By Rick Assad
It’s hardly a stretch to say that Brady Riggs is a girls’ soccer and golf whisperer despite the two sports being very much unalike.
“There are subtle differences. What I’ve discovered over the years is that all successful athletes share a commitment to their sport and don’t see practice as work or a chore and are asking to be coached to improve,” said Riggs, a graduate of Burroughs High and its soccer coach since 2013 along with being a coach to over 100 NCAA college golfers ranging from Division I, II and III as well as the PGA and LPGA tours. “This is a constant regardless of the sport.”
Riggs has two athletic daughters, Maddie, who is older and plays golf on the University of California Irvine women’s team and Abbie, who is younger and is taking online courses at Santa Barbara City College, but hopes to transfer to the University of Hawaii, Hilo, where she plans to play on the women’s soccer team.
“I love competition. I play favorites as a coach, no question,” he admitted. “My favorites are the players that give our team the best chance to win. That doesn’t always mean they are the fastest, strongest or most talented, but that they give all to the team and can help us in the most difficult games.”
Being a leader on the pitch is one way to impress Riggs, who played golf at Burroughs and then on the men’s squad at San Jose State and later Cal State University Northridge, where he finished up his studies and golf career.
“As a coach, I expect my best players to lead by example, especially at practice,” he noted. “You will only go as far as your best players can inspire their teammates by their own work ethic. This is a challenge for all coaches, regardless of the level.”
Like so many coaches, Riggs, whose 2019 soccer team went 16-4-2 and 12-1-1 for first place in the Pacific League and saw that group advance to the CIF Southern Section second round, losing to Hemet 4-2, and snapping a nine-match winning streak, have used UCLA men’s basketball coach John Wooden as a blueprint.
Wooden, whose squads garnered a still-record 10 NCAA titles across 12 seasons, emphasized orderly and efficient practices during his 27 years on the Westwood campus.
“Conducting practice is my favorite part of coaching. There’s nothing better than watching the team work together to achieve their goals for the time and then asking them to do it better,” said Riggs, who worked with Danielle Kang in 2010 and 2011 when she won the United States Amateur Championship and was ranked the No. 1 female amateur in the world. “That’s the teaching component that keeps me on the sideline.”
COVID-19 has thrown a monkey wrench into the upcoming soccer season, but Riggs sees a silver lining in those who are battling this horrible virus.
“It has helped me re-evaluate what is most important to me. My respect for frontline health care workers grows by the day,” he said. “We all owe them for the courage they have showed and their dedication to their patients.”
When it comes to soccer, Riggs, who was inducted into the Burroughs Athletic Hall of Fame, has employed a successful system that has seen his teams qualify for the playoffs seven straight seasons.
“Players need to fulfill their role on the team for the group to be successful. On the defensive side of the pitch, discipline, consistency and intelligence is critical to preventing goals,” he stated. “On the offensive side, creativity, intuition and skill produce the magic of scoring a goal, which is the most difficult thing to do in the sport. If players aren’t willing to play their role, the team suffers. From that standpoint, soccer requires a team mentality.”
How much of a challenge is coaching girls’ soccer for Riggs? “It’s both [easy and difficult] at different times. The soccer component is fairly easy at this point. I have learned from past mistakes and am willing to put aside my ego to continue to develop as a coach,” he said. “The difficult part is helping student-athletes understand how short their time is as an athlete in high school. I try to help them understand how much they will miss it when it ends to encourage them to give all they have. That convincing is difficult.”
This notion is slightly different when coaching golf because it’s much more individualized.
“There is no team in golf. A player’s personality dictates how aggressive they play. It’s just as difficult for an aggressive player to be cautious as it is for a cautious player to be aggressive,” said Riggs, who has been a golf instructor for 27 years and has worked with members of the U.S. Ryder Cup team, the U.S. Solheim Cup, the Walker Cup, the Curtis Cup and the European and Asian Tours. “Allowing a player the freedom to make mistakes encourages development, but they rarely will stray from their personality.”
What’s the secret formula Riggs has that gets the most out of the golfers he mentors?
“I remind them constantly that in each round of golf adversity will visit,” he said. “Their mission is to handle it with composure and trust they have prepared for it. There is very little fair about golf.”
In each and every case when an athlete or team succeeds, it’s exhilarating for Riggs.
“When a player or team achieves success it makes any coach feel proud. Ultimately, players win games not coaches,” he noted. “When they have success, it is validation for them that hard work and dedication can pay off. Teaching our players to take ownership of both victory and defeat is our responsibility as coaches.”
Riggs is usually calm and composed on the soccer sideline. Why is this the case?
“Many years ago I asked my daughter, [Maddie] if she could hear me from the sidelines when she was playing,” he said. “Whether it was true or not, she said she couldn’t. I figure they can’t wear me or pretend they can’t so I let them play as much as possible. In all honesty, the more experienced my players are in my system, the less I have to do on the sidelines.”
Being a former athlete and coaching for so long, is there anything else he would have liked to pursue?
“Wow, that’s a tough question. I don’t think a shampoo commercial would be in the cards, so I’d have to say general manager of an MLB team,” he said. “You think the Dodgers are hiring?”
Probably not, given they claimed the World Series title last year in six games over the Tampa Bay Rays.
Even though that job isn’t available, Riggs has done just fine coaching soccer and golf.