Jeff Gouveia is no stranger to the Bret Harte boys’ soccer program. For the last two years, he has patrolled the Bullfrog sideline as the head junior varsity coach. During the 2019-20 season, he knew that would be the last year for former head coach Joel Barnett.
At the end of the 2019- 20 season, Barnett stayed true to his word and stepped down from his duties as overseer of the program. Gouveia answered the call and accepted the vacant position and is now Bret Harte’s head varsity boys’ soccer coach.
Regardless of how many years a coach has been at the youth, freshman or JV level, transitioning to varsity is always a challenge. And if that one simple fact wasn’t enough, Gouveia’s inaugural season is in the middle of a global pandemic. Not only will he have to figure out how to coach at the varsity level, but he will have to deal with new rules and restrictions. And yet, with everything that is currently sitting on his plate, all Gouveia wants to do is dig into soccer.
Gouveia is inheriting a program that hasn’t tallied many wins since its last Mother Lode League championship in 2010. Since winning back-to-back league championships in 2009 and 2010, the Bullfrogs have posted a 39-60-12 league record. Although Gouveia knows that history may not be on his side, he’s focusing all of his attention on the future and not the past.
“I’m certainly not too terribly concerned about the past, because I cannot fix that,” Gouveia said. “I am determined to turn the soccer program around. I believe in these athletes who I’ve been developing for over a decade. So, I know what I’m bringing to the program and I know every little idiosyncrasy about every athlete, and I think there’s something there.”
Last season, Bret Harte went 0-9-1 in league play, with a number of close defeats. A good batch of veteran players graduated, so the pool of seniors isn’t very deep. Gouveia is dealing with a young roster, but a roster that he has worked with at the lower level for the past two years.
“We will be a very young team,” Gouveia said. “We had eight departing seniors and we may have, at best, three seniors this year. The program is going to take some time to develop, especially with these younger players. But we have a lot of talent and I think we have potentially a change tactically that I think may help bring us along. I’m also working on bringing on several additional coaches and I think that will help develop the team even further.”
Because he has such a young team, Gouveia will get the chance to dive deep into coaching. And while his squad may currently be young, he hopes that with age and dedication comes obvious improvement.
“My coaching philosophy is develop, develop, develop,” Gouveia said. “I think one of the reasons why I have a good relationship with the players and the reason why we had such a strong turnout last year, was because I believe in the ability of every athlete who wants to play. Given the right kind of attention and the right kind of training, every player has the chance to develop into something.”
Gouveia grew up playing soccer in Oakland, but later shifted his focus to rowing and competitive skiing. He got back into soccer when his children started showing interest. He started to coach them at the youth level and now will continue to coach his sons at Bret Harte. One of his sons is a junior, while the other is a freshman.
For some, there’s a struggle between being a coach and a parent. Gouveia learned how to deal with that years ago.
“Maybe 10 years ago when I started coaching them, I would have said that it’s really difficult,” Gouveia said. “But now that I’ve done it for almost 15 years, it’s the least of my concerns. My kids are strong athletes who are very competitive and very disciplined. I don’t have any issues with my sons. That’s a non-issue.”
What will be an issue for Gouveia is trying to find time to get his players on the field. With three sports seasons being reduced to two (because of COVID-19), football, boys’ JV and varsity soccer, along with girls’ JV and varsity soccer, will all be vying for time on Dorroh Field. With all three programs playing in season at the same time, getting to practice on an empty field won’t come around often.
“It’s very unfortunate, and I can tell you after having only been here a couple of years, it’s very difficult to do with just the other boys’ team on the field,” Gouveia said. “Now you are talking about two boys’ teams, two girls’ teams and the football program. We are going to be reduced to much less time on the field, with fewer days and fewer hours and that’s going to translate into less time to develop these athletes and get ready for the season.”
Following the official start to soccer season on Feb. 22, Bret Harte will have just four weeks before the start of league play. During that time, Gouveia has scheduled eight preseason games. With field time difficult to get, he has no problem having his young team learn on the go.
“We are going to train in real time,” Gouveia said. “I would rather not sit around trying to figure out how to squeeze all these players onto a small field.”
Gouveia knows what he’s looking for in a Bret Harte soccer player. He wants dedication, passion and an all-around love for the game. But there are two other intangibles he hopes his players can show off.
“Soccer players need to be brave and confident and that’s probably one of the most challenging things to teach young athletes,” Gouveia said. “They have to dispel whatever is going on in their heads that might say, ‘That guy looks too big,’ or, ‘He’s too fast,’ or, ‘Their record is 10-0.’ I need to teach them to be brave and confident, because that can produce amazing results when they combine those things.”