Orlando Magic Youth Academy’s Mike Soma Named a Finalist for Jr. NBA Coach of the Year

by Josh Cohen

ORLANDO - About two years ago, Mike Soma’s son, who’s now 11 years old and in love with the game of basketball, told his dad one of his goals is to attend the University of Florida after graduating high school.

He has been playing basketball since he was 3 and is currently a star point guard in a competitive 17-and-under league. Every day after school, he is in the gym working on the fundamentals. Each Saturday, he’s holding his own in games for two different teams. It would be a dream come true if he can suit up for the Gators one day.

While incredibly pleased about everything his son has already accomplished on the court, Soma says the 11-year-old’s passion for the sport and hard work in the gym is just a fraction of why he is so proud of him. What transpired after he told his son that colleges like Florida care just as much, if not more, about a student’s academic performance as they do about their athletic abilities is truly what has put a smile on Soma’s face every day.

“Once I told him that during last summer, he has brought me straight A’s on his report cards every single report card this year because he is that driven,” Soma said. “That is really what inspires me is to see somebody that driven and chasing a dream and applying it. My son is my hero with his determination and drive.”

Soma has shared many motivating messages with youth through the years. Ever since he spontaneously began coaching kids in various sports 11 years ago at the Titusville YMCA Family Center, Soma has had a remarkable influence on many children. So much so that the NBA took notice.

Soma was recently named one of three finalists for the annual Jr. NBA Coach of the Year Award, joining Boston’s Kash Cannon and Detroit’s Chris Riley. All three will receive a financial grant to support their local youth basketball organizations, as well as additional benefits, including free Positive Coaching Alliance training, basketball equipment and apparel. The announcement of the winner will take place in Chicago during the Jr. NBA Youth Basketball Leadership Conference on Friday, May 18.

Soma first started coaching 11 years ago when he noticed his daughter’s coach looking a little drained while trying to maintain order with a group of rambunctious 3-year-olds. He kindly asked him if he needed some assistance, and the coach gratefully accepted the offer. By the time that session was complete, the coach and the other parents marveled at how well Soma connected with the children.

“I never looked back after that,” he said. “I coach everything. It’s just so good to see a kid progress. Every major successful artist, musician, athlete, they will always tell you I’ve been playing since I was 3, I’ve been playing since I was 5 so my goal is to start these kids early and teach them the basic sportsmanship, teamwork that you have to instill early. That way, the other coaches later don’t have to put that into them. It’s already embedded.”

One of Soma’s basketball parents at the Titusville YMCA noticed Jr. NBA was looking for nominations for the annual Coach of the Year Award. That individual immediately thought about the dependable and well-known coach and nominated Soma, who not long after received a surprise email that he was named the Orlando Magic’s Jr. NBA Coach of the Year.

“Almost disbelief,” Soma said about his family’s reaction when he broke the news to them.

The selection process was open to any Central Florida youth basketball coach working with children ages 6-14 who demonstrates outstanding character, leadership and integrity on and off the court; someone who creates a positive environment for young players and cultivates positive development, creativity and self-confidence; a coach who emphasizes fair play, good sportsmanship and the life skills that come from playing basketball.

With all the experience he has coaching youth and with so many memorable and heartwarming success stories to share, Soma has some very simple advice for coaches just starting out.

“You’ve got to engage and connect with the kids first,” he said. “The power that the coach has is phenomenal. The relationships are just phenomenal.”

The Magic announced the formation of the Orlando Magic Youth Basketball Academy (Magic Academy) almost two years ago. The Magic Academy focuses on teaching life skills to youth through the game of basketball. Through the Magic Academy, youth will not only learn the game of basketball, but the importance of teamwork, sportsmanship, leadership and health and wellness to accomplish their goals.