By Ottawa Sports Pages, For Ottawa TFC Soccer Club
He’s juggled in parades, at New Year’s parties, even in front of the Governor General while representing FIFA (in the middle of winter, no less), and of course for countless young players imploring him to show them some of his soccer tricks.
Roberto Di Nuzzo began developing the special talent for which he’s adored as a 9-year-old chasing his own record for number of bounces without the ball hitting the ground.
“It’s always just been a fun hobby to practice my touch and compete with myself,” smiles the youtube sensation. “But the thing I love most about it is just showing the kids and hopefully sparking a passion to get them practicing at home and making it fun.”
After growing up playing for root club FC Capital United, Di Nuzzo is now a rising coaching talent with Ottawa TFC Soccer Club, where he serves as Assistant Technical Director and Staff Coach.
“I never expected this – that my coaching passion would reach the same level as my playing passion,” signals the national children’s coaching licence holder.
Di Nuzzo was pretty much destined to be involved with soccer from the moment he was born (his Italian parents named him after legend Roberto Baggio).
But what really cemented his love for the beautiful game was travelling to France as a 13-year-old for the giant Mondial Pupilles Plomelin tournament. Training at FC Nantes and facing professional club academy teams was inspiring in itself, but the cultural experience of gathering with players from around the world really stuck out.
“Soccer kind of has its own international language, to the point where, I don’t know how to speak Russian or Spanish, but somehow we were communicating with each other during lunch after playing against each other,” recalls Di Nuzzo, who treasures the many lifelong friendships he’s formed through soccer. “You get a feeling of what the sport is really all about.”
Di Nuzzo began coaching around age 15, and was grateful to have the opportunity to learn from the best in Raz El-Asmar and Traian Mateas.
“They never give up on any athlete. There was never an obstacle that was too much, or a player that was too hard to handle – there was always a way to get through to them,” Di Nuzzo says of his mentors. “And where that stems from is they genuinely care so much about every single individual they coach.”
Ottawa TFC’s coaching ranks are fuelled in large part by players who have grown up with the club, creating “the best culture,” Di Nuzzo highlights.
“Everyone is so growth-minded, pushing each other to be their best,” explains the graduate of St. Pius X Catholic High School and Carleton University psychology. “People want the best for you. People will support you, and they expect a lot from you, because they care. We hold ourselves to very high standards.”
Di Nuzzo finds it especially rewarding to see players he guided at younger levels now starting to get into coaching themselves. The energy young players give back to him completes “a really cool full circle.”
“It’s hard to describe the feeling, but anytime you step on the field, you almost feel like you’re 10 years old again,” indicates the master juggler. “It’s this beautiful community environment. The kids want to be there, and they love the experience. It’s something you can look forward to, and that never goes away.”