, Mihaljevic, a 49-year-old Folsom resident who runs Mihaljevic Soccer School, has been visiting the Sacramento County Boys Ranch to reach boys that otherwise would not get the opportunity to learn the game nor other life skills that athletics can teach: responsibility, work ethic, teamwork and perseverance to name a few. For 50 years the Boys Ranch, located a few miles down Scott Street outside of Folsom, has served as a temporary home for thousands of the county’s high risk juveniles between the ages of 13 and 18 with a history of serious or extensive delinquent behavior. Like any young person, these boys are in need of a good role model and Mihaljevic is using soccer to reach them. “Soccer’s been really good to me and I’m just giving back,” Mihaljevic said. “These are good boys that have gotten off track a bit. I’m out there trying to be a good role model, be a friend and give advice and teach them soccer. If I can change the life of one kid, then it’s all worth it to me.” Mihaljevic visits the ranch twice a week for two-hour soccer clinics. He’s teaching the boys the same drills and skills that he teaches his club players and the boys who attend, a group as small as three or four to as large as just shy of 20, enjoy it. “I like it because I’m learning from a real coach,” Robert, 16, said. “He teaches us plays and how to make runs and at the end we play real games. It’s fun.” Another resident, Courtney, 15, has been to every soccer session Mihaljevic has held. “I like playing soccer because it keeps me out of trouble,” Courtney said. “He’s teaches us how to play the game. He said it’s a mind game and that you need focus. The best part is playing the games. He’s also taught us stuff about everyday life and that’s good too.” Mihaljevic said by using soccer to teach life skills makes the kids more apt to listen. “I teach them drills through a character-building foundation,” Mihaljevic said. “I use terms like reliability, accountability and dependability. If we’re working on a drill in which we’re marking everyone one-on-one, I tell them that their team is depending on them to do their job. Four guys giving 100 percent are going to beat six guys giving 50 percent.” Mihaljevic knows he wouldn’t be able to reach the boys by running a hard-core soccer practice, so he’s taken a lighter approach and has tried his best to make it fun. “The boys seem to have a good time,” Mihaljevic said. “I’ve gained their trust and I’ve bonded with them and they appreciate that. It’s a refreshing activity for them.” Mihaljevic said he plans to keep coming to the boys ranch as long as he’s allowed to. Unfortunately, the ranch is in danger of being closed down so the program might end sooner than he’d like. Mihaljevic had planned, if interest was high enough, to build a team that would be allowed to leave the facility and play against other teams. If the ranch closes, obviously, the program is over. “In my experience, kids with street smarts have a lot of talent,” Mihaljevic said. “They’re sneaky and crafty and don’t get fooled. These kids do have a lot of talent and I’ve enjoyed working with them. If I can change the life of one kid with what I’m doing out there, then it’s all worth it to me. If I can get a kid to play soccer when they’re released from here instead of being a gang-banger or whatever, that would be great.”