When Robert (Rocky) Mitrovic says it was a difficult decision to leave Corner Brook, there’s no trouble telling from his voice, he means it.
“Leaving here is really hard for me,” he said via telephone on Tuesday evening.
Mitrovic — and fellow Serbian Dejan Dragnjevic — arrived in the city in 2010 to work as coaches with the Corner Brook Minor Soccer Association.
Dragnjevic eventually moved on, while Mitrovic stayed and became the association’s technical director. He, along with his wife Nada and daughters Jovana and Ivana, officially immigrated to Canada in 2014.
Mitrovic said that, after nine years, he wanted to pursue a new challenge and begin a new chapter in his life. So, he has stepped down as technical director.
He hasn’t decided on exactly where this journey will lead him, but he said he and his family enjoy it in Canada and it’s not likely he would want to leave the country. He will obviously stay involved with teaching soccer and said Ontario was a possible destination.
For now, he’ll take his time and do the necessary research before he makes up his mind, so he doesn’t have an exact timeframe on when he and his family will actually move.
He said he’ll miss “everything” about Corner Brook.
“The city, for me, gave me everything,” he said. “It gave my family a home … people opened their heart for me.”
Everyone who supported him and helped him settle in the city, he said, he will miss in particular.
“And I’ll miss the kids who I work with,” he said, though he added he didn’t feel like he actually worked a single day, because soccer is his passion in life.
He says he is a “happy man” as he looks around at the current state of the association he joined nearly a decade ago. He believes the sport has grown in both size and skill level.
When he first arrived, he wanted to focus on developing children’s skills in the game technically, tactically, and as a team.
But it was never just to do with soccer.
Not every kid he coached was going to turn into a star player, but they were certainly going to be wiser for the time.
“To teach them self-confidence and life skills and use soccer for that,” he said of his focus. “I’m really happy that I think I did that really good.”
He said it was particularly tough to explain to the youngest children he instructed when they’d ask him when he’d be coming back.
“That makes it really hard,” he admitted.
But he said the association can now welcome in some “new blood” who can build upon what he started and possibly carry the program to even greater heights.
“My dream when I came here was for Corner Brook to be the best in the province,” he said. “I hope some new people come to make my dream be true.”
Association president Stephen Leonard described Mitrovic as a “great asset” who would be missed by everyone, even Leonard’s own children, who also benefited from the Serbian’s distinct, firm-but-fair coaching style over the years.
Though Mitrovic was already established within the association when Leonard became president just under five years ago, he said it was easy to see he taught the kids everything he could.
And he did that with an impenetrable patience that could only come from someone with an intrinsic affection for the sport.
“A lot of kids learned, and a lot of kids loved him,” Leonard said.
As for the now-vacant technical director position, Leonard said the association is working on getting the job posted “as soon as possible,” which he hopes will be within the next week or so.