After 31 years of coaching soccer at Alta High, winning 13 state championships and receiving a once-in-a-lifetime recognition as the National Federation of State High School Associations’ 2014 National Coach of the Year for boys soccer, Lee Mitchell’s heart is on the field. And it will likely stay there until it stops beating.Â
“As long as I’m enjoying it, as long as Alta is happy with what I do when those two things end then it’s probably time to hang it up,” says Mitchell, who officially retired last year, but still coaches the boys and girls soccer teams at Alta. “It’s something I’ll take a year at a time.”
Mitchell started coaching boys soccer at Alta as soon as the sport became sanctioned in 1983. When girls soccer was sanctioned in 1989, he took that team, too, and never looked back. He teaches his athletes to have fun on the field, to be united and strong, and to aim high.
“Our goal is always to win state,” Mitchell says. “I don’t know if there is any secret. We try to make sure the kids realize it is a team sport and for us to be successful we have to be united in what we do, and I’ll be doing the same thing, and we help each other work toward that common goal.”
His technique has worked so far. The boys’ squad has won the state trophy five times and the girls’ team has won the state championship a whopping eight times. Mitchell gives his athletes and assistant coaches the credit but he’s receiving accolades with a national award.Â He was recognized by the National Federation of State High School Associations as one of the top 10 boys soccer coaches in the country.
Mitchell was selected along with nine other coaches of boys’ sports to receive the prestigious recognition something that surprised and shocked Mitchell.
After all of his years on the field, Mitchell says hard work and helpful assistant coaches are the secret to his success, but there is magic in the sport that can’t be summoned by good coaching alone. Mitchell credits soccer for having a life-changing effect on his students that sometimes can’t be achieved in any other way.
“I think sports is a great avenue for a lot of kids to achieve and get the things they want in life,” Mitchell says. “There have been kids that I don’t think would have made it through high school without sports, without soccer. I think sports is a very important part of our culture.”