When new Gig Harbor High School boys’ soccer coach Joe Ross was a high schooler at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma in the ’80s, he spent his time on the baseball diamond.
It wasn’t until he had children, years later, that he took a liking to soccer.
“Out of all the sports my kids tried out for, soccer was their favorite,” Ross said. “So when they started, I began reading about soccer. About a year, two years into it, I got hooked into it.”
He started as an assistant coach with the Harbor Premier club in 2001. He joined the high school coaching staff in 2012, and has served as the junior varsity coach for the girls and boys programs. Now, with Todd Northstrom stepping aside after last spring’s season, Ross gets a shot at taking over the boys’ program.
He may not be a soccer lifer, but he has plenty of knowledge and experience in the bank as a coach.
“I learned it from scratch,” Ross said. “I think that’s the advantage I have, is that I’m constantly learning. The game, the landscape of soccer is constantly changing, whether it’s at the club level, recreational level, high school level. We’ve got to stay engaged. The constant training I do, all the reading, I think that’s the advantage I bring. This is something that I chose to do and I’ve stuck with it for 16 and a half years. Every day, I just keep learning more and more and more. This is my passion now.”
He’s had to wait patiently behind Northstrom, who has been flirting with stepping away from the program for several years now.
“Todd would always say, ‘Maybe next year, maybe next year,’” Ross said, with a laugh. “But it was all good. I’m really excited. It has kind of been a goal of mine. I’m looking forward to it.”
He inherits what is one of the area’s most competitive programs, year in and year out. If there’s one thing that is a certainty, it’s Gig Harbor soccer contending for league titles and making playoff runs. Last year ended with a third-place state tournament finish.
“Gig Harbor always has such great athletes and players that come out,” Ross said. “It’s a matter of just finding where all these little pieces of the puzzle are going to go and shaping them and creating that perfect puzzle to where we can have great success. Todd has built a phenomenal foundation at Gig Harbor. I’m just going to build on that foundation.”
Ross, 50, will continue a lot of the same things Northstrom brought to the program, admiring how he kept the Tides playing at a high level over the years. But there will be some differences in approach, too. Ross said he sees himself as a bit more of a tactician.
“I think Todd was very systematic,” Ross said. “He had his system, he had done it for so long. He had a lot of success with it over the years. For me, I’m more outside-the-box thinking. I’ll look for the weaknesses in the opponent to try to exploit them, whether it’s individual areas on the field, whether it’s being a faster team than the other team. Strategically move players and formations to hopefully maximize the success against those opponents.”
With nine players returning from last year’s team, Ross is hoping this year shapes up to be another good one.
“The Tides program has always been a strong, competitive program,” Ross said. “Nobody really thought we would go to third in state last year. I think with the talent that I have, there’s nothing stopping us except ourselves. I just want to start and continue what Todd has started for us and I just see great things down the road.”
Ross said he wants to emphasize a team environment, above all else.
“I just want to develop a positive environment, bring in a new philosophy about team, not individuals and get the buy-in,” Ross said. “I have 17 new players in the program. Trying to get them to understand what leadership is, understand that this is bigger than themselves. I believe we’re going to be extremely competitive, like every year. If I can find the pieces and we can work together, we’ll have good success.”