Monday, February 21, 2022

It all started one day in Cheney on the drive home from school. Coach Matt Folsom saw some kids playing the game and it sparked a drive in him that led to a life of playing, coaching and starting a business dedicated to helping develop technical skills for the next generation.

“One of my first soccer memories is driving by Salnave Elementary in Cheney, looking out the window of the car and seeing a soccer team training. This blew my mind. I had no idea there were soccer teams! I exclaimed to my dad, ‘they have soccer teams! I want to play!'”

“A few months later, up in Mead, I showed up to my first team training at Midway Elementary. Coach Mark Walters introduced me to all the players and when he got to one player, he said ‘this is our leading goal scorer.’ At this moment I said to myself, ‘I am going to score more goals than him this year.’

And then it began. Folsom’s continual drive to be better, working on his game endlessly.

“I had no reason to believe that this would be possible. No one told me this should or could be a goal. This desire to be the best spontaneously emanated from somewhere deep within. I believe we call this intrinsic motivation nowadays.

“I trained all the time. After school I would ride my bike to the nearest friend’s house and we would play soccer. If the weather was nice, we would be playing outside on our homemade PVC goals. During the winter we would move couches around and play inside. When my dad took me to work with him at the fire weather station – in the middle of wheat fields – I brought a soccer ball and juggled. Trying to beat my record. Competing against myself.

“No one ever told me I had to train. I have always loved the game and it has always been one of my life’s great pleasures.”

Folsom’s passion for the game playing Skyhawks would eventually graduate onto playing club soccer with the Falcons with Manny Faridnia. And the passion created a lot of memories.

“I recall taking on the entire recess with a couple of my buddies and winning; averaging over two goals a game during indoor with the Blue Turtles; dribbling coast-to-coast and megging the keeper versus a Riverside team; scoring a bicycle kick – it was a floater, not a rocket – and making a premier team for the first time – go Skyhawks!”

Later playing for Mead they would advance to the final four in the state tournament in his senior year, noting a memorable contest against a competitive Ferris side that was forced into a very defensive formation by his Panthers.

His high school years were rather eventful. In addition to making state at Mead his club team would reach Surf Cup semis and as an individual he was garnering some attention in ODP, making ODP Regionals for two years. One such instance included an ODP Regional Team camp in which he roomed with future US Soccer legend Landon Donovan.

When graduation day arrived, however, Folsom was appeared to be moving forward without the game.

“After high school I thought I was done with soccer and went down to the University of San Diego. There was a beautiful soccer field right outside my dorm room. With sunny amazing weather virtually every day, I started playing again.

“After a year I transferred back to Gonzaga and played a season for Einar Thorarinsson – we all called him Thor.”

Realizing his ambitions of becoming a professional were limited the youth striker now turned defender would transition to focusing more on his academics, but the game still tugged strongly.

That’s when the coaching bug kicked in.

“My first team was a U19 boy’s team out of Cheney. When I got the team they were disorganized, undisciplined and bottom of the league. I watched them play. I watched them train. Then I would design and create exercises that kept them all moving, maximizing touches on the ball and the soccer specific movements I wanted to see in the matches.

“One of my favorite aspects of soccer is the creative problem solving. Players have to solve problems in real time on the pitch, but coaches get to sit back, observe and design.

“I was amazed at the transformation. By the end of the season we had beaten every team in the league and were playing some attractive soccer.”

And the coaching bug became a full-on passion.

“From that moment on I have truly enjoyed helping build up players’ skill and confidence, fostering a competitive spirit, and helping to fit all the pieces together into teams that are more effective together than the sum of their parts.

“I’ve been coaching almost 20 years now – I’m getting kinda old. Right now I am coaching my three daughters with 2009 North Rave, 2010 North Rave and 2013s.

“I love working every day with a team and building that team chemistry, and just watching the players continue to get better and improve week after week, game after game.

“When we take a break during the winter I am always amazed about how everybody’s grown with their mental ability and physical ability. And that allows us to do so much more. For me it’s all about the foundation – the technical ability. because if we don’t have ball control or we can’t trap and pass, then we can’t do any of the tactical fun stuff that I love. Every training session we focus on ball skills, trapping and passing and then team movement. Seeing it click and the players starting to understand the space around them, how to work with each other and have the ability to carry out their decision is really rewarding. It’s a long journey though!”

And Folsom primary influence for much of that technical comes from the legendary Johan Cruyff and total futbol.

“It is a philosophy of freedom, self-expression, creativity, and intelligent decision making. Any player can take over the role of any other player in the team. If one player moves out of position, then another player moves into that space. The system is fluid and requires that each player be technically proficient, intelligent and adaptable. Creating triangles all over the pitch. When a team of players are able to sync up their collective movement – moving up and down the pitch as a unit, shifting between a compact defensive shape and an expansive attacking shape – the game can be truly beautiful.

“The foundation, whether for creative self-expression or cohesive team movement, is ball control. Ball mastery leads to confidence and confidence leads to creativity. We all have a limited amount of brain bandwidth. If a player can become automatic in controlling the ball, then they free up time and bandwidth to solve the complex problems on the pitch. This thoughtless control, where a player is moving on instinct and intuition, is the flow state. Reaching this flow state in a competitive environment is the height of athletics.”

The dedication to work on this technical foundation and creativity has led Folsom to launch RIOBOL, a company that started with bringing a unique training ball from Brazil to the United States with Elliot Fauske, a standout alum of the original Spokane Shadow in the 90s and former marquee professional indoor soccer player over the past decade.

“Elliot, my business partner and best friend, discovered RIOBOL while playing professionally in Brazil. For the first two weeks of his preseason all he did was speed and agility work and technical training with a small-weighted rubber ball. After two weeks he started playing with a soccer ball and it felt like he was kicking a beach ball! He had never had such good ball control.

“When Elliot came back from the States I had to have one of these balls, but they were unavailable unless you lived in Brazil. We decided to fix that and started making this training tool available worldwide. We are still a small, family-run business, but it has been super rewarding to see players grow in ability and confidence from their training with RIOBOL.”

And if you think being a father and coach for his three daughters and their teams as well as running a start-up business was not enough; well, Folsom does have a day job too.

“When I am not coaching one of my teams, or running a Sounders Juniors Program (North), or handling the RIOBOL business, or operating the RIOBOL Academy, then I am probably working with the Spokane Police Department to return blighted properties to productive use as I serve as an assistant city attorney for Spokane.

“The city has been an amazing employer and gives me the opportunity to have a meaningful vocation while also providing for a quality work-life balance.”

A balance that occasionally also allows for a bit of personal time with his wife Jessica, daughters and dogs, which in the summer months can include paddle boarding the Little Spokane River


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