Family’s love for soccer brings them together miles and miles at a time
Even the most dedicated soccer families probably think the Zierenbergs are insane, but there’s not one member in this family of six — eight if you include two dogs — who would have it any other way.
Youth soccer, in almost every way possible, is their life. The Zierenbergs commute from Twin Falls to Boise three-to-four times a week just so their four kids can play competitive soccer in an area that produces more talent and scholarship opportunities than Twin Falls.
But the Zierenbergs’ end goal is not to push a college scholarship on any of their kids. Parents Mike and Jocelyn say even if their children were to become accountants instead of professional soccer players, they would still be just as happy.
“Caden (the oldest), plays at a high level. He wants that,” Mike said. “But that’s not really why we are doing this. We are doing this because we are supporting him and his dreams, and I think every kid deserves that, whatever those dreams might be.”
Fifteen-year-old Caden moved in with his youth soccer coach, Bill Taylor, in February to cut down on travel. He earned his driver’s license a month earlier and enrolled at Rocky Mountain High, where he hopes to be the Grizzlies’ varsity football kicker this fall. He was the varsity kicker for Twin Falls’ football team last year and clanked a 50-yarder off the crossbar. He says he can make them from 60.
“He has a lot of potential,” Taylor said. “I wanted to see if he could, by having more consistency and being in the environment, without having to spend 17-18 hours a week in the car, if that would help improve and it has. It has shown on the field.”
The other three kids, Olivia (14), Lacey (11) and Alexa (10), still live in Twin Falls but Mike’s job at Twin Falls-based Enzabac Advanced Products is the family’s only income, and a set of elderly parents in an assisted living center complicates a potential move.
So the family made the best of both worlds: Live in Twin Falls, but play in Boise. And they embraced the soccer culture. In addition to all four kids playing, Caden, Olivia and Mike all referee to make extra money, while Mike also coaches and Jocelyn manages an entire age group of Boise youth teams. A typical tournament weekend will see a Zierenberg participate in about 36 games, Mike says.
The family hopes to move to the Boise area soon and put their house in Twin Falls on the market Friday. The idea is for Mike to work from Boise on Friday and Monday and work in Twin Falls Tuesday through Thursday while living in housing that is on the Enzabac Global campus that his boss agreed to let him live in for free.
“It is a lot of dedication for them,” said Jeanne Oyler, a family friend. “They are great. They do it to put their kids in the best situation they can.”
When Caden was 7, he joined Twin Falls’ Rapids soccer club, but he was much better than his peers and soon began playing with older kids, some of whom were almost two years older than him. Eventually, the family drove him to Boise for a tryout. In 2015, he landed a spot on one of Boise’s premier soccer programs, the Boise Nationals, which later combined with Nova to become the Boise Timbers Thorns.
But with only one income, money quickly became an issue and logistical planning a must. The responsibility largely fell on Jocelyn, who also home-schooled all four of her kids at the time. When Caden and Olivia reached high school, they entered the public school system, attending Twin Falls High. If the family makes the move to Boise, all four would begin attending public school.
“On the financial side, it has been a sacrifice,” Jocelyn said. “We have still been able to make it work and be frugal where we need to be and have the kids contribute through their refereeing. They mow lawns to save up for soccer camps. They will learn from that, but the financial cost is big.”
Mike estimates the family spends over $10,000 per year on youth soccer.
One way the family saves money is by never eating out when they travel and staying with friends and teammates when they can.
The family car, a red 2006 Honda Odyssey named Betsie, has over 245,000 miles on it and is on her 10th windshield. A year’s worth of practices log about 29,000 miles on Betsie, which doesn’t include travel for games in other states.
“Most people like to replace their car before it hits 150,” Jocelyn said. “Honestly, the thing just keeps running because we maintain it so well.”
A typical trip to Boise begins at 3 p.m., just 15 minutes after Mike gets off work. Jocelyn has dinner pre-made, and the family plugs in their blue portable stove, which is about the size of a microwave oven so they can have a warm meal on the road. Meals began as sandwiches but eventually evolved into more intricate meals that are eaten on paper plates. The trip usually concludes at 10:30 p.m. if the weather is good.
“It’s really hard to help a kid with algebra when you are trying to pay attention to the road, let me tell you,” Mike said. “I’m not that smart, so I have to hand it to my kids for trying to get the answers, because I can’t look at the book or help them out at all.”
Caden isn’t allowed to begin talking to potential colleges yet, but says he has a list of schools he would be interested in. He will be a junior this coming fall at Rocky Mountain. Caden says his parents don’t typically look that far down the road, but the college recruiting process is already heating up. Mike is being encouraged to send Caden to various camps across the country so college coaches can get a look at him.
“I’m thinking that I want to go to college and either play soccer or football,” Caden said. “Or just go straight to an academy and play through their academy, either MLS or move to like Europe or go live with some extended family somewhere in the country.”
Taylor says if the family had stayed in Twin Falls it would have been a lot harder to get to the next level.
“The real world, as soon as you step outside of Idaho, plays a much different style of soccer. ... That’s why they come,” Taylor said. “That’s the reason why they invest the time and money and effort, because the likelihood of getting into a college is slim to none being in Twin Falls. Playing for us, he has eyes on him now.”