Kim DeCesare making good on a long-held goal with Elon Women’s Soccer


Kim DeCesare wrote her retirement letter while awaiting a plane to North Carolina and her first college coaching job. Since landing, she’s made peace with her past and now embraces the future.

I thought, I want to write something that people can use to help them reflect on their own experiences and kind of reassure myself at the same time,” she told Backline Soccer during a phone interview last week. “Even though my professional career wasn’t the best and wasn’t the most successful that it still was an important part of my lifeI also feel like I‘ve learned so much … I learned a lot about myself, soccer, and the world really.”

For 20 years, Kim DeCesare has identified as a soccer player. The beautiful game of football has taken her from Long Island to North Carolina, around the world, and back again. On June 14, DeCesare was named assistant coach of the  Elon University Women’s Soccer program, just 40 miles west of Duke University where she played college soccer.

In the piece for Women’s Soccer Zone, DeCesare beautifully discussed  understanding to appreciate a career plagued by injury and perhaps void of the traditional success and accolades of a professional athlete.

“I am not here looking for sympathy or pity.  This is an opportunity for whoever is reading to know that careers, which are not entirely packed with countless minutes, prestigious awards and multiple championships, should still be recognized as successful.  It is all about how you define achievement and what you decide to learn from it.  I consider myself lucky to have the ability to move on from things quickly and see the bigger picture.  Let’s be honest, you don’t learn as many lessons from the easy, happy and positive experiences, as you do from the shitty ones.”

Back to something familiar

It is not unusual for players to shift to coaching once they hang up the boots. However, it’s not as common to coach, train, and referee as a pre-teen. DeCesare enrolled in a referee course at age 11. “It was a six-week referee course. It was three hours a night for a couple of nights a week.”

She served as a referee for two years before becoming a personal trainer.  “Around 13 of 14 years old, I started coaching little kids. I remember I would ride my bike to my neighbor’s house, pick her up on my bike, ride to the park and trainer her for an hour and earn $5-$10.”

By her first two college seasons at Duke University, DeCesare knew she wanted to coach at the college level, “By my freshman or sophomore year of college, I was like, ‘I want to be a college coach. I want to be a coach at Duke.'” As she begins her first year with Elon, DeCesare has much to learn. Yet, starting a second soccer career one county over from Duke must feel pretty good.

He latest international stop was in the Netherlands with PSV Eindhoven. She moved in hopes of reviving an injury-plagued career but again was sidelined with a broken leg. It was during the time DeCesare circled back to some WoSo news she had heard in passing. “I heard that Elon was getting a new women’s soccer coaching staff,  but I remember not even thinking about it [much]. Then [around the time] I broke my leg … I thought maybe I should see what the update is with that.” By then, Elon had already announced their new head coach Neil Payne and assistant coach Paul Babba

“I made a phone call to my college coach and asked, ‘Do you know the coach they just hired at Elon … are they already done with their staff?” As fate would have it, Duke head coach Robbie Church was set to meet with coach Payne for lunch the week DeCesare reached out. Introductions and conversations moved from there.
Straight from the Netherlands, DeCesare traveled to Alamance County, North Carolina. However, most of her time thus far has been spent recruiting, most recently in California. 

Female coaches in women’s soccer

While out west, she was shocked to be in the company of other female coaches. DeCesare is aware of the stereotypes and biases that come with being a woman in this profession. “I think it’s a tricky situation, being a female coach,” she told Backline. “I don’t think [female coaches] are as well received as men.”  DeCesare added she hopes not fall into the stereotypes of women in coaching. Stereotypes are just one potential burden female coaches face.
In a piece for SB Nation, Stephanie Yang outlines the current gender gap in soccer. While the participation of girls and women continues to rise, female coaches have declined since Title IX. ” Soccer is growing, but not for everyone, and that’s a problem,” writes Yang.  “The ugly truth of the beautiful game is that bias, cultural expectation, and lack of opportunity keep it out of the hands of women who want to help it flourish.” All the more reason DeCesare was eager to take the opportunity at Elon. “I knew I had to go for it,” she remarked.
Six years in professional soccer may mean shaking off the rust when it comes to office tasks. “I’ve been joking with my friends that like I have to learn excel (laughs). That kind of stuff is a little bit of a learning curve for me.” On the pitch, neither DeCesare nor her colleagues lack confidence or familiarity with the game. Collectively, the  Elon staff has over 31 years of soccer knowledge—not counting Kim, or the collective playing experience of Payne and Babba.   

Laying the foundation

Fresh off writing her own realizations about her soccer career, DeCesare is in position to inspire the next generation of players in soccer and beyond. As for her, mastering the interplay between the social, tactical, and physical well enough to coach is the next challenge. Her role at Elon is to facilitate the learning of the players and act as somewhat of a liaison between lessons taught on the pitch and the practical use of soccer skills elsewhere in life. “I think that’s important as well. That it not just be about soccer, or school, or a social life. I want to inspire them to believe they can become a better soccer player every day.”
DeCesare also emphasized— a good-natured but deliberate manner— she wants to win.
The Phoenix posted a 9-6-4 record in 2017, but struggled in CAA Conference play (2-4-3). The team opens the season August 7 versus former SoCon rival Furman. DeCesare returns to Durham to face her alma mater on August 26.
Image courtesy of Leanne Keator
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