Each Month, Presidio Sports recognizes a local sports figure for their extraordinary contribution to the Santa Barbara athletic community.
It is our way to recognize those who are making a lasting impact in our sports community, whether it is an outstanding athletic performance, a lifetime achievement award, or perhaps a great example of leadership.
Rudy Ybarra’s name is synonymous with soccer success in Santa Barbara.
Whether it be as a player, coach or promoter, Ybarra has brought notoriety to the community. His most recent success story is coaching a youth boys team from the Santa Barbara Soccer Club to a national championship and to a final four appearance in the Dallas Cup, a prestigious international youth tournament.
Presidio Sports is pleased to honor Ybarra as the Sports Figure of the Month.
Looking back on the United States Youth Soccer national title the SBSC Boys Under-14 team captured last summer in South Carolina, Ybarra is extremely proud what the boys and the coaching staff accomplished.
“I don’t think it’s an experience we’ll ever forget,” he said. “When you accomplish something as a unit, it’s so special. I believe last year … let’s just say it’s the frosting on the cake, and we’s going to add some more candles and more frosting as these guys get older.”
They did last month. The SBSC boys, playing now as a U-15 team, reached the semifinals at the Dallas Cup. They posted 4-1 record, outscored their opponents 12-3. Their lone loss was a 1-0 decision against Arsenal Soccer Club of Southern California.
“The team played really well in the Dallas Cup. I’m really happy with the performance,” Ybarra said. “Without taking anything from the opponent, sometimes the stats don’t say what really happened on the field.”
Ybarra, 55, has played an integral part in the team’s success. He’s made it a point that the young players embrace and excel at the four main aspects of the game: the technical, tactical, physical and mental.
“It’s a player development process that takes time,” said Ybarra, who has worked with some of the team members since they were 9. “There is a base and foundation you need to work with on the four aspects of soccer. These players have put in the time. I’m really proud of them.”
Developing young players is one of the ways Ybarra is giving back to the game that has given him so much in his life.
As a player at Santa Barbara High in the 1970s, he helped the Dons win three straight CIF titles and was twice named the CIF Player of the Year. After a professional career, he returned to his alma mater and coached boys soccer for several years, his teams always a CIF title contender. He won a CIF championship in 1995. He also helped coach the Dons girls team with his high school coach, Lito Garcia.
Outside the high school, he was a player and coach for the original Santa Barbara Soccer Club and won three California Soccer Association State Titles (1990, 1991, 2002). He also coached the Central Coast Soccer League’s Under-23 All-Star team to a state title.
“That was my first introduction to what it was like to lead a group and I loved it,” Ybarra said of coaching the U-23 squad.
As a high school coach, Ybarra felt players were deficient in the technical side of the game.
“When I stopped coaching at Santa Barbara High School (1998 was his last year), one of my biggest complaints as a coach was I was getting players who have played competitive soccer, but they weren’t technically sound,” he said. “Make no mistake, they were good soccer players. I wanted to start a base and foundation at the youth level. That was my personal goal and challenge.”
If you could look into Ybarra’s heart, you’d probably find it’s shaped like a soccer ball. His passion and love for the game runs that deep.
He gets it from his father, Joaquin.
“I go back to my upbringing, my father, who was part of the foundation of the original Santa Barbara Soccer Club back in 1948-49, the migrants that came from Lake Chapala (Jalisco, Mexico), the Guzman brothers, my cousins, and all those men that established Santa Barbara on the map … first of all,” he said.
In the late-1960s, Ybarra played on the Santa Barbara Soccer Club’s youth team — Santa Barbara Juniors — before he was a teenager and watched his dad’s senior squad play against some of the best adult club teams in the nation.
“The teams that won the U.S. Open Cup were based in Southern California, and the Santa Barbara Soccer Club was always fighting for the national championship and always lost to the Maccabis,” he said.
He gives thanks to his father, uncles and cousins for teaching him about expressing himself with his play on the field. He also credits a former local player by the name of Rodolfo Castillo, who played for the Santa Barbara Soccer Club.
“He’s a player I tried to emulate,” Ybarra said. “He was the first player selected out of Santa Barbara to play for the U.S. National Team.
“It was so special to have those role models in soccer in our community,” he added. “They were very positive people, very passionate about the game. I think it paid dividends.”
At 18, Ybarra signed a professional contract and played in the North American Soccer League with the Los Angeles Aztecs, where he was coached by Rinus Michels, the inventor of the Dutch “Total Football” style and the man who guided the Netherlands to the 1974 World Cup final and coached powerhouse clubs Ajax of Amsterdam and Spain’s Barcelona to European Cup titles.
Ybarra said he had other outstanding coaches along the way during his pro career, but it’s the lessons and philosophy from Michels that most influenced his coaching style.
“I thank God that happened,” he said of the coaching lessons. “Now I can give some of that back to the players.”
He’s doing it with his youth club team and getting results.
He hopes that success carries over to his latest venture: coaching the Ventura County Fusion of the Premier Development League. The team is primarily made up of current college players with a few former collegians.
Ybarra also has been involved in promoting the game. He started Santa Barbara Soccer Entertainment and has staged games featuring top clubs from Mexico, Mexican youth national teams and Major League Soccer teams.
While he admits it was difficult to see the name transfer from the team his family and others started to a youth club, Ybarra is proud of what today’s Santa Barbara Soccer Club has done for the development of young players. The club is recognized throughout the country.
“What we’ve done in last six years is really impressive,” he said. “People who have come in and are now part of the coaching advisory board, technical director Lloyd Biggs and some really, quality, quality people who know the game have taken the club to another level.
“It was hard,” he added about the change of the SBSC. “The adult team has to step aside and we have to give the name back to the community, to the youth. It belongs to the city. Let’s give it to the future. I think we’ve handed it, to a point, to really good hands. I’m proud of what I see.”