As coaches, one of the challenges Scott Rockey and Toneja Heller face is connecting with their players.

Consider it mission accomplished. At least for one particular player for each of them.

Rockey, as the head girls soccer coach at Elma High School, is coaching his daughter, Emily Rockey. And Heller, as the assistant coach, is coaching her sister, Tawni Heller.

oly orthoIt’s a family affair for these Eagles who took third in district playoffs after an 8-4 defeat of LaConner, a 0-3 loss to Kings Way Christian and a 2-0 defeat of Kings Way Christian. The team heads to the first round of state competition November 7-9.

“It can be challenging,” Scott said with a chuckle as he watched his players go through some drills at a recent practice.

Sometimes being “dad” can interfere, obstructing the coaching advice given during practice. The open ears sometimes close. “It adds another layer to it,” Scott admits with a smile.

But for this father-daughter coaching connection, it’s a “been there, done that” relationship. Scott coached both his daughters in soccer when they were young. Scott’s other daughter, Morgan, graduated last year after playing soccer for the Eagles and is now attending the University of Washington.

“He’s coached me in the past,” said Emily, who is a sophomore and plays midfielder. “It’s another year.”

elma girls soccer
As an assistant coach on Elma’s girls soccer team, Toneja Heller coaches her sister, Tawni. Photo credit: Gail Wood

For Toneja, this opportunity to coach her sister has a special meaning. “It’s awesome actually,” she said. Then adding with smile, “I can yell at her anytime I want.”

There’s a common bond between these two sisters. They’re both competitive. “I try not to yell at her too much,” Toneja said. “With her being my sister, I’m going to get on her the most. But I try.”

But the shouting and the “let’s go” prods have all the right motivations. Toneja truly cares how her sister does. “Yeah, I care,” she admits.

And when younger sister has a question, she doesn’t say, Coach. “She just calls me T,” Toneja said.

After a match or after practice, and when the Rockey family is sitting around the dinner table, the conversation doesn’t shift to instruction on soccer. Dad doesn’t suddenly become coach.

“No, not really,” Emily said after a recent rainy practice. “We leave the soccer stuff here. We go and do family stuff at home. Usually we’re running around different places.”

At practice, Emily doesn’t call her coach “dad,” and she doesn’t call him coach. “I usually call him Rockey,” she said. “Or Rock.”

Down the road, 10 years from now, this time, these shared moments at practice and at matches, will be  treasured moments, a time where father-daughter/coach-player will reflect fondly on this special snapshot in their lives.

Elma high school girls soccer
Scott Rockey coaches his daughter Emily on Elma High School’s girls soccer team. Photo credit :Gail Wood.

“It’s a good shared experience,” Scott said. They both agreed that it is a bonding time. But there are some challenging moments, too.

“There’s tension but there’s bonding too,” Scott said with a smile. Emily, while standing next to her dad/coach, added that sometimes it is hard to filter the instructions, hearing them as insights from a coach and not from a dad. Sometimes it’s hard to say to herself, “That’s my coach. Not my dad.”

“If I have a question here it’s just about soccer. And at home it can be a question about whatever.”

And at home, there’s not much reflection on soccer. “We usually just leave the soccer stuff here,” Emily said while standing on the practice field.

Tawni, a senior and starter since she was a sophomore, likes the sister-coach relationship. She knows her sister will push all the right buttons, helping get back on track when things are going wrong.

“It’s pretty cool,” Tawni said. “When I get frustrated and I need help, I go to her. Because she’s not only my sister, but she’s my coach.”

The advice, the insight, isn’t limited to what she should do on the soccer field. “She can also help outside of soccer stuff,” Tawni said.

The extra time these two sisters have spent together on the practice field has been a positive. “I feel it’s brought us closer,” Tawni said. “It’s nice having her as a coach. She understands me more. Whenever I’m frustrated with stuff, she knows what to do, to tell me keep calm and keep me going with what I need to do.”

Both Scott and Toneja have a special connection to Elma, a connection that goes beyond family. Both graduated from Elma. Toneja, in her second year for the Eagles, graduated in 2012. Scott graduated in 1986.  “It definitely puts me here more,” Toneja said.

Elma High School
There will be a lot to cheer about as Elma High School’s girls soccer team heads to the playoffs.
Photo courtesy: Elma High School.

This is an Eagles team that has won with teamwork. Brooke Sutherby leads the team in scoring. Holli Ray, as the goalie, has been the defensive spark, taking scores off the board with blocked shots. “She’s got skills,” Scott said.

Elma’s strength has been moving the ball up field quickly, getting into scoring position.

“We’re a good passing team,” Scott said. “And I think on a good night we communicate well. And on a bad night we don’t communicate like we should.”

Heading into state, Scott and his Eagles are hoping for good communication and good passing. That equals another win and another match in their march toward a state title.

Keep tabs on the Elma Eagles post season play here.

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