Rob Eastland wasn’t sure what his future held when he arrived in northern Illinois from his home in Portchester Fareham, England to play college soccer at Judson College. After his dreams of playing professional soccer overseas went unrealized, he found a second home in Johnsburg, where he coaches both varsity boys and girls soccer and where he and his wife run the Johnsburg White Lightning travel soccer program. On Saturday, Eastland guided the Skyhawks’ girls team to a fourth-place finish in the IHSA Class 1A state tournament, marking the first time in school history a Johnsburg team won a state medal.
I was the guy who almost made it. So what’s important for me is that kids don’t let anyone set their barriers – they’ve got to set their own standards and they’ve got to really go for their dreams. When you let someone else limit you, well then, it’s over. I learned some tough lessons as a player and as a coach and so it’s real easy to remember back and remember the important things of what you’re really playing for. We put that in the kids. We’re a little community and we’re such a small little area. But you can put fight in anyone if they want it.
We came into Johnsburg 10 years ago and I saw this small little community and a small little high school and I saw the development possibilities because everything fed into that high school. So me and my wife took over the club (team) and we started working with the 8s, 9s and 10s and those are the ones who just graduated this year. The boys were conference champions and the girls finished down at state. Half of our [club] players go to Richmond-Burton and they had the success last year. I just feel like we’ve bred a generation of successful players. It’s been hard work and it’s been a lot of time on the practice field, but it was a time in our life we could do it. For a 10-year model of development, we could judge it in terms of plaques and trophies and conferences we’ve won, but to be honest with you, when we see the kids going on to that next stage of life, we just know they’re going to be successful in whatever they choose.
(Soccer) is one of those sports where you can get so many kids on the field and they all get the chance to touch the ball and join in and play and there’s a place for every sort of ability level because different positions need different types of players. It’s just one of those sports we see so many kids fall in love with. (My wife and I) started this journey together. We met at a soccer field and we both have the passion for the sport, so (the White Lightning) was a project we did together and look what we produced in the last 10 years. It’s something we can both turn around and say, ‘They feel like our kids.’ I think that’s where the significance is – when the relationship off the field has actually enhanced the relationship on the field.
When I go back to England and I sit around a table in a pub with my friends, we don’t get out our medals or accolades. We just talk about the memories and you realize that’s the important thing about the game, coaching that way makes it easier because kids will chase memories a lot more than they’ll chance trophies. I think that’s what we try to impress on them.
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