CONYERS — “Unlucky, boys.”
A common phrase used by Alf Holst, the frontman of the Rockdale County boys soccer team for the past nine years, pierced the air for the final time this past April after the Bulldogs’ season ended with a 2-0 defeat to Lambert in the playoffs.
The affable head coach announced his decision to step into an early retirement after 17 years of coaching high school soccer, all of which have been spent at Rockdale County.
Spending his first eight years with the girls program and his last nine with the boys, Holst walks away as the longest tenured coach in the county and one of the winningest, too. While he admitted the fire that ignited his first year coaching at Rockdale in 2003 still continues to burn, the decision to walk away was destined to happen.
“It’s a lot of sacrifice and time away from the family,” Holst said. “It doesn’t mean that I’m not coming back. It will be a few years, but I will return. The passion is still there.”
With a wife and two children needing his attention, a decision to call it quits — for now — was made.
“I have two kids now and it started when I had one,” Holst said. “I was getting a little pressure from the wife to make sure that I’m coming home. My family at home is a little bit more important than my family that was at the school. So I slowly kind of wanted to wind down from that.”
With full intentions of hanging up his clipboard following the 2018 season, Holst was convinced to return for one last ride in 2019, an invitation he said he couldn’t turn down in the end.
“This year, I stayed on because of Ryan Cannon,” Holst said. “At the end of last season, we were talking and he was saying how great our senior year was going to be. He named the 13 seniors that we were going to have and I was like, ‘OK, I can’t leave you guys.’ Once he told me that, I told them I’d stay on one more year.”
Following the end of the season, Holst turned in his letter of resignation to Athletic Director Chad Suddeth, informing him that he would not be returning to the sidelines in 2020.
It is a decision, he said, that has taken some getting used to.
“I caught myself the other day looking at training videos,” he said. “I caught myself reviewing the Lambert film and rethinking my formation. Rethinking my philosophy and how to coach a team. I started looking at the players that are returning and throwing out ideas where I could place them. And then I realized, ‘wait a minute, I’m not coming back.’ I’ll leave that to the next guy.”
Holst, who grew up in the Philippines, attended the University of North Carolina Wilmington, where he double majored in Geography and History. Prior to his arrival in the United States in 1995, Holst knew nothing of America’s passion for the game he grew up playing.
“I came to America and didn’t know that they played soccer here,” Holst said jokingly. “I thought there was American football, because that’s what you saw on TV, and basketball. So I didn’t even think to look into schools, scholarships, none of that stuff.”
Having spent time playing in what is now a professional league in the Philippines, as well as training with the Philippine National Team in the early 90s, an opportunity to play collegiate soccer in the United States was missed, thanks to his lack of knowledge.
“I came into the international orientation and there was a guy from Finland and a guy from England,” Holst said. “They were in there and bounced out of the meeting early. I said, ‘hey, where are you guys going?’ They were like, ‘oh, we have to go to soccer training. We’re here on scholarship to play soccer.’”
Without the possibility of walking on to the team, Holst spent his collegiate days playing club soccer leading up to his graduation in December of 2001. Holst was hired at Rockdale for the upcoming 2002-03 school year, where he has remained as a teacher ever since.
Having never coached soccer before, Holst first approached Suddeth, who at the time was the Rockdale County head boys soccer coach and former assistant Jason Wayne, who is now the current head boys coach at Locust Grove.
Without a coaching spot available, Holst turned to head girls coach Danny DePlanche, where he was promptly named the head girls junior varsity coach.
One year later, Holst was promoted to varsity assistant under DePlanche, a position he held through the 2008 season. During those six years, Holst also served as an assistant under DePlanche’s successor, Patrick Batubenge.
“DePlanche was the one that kind of turned me on to coaching soccer,” Holst said. “While I was the varsity assistant, I really learned how to be a coach. How to be organized, team bonding. All of those important things that I learned from Deplance I have used, as well as from Batabengue. They were great mentors.”
Holst received his first opportunity to run a program in 2009 when he inherited the varsity girls team left by Batabengue. He coached the girls for two seasons before accepting the head boys job before the start of the 2011 season, a position he has held through 2019.
While Suddeth eventually relinquished his head coaching job at Rockdale and traded it in for a head coaching position at Heritage, Holst said having him around, both as a fellow coach and as his Athletic Director for the past 17 years, has been more than he ever could have asked for.
“Suddeth, he’s a professional,” Holst said. “He’ll give me a little bit of advice here and there. But it’s all positive and constructive. He mostly let run the team because he trusted me to run the team. He loves the game as much as I do. It is really special to have an Athletic Director with a soccer background as opposed to most with either a football or basketball one. He’s helped out quite a bit.”
With numerous memories gathered along Holst’s journey at Rockdale, far too many to count, the ones he said he will keep closest to his heart are quite easy to recall.
“Going to playoffs. Getting prepared. Goofing around with the players, the pranks that they used to do to me. Just having a good ole time. Those are the things that I’m going to miss,” Holst said. “The time that we spent, not necessarily thinking about soccer, but bus rides where everyone was having a good time. We could have lost and it didn’t matter. That’s hopefully the memories that will stay with me.”
There is no time table for Holst’s return to the sidelines just yet, he said. His retirement from coaching will not interfere with his teaching career at Rockdale, however. Holst is set to return for his 19th year teaching at the school next fall and is definitely planning to catch as many soccer games as he can as a fan.
“Some of the bigger, important games, it’s going to be hard for me to stay out of it,” Holst said. “Going to a game is much different than being at practice until 6 p.m. every night and then coming home at midnight on game nights. I’m definitely going to miss the training sessions and getting the guys pumped up for a game and trying to motivate them. But I’ll be out there. I’ll be sneaky. I’ll be up in the stands so the kids don’t see me.”