By: James Yates

OTTAWA – When you think of talented youth athletes, many have pictures in their minds of young people beginning their athletic careers as kindergartners. While most do, there have been exceptions.

One that comes to mind is a former defensive end for the San Diego Chargers Antonio Gates, who went to Kent State and was a basketball player throughout his college career. But when that didn’t pan out, he tried-out for some NFL teams, going on to was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Chargers, and the rest is history. Gates has become one of the most prolific tight ends the game has ever seen, pretty good for a basketball player, right?

This situation is very similar to that of Rolf Loyens, who only began playing football in grade twelve of high school. While he didn’t attain the success of Antonio Gates, Rolf was able to use his last year of high school (grade 13 then) to gain interest from various Canadian Universities. He ultimately chose the University of Ottawa for his post-secondary career and even got some interest from CFL teams.

“Sometimes you don’t look at your talents inwardly and you just go out there and play,” said Loyens. “Fortunately, I displayed some athletic ability and I had good grades and was able to parlay that into getting various offers for Universities. I ended choosing to go to U of O because of the fit and what I wanted to study. And then being part of the Gee-Gee’s was great, four years was captain in my last year…the four years at university I wouldn’t trade that for anything based on the network, the people, and the life skills that I learned.”

Rolf ultimately decided to enter the corporate world after university, despite receiving interest from some CFL teams. He has since become an owner of a very successful sportswear company in Ottawa and has also devoted his time to coaching youth football. He’s been a steadying force amongst the coaches on his son’s teams since he was six years old but finally got the bump up to head coach of the Nepean Eagles Midget football team this season; a team in which his son happens to be the quarterback.

“As a coach with a player on the team, it actually creates more anxiety for me.” said Loyens “You’re probably a little harder on them (son) because there are eyes on you and people who are going to second guess you, but at the end of the day if you can stay as neutral as you can about that, and ensure that everyone is getting the same reps, then that kind of takes care of itself.”

As a parent who got involved with coaching early into his son’s athletic career, Rolf understands that for parents or volunteers, it can be challenging to find the courage, time and motivation to get involved with youth athletes. This can be a daunting task for anyone, but Rolf insists it’s due to perceived inexperience, and that more people should get involved from the ground floor.

“Most times parents are just afraid because they feel they don’t know what to do. In the early levels of coaching, it’s just about organizing and managing the kids, and in today’s environment there are so many opportunities to go online and find skills and drills and ways to manage teams so that you’re not out on an island,” said Loyens. “And when you do get involved it’s about letting the kids know that you have their back, the outcome doesn’t matter, and that you want to see them grow and learn.

Going back to his days as a Gee-Gee, he’s enjoyed the camaraderie of sports and the relationships they build.

“When you play sports, you build a network, and even my son sees the friendships I’ve made from University and that’s what you can gain from coaching youth sports. The other most rewarding thing is when you understand that certain kids come from different backgrounds, and certain kids need an influence in their life, whether it’s that they don’t have a big circle of friends or that they don’t have parental figures that are established in their life, but if you can bring that to them and help even a small part of their year, you want to leave those lasting impression so that hopefully five to ten years down the road, they can look back and say, you know what? This coach made a difference.”

While he maintains his role as head coach of the Midget Nepean Eagles, Rolf spends his workdays as the owner of Base360, a sportswear company that mostly sells undergarments for athletes. Given the drastic change in careers, Rolf maintains he wouldn’t be here without sports.

“Sports teaches you about commitment and perseverance, and we have this conversation with the kids all the time that there’s nothing harder than 1st and goal on the one-yard line. And it’s the same in life, with my business I’ve had numerous obstacles, but you just learn not to give up, it’s all about the effort and the journey.

Base360 focuses on cut-resistant sports undergarments and has been quite successful in the Ottawa area and beyond. Rolf was fortunate to be able to use his passion for sports and turn it into a very prosperous career.

“At the end of the day you need persevere on the field of play, and that translates easily into persevering in the workplace. I’ve been fortunate enough to marry my love of sports with business and I couple that with the network I’ve built which allows me to expand my business through the people I’ve met through sports.”

Sports are something that brings people together of all ages and backgrounds and can have such a positive influence in a child’s life.

But what we need to remember is that without parents and volunteers (the real influencers), youth sports would not be the driver of such positive influences. People like Rolf Loyens are the reason why we have so many success stories and inspirational youths in the world of sports, and we owe him and everyone else a huge debt of gratitude.

Hopefully, through Rolf’s story, more parents can find the motivation and inspiration to put their hands up when organizers are looking for coaches.