Shortly after Tina Ellertson helped the Portland Thorns win the 2013 National Women’s Soccer League championship, the Vancouver native said she intended to play at least one more season with the Thorns.
But when spring arrived, Ellertson decided it was time to turn the page. Instead of playing the game, she wanted to go all-in on her the next chapter of her life — teaching the game.
Turns out all-in means coaching teams at FC Salmon Creek, King’s Way Christian High School and the new Thorns FC Academy.
“I’m ecstatic to be a part of it,” Ellertson said, describing the Thorns Academy as a great opportunity for local girls to train and compete with other elite players in a professional soccer environment.
In July, Ellertson ran tryouts for the first Thorns Academy team, which will include girls born after Aug. 1, 1997.
With that process completed, Ellertson is preparing for her first season as the girls soccer coach at King’s Way Christian High School in Vancouver.
She also helps coach Oregon Youth Soccer’s Olympic Development Program. And she continues to coach for Salmon Creek Soccer Club, where she is the assistant coaching director aiding her father, Joe Frimpong. Her FC Salmon Creek Nemesis team of girls born in 2000 recently won a U.S. Club Soccer national tournament.
“I plan to be Superwoman,” she said, laughing.
Actually, Ellertson emphasized that she isn’t stretched too far. The Thorns Academy team won’t start training until late November — after the high school season ends. Instead of two FC Salmon Creek teams, she will coach only one.
The way she sees it, coaching multiple teams means she can impact more lives.
Ellertson began taking coaching seriously several years ago, and in 2012 completed her A-level license, the highest coached credential offered by U.S. Soccer. A trip to Guatemala this spring as an ambassador for U.S. Soccer further stoked her passion for coaching. She led soccer clinics in four cities, meeting hundreds of kids.
“It was a life-changing experience,” she said.
Ellertson recalled attending one clinic in which only the boys were participating. When it ended, she said, she went to a group of girls who had been watching and spent time playing soccer with them and encourage them to dream big.
The impact of her own coaches — Tami Perkins at Hudson’s Bay High School and Lesle Gallimore at the University of Washington — planted the coaching seed, Ellertson said.
Perkins remembers a phenomenal high school athlete who was ultra competitive, but also a player who enjoyed the bonds that are part of a team experience.
“That sense of family is something really special and I think she always really enjoyed that aspect of sports,” Perkins said.
In fact, family and community are at the heart of Ellertson’s busy life.
“At Salmon Creek we make it about family. We make it fun,” she said.
That sense of family also applies at King’s Way Christian, said Ellertson, describing the school where her daughters MacKenzie, 13, and Maya, 6, are students as “a safe haven” for her family.
“The combination of her unparalleled skill set, her genuine passion for the sport and for our school and community, and her authentic faith that permeates everything she does make her a perfect fit for King’s Way,” said Luke Gillock, athletic director at the Vancouver school.
Ellertson said it was Gallimore who taught her the importance of getting to know players away from the field.
“She made it bigger than the sport,” Ellertson said, recalling occasional meals at Gallimore’s home.
Ellertson played for the Huskies from 2001-2004. MacKenzie, was only a year old when Ellertson arrived at Washington. Gallimore’s guidance helped her handle being a mom, a student and an athlete, Ellertson said.
Gallimore said that experience can only help Ellertson with the many demands placed upon a coach.
“As a college player and a national team player she’s had the experience of balancing many demands and making it work,” Gallimore said.
Specifically, Ellertson said her time at the University of Washington, where Ellertson was a two-time Pac-10 Conference player of the year, taught her to live in the moment — focus on the task at hand and not challenges ahead or behind her.
Gallimore said Ellertson has the makeup to be a successful coach.
“I think it’s a great career for Tina. She’s so positive and at the same time demanding,” Gallimore said. “Tina possesses a great mix of caring and commitment.”
Ellertson said her long-term goal is to coach college soccer, to impact lives of elite players.
If that opportunity comes, it will be later. For now her focus is being around for her family and — at Providence Park, at King’s Way or at Felida Park — on sharing her experience with girls who are just starting their life’s journey.
“I’m doing my very best to teach what I’ve learned about the ups and downs of playing the game and of life,” Ellertson said. “I want to pass all that experience down to the youth and pay it back for the coaches who did so much for me.”