When Fabrizio Soncin started kicking a soccer ball for fun as a young kid little did he know that it was the beginning of a life-long passion with the beautiful game.

By Paula Hubert – Photography by David Field

He may be 52 years old but Fabrizio Soncin can juggle and dribble a ball like an energetic teenager as he demonstrates complex technical drills to a small group of children.
His coaching schedule is hectic. He holds clinics six days a week either at Spring Gully Soccer Club or at La Trobe University’s sports ground where he’s running his Advanced Academy in conjunction with the Bendigo Amateur Soccer League. In this new role, he provides extra training for identified players in the under 11s and under 12s Bendigo Representative Squads.
Fabrizio, aka Fab, is vocal, encouraging the children to rise to the challenge in hand. He is a pro-licence coach, the highest qualification for coaching soccer in Australia and Asia.
During Bendigo Magazine’s visit, posts, cones and goals were set up for girls and boys to duck, weave, dribble, pass and shoot through.  In harmony, the youngsters danced lightly around the ball, nudging and tapping it ever so gently with the grace of ballet dancers.

“I’m passionate in motivating players and pushing them to the peak of their potential,” Fab says.
“Part of that process is identifying the areas that are holding them back and changing their behaviours. As a coach it is satisfying to see a young player’s technique and confidence transform in a short space of time”.
Fab’s own young life illustrates his tenacity for the game.
At age three his family moved from Italy to a small country town in far north Queensland, where they had a tobacco farm.
He was very shy and insecure as a child. “I didn’t speak at all in grade one. Teachers tried everything,” he says.
Soccer became his outlet and in a town with so many European immigrants the beautiful game was in their blood.
“We went to school barefooted and at every opportunity we’d play soccer on the rock hard oval that was uneven and full of bindi (eye). Our feet would be full of holes and we’d dip them in the water because they were stinging.”
He remembers his first soccer ball.
“It was brown, round and heavy,” he says laughing. “It looked like a medicine ball and I treasured it like a pet. I took it everywhere – to bed, under my desk at school.
“Growing up on the farm was an advantage. We had a large corrugated shed. I’d use our diesel tank as a rebounder and volley the ball to a target on the shed wall.”
Fab started playing in the B team for a local club at 10, often being picked for positions that no one else wanted. He became a left full back even though he was a right footer.
“This motivated me to practise more and I learnt how to use my left foot.” At under 11, Fab was selected at regional level and then ironically from under 14 to under 16 at state level as a left full back – he was the only boy picked from his area.
At 16 he played State League where one of his games was televised – a rare occurrence in those days, much to the delight of his family. He was among three Queensland teenagers from his region identified as players to watch.
He was invited to state youth team trials but school exams prevented him from attending. This was the springboard for the Australian Institute of Sport and Australian Youth team where one of his contemporaries, Frank Farina, got selected and went on to play for his country and later became Socceroos’ coach.
“It was a decision I later regretted, choosing school over my passion,” Fab says.
At 19, Fab was offered a professional contract in Italy where he was playing as a striker. As a dual citizen, he was required to do compulsory 18-months military service and along with being lovesick for his school sweetheart Lilla, he returned to Australia. (The couple have been married 29 years and have three children).
Fab was invited to trial for Sydney City but missed the deadline for the mid-season transfer window.
“I allowed the setbacks and heartbreak to become bigger than the dream.”
He got a ‘real job’ for 18 years working in real estate, but the soccer “passion was still burning inside” so he focused on coaching and getting the accreditations.
“Being true to what I loved, I decided to quit my job in real estate. It was the beginning of my coaching adventure. I put an ad in the paper and the phone didn’t stop ringing.”
In his soccer career, he has run regional clubs, coached seniors at regional and state league/NPL levels in Victoria and Queensland; state teams in national youth championships; and various elite development and talented programs in Victoria. He was the first coach to get Melbourne Victory’s W League team to a grand final.
He moved to Bendigo three years ago to be the NPL’s technical director, but it didn’t work out for many reasons.
“There are many things I would have done differently but I am wiser for the experience. The adversity has become an opportunity for me to provide regional players with coaching expertise. I am able to impart my experience and knowledge of the game usually only available to players at elite programs.
“The Advanced Academy is about giving kids the opportunity to apply their skills and develop game intelligence by learning the game structure, reading situations and applying effective solutions.
“I also enjoy mentoring the local coaches and it’s flattering to get calls from senior NPL coaches from Melbourne and interstate to help solve their tactical problems.”
Fab is not interested in nurturing fantasies but in helping children to be the best they can.
“I always ask the players to give maximum effort and do everything in the present moment as it is the only thing they can control,” he says.
A lesson that applies to life perhaps and not just to the beautiful game.