Passion Play: Brazilian Tiago Oliveira helping grow the soccer culture in Kona

  • Tiago Oliveira coaches during a futsal session at Kailua Playground. (J.R. de Groote/West Hawaii Today)
  • Tiago Oliveira coaches during a futsal session at Kailua Playground. (J.R. de Groote/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — When Tiago Oliveira talks about soccer, every word drips with obvious passion — and for good reason.

The 33-year-old Brazil native has spent his life committed to the sport, first as a player and now as a coach, bouncing like a soccer ball around the globe from Wales to Latvia and many other places in between.

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He’s traveled to more than 15 countries on his coaching journey, which has now led him to Kona, where he is making an impact with his expertise and experience coaching both with the Kona Crush and Kona Futsal.

Oliveira arrived at the beginning of the year, and has grown to love the island. He was able to stay thanks to acquiring an O1 visa, which is for people who demonstrate “extraordinary ability” in their field — whether that be the arts, sport, business, education or the sciences.

“Hawaii is different for soccer,” Oliveira said with a smile. “In Brazil, you play soccer because you want to save your family. Some parents tell their kids don’t study, play soccer. But out of 1,000 people, there might be 1 professional.

“I never thought about coaching in Hawaii,” he added. “Maybe to surf or for a vacation, but not to coach.”

Growing up, Oliveira played futsal in his neighborhood until his mom would yank him back into the house, where he would cozy up to a soccer game on TV. It’s instilled in the country’s culture, something he’s trying to help foster with his coaching.

“Futsal in Brazil is everywhere,” Oliveira said. “There, you are born with a ball under your arm.

“I’m seeing that the kids here, they are starting to get the passion for the sport,” he said. “For me, no matter how much skill you have, if you don’t have passion, it does not matter.”

Much of that is because of Kona Futsal, which allows kids to play more consistently and there’s no club affiliation. It’s all about getting a ball at their feet and finding the love for the game.

For those who don’t know, futsal is a scaled down version of soccer played on a hard surface with five players on each side. Kona Futsal has done its part to renovate and revitalize Kailua Playground — also known as “Ghettos” — and it’s now bustling with action the majority of the week. Oliveira sees it as a significant tool to build the game to new heights locally.

“In futsal, the players don’t have space and they must challenge their opponent. You have to learn in those situations and need to think fast,” he said. “Since there are less players and less space, players create more technique and experience with the ball. With that, they get better. It’s like guitar. If you play more, you get better. If you have the ball more, you get better.”

Oliveira has coached at every level — from the kids in his local town to the professional ranks in Latvia. He’s currently pursuing his ATFA “A” coaching license, which is set to wrap up next year. From there, he wants to possibly return to Europe as he goes after his pro license. But for now, he’s focused on Kona and helping be among the catalysts to shift the culture.

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“It’s not about tournaments, leagues or trophies. It’s to build the culture and passion,” Oliveira said. “I’m not the best coach in the world. I’m learning. But this is my passion and that’s what I bring. I could never do another job. It’s just not me. Soccer is my life.”

For more information on Kona Futsal, contact Keone Au at 640-8831 or find them on Facebook under the “Kona Futsal Project.”

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