Episode 173: BYU coach Jennifer Rockwood on the mantle of a BYU athlete and the remarkable 2023 women’s soccer season, with Sheri Dew as guest host

Church News podcast focuses on BYU women’s soccer, which completed the 2023 season with an overall record of 20-3-3, going undefeated in Big 12 conference play

The 2023 season for the Brigham Young University women’s soccer team was unforgettable. The team defeated a No. 1-ranked opponent, becoming No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches rankings, and captured headlines with a come-from-behind victory over North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals. The BYU women’s soccer team completed the season with an overall record of 20-3-3, going undefeated in its first season in the Big 12 conference. 

This episode of the Church News podcast features BYU head soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood talking with guest host Sheri Dew, executive vice president of Deseret Management Corp. and a former member of the Relief Society general presidency. They look at the team’s remarkable season, the mantle of being a BYU athlete, and how living up to the standards of the gospel of Jesus Christ strengthens players on the field and throughout their lives. 

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Jennifer Rockwood: So, you know, everybody has their “why” of why they’re there. One thing we asked is, “What is your ‘why’? Why are you willing to go through the hours and hours of agony, of training and recovery and experiencing injuries? Why do you do it?” You know, “What is the reason?” So, finding your “why” is something I think that drives our players. And part of that is representing not just each other, but representing BYU, in turn representing the Church, and, most importantly, representing the Savior and our Heavenly Father. And that’s something we talk about as a team. And I think it’s an extra mantle that we feel playing at BYU, is knowing that we represent so much more than just our university. And that’s something that they have learned that’s going to take them into the rest of their life.


Sarah Jane Weaver: This is Sarah Jane Weaver, executive editor of the Church News, welcoming you to the Church News podcast. We are taking you on a journey of connection as we discuss news and events of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The 2023 season for BYU women’s soccer team was unforgettable, with the team defeating a No. 1-ranked opponent, becoming No. 1 in the United Soccer Coaches rankings, and capturing headlines with a stunning, come-from-behind 4-3 victory over North Carolina in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals. The BYU women’s soccer team completed the season with an overall record of 20-3-3 and going undefeated in their first season in the Big 12 conference.

This episode of the Church News podcast features head soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood talking with guest host Sheri Dew, a former member of the Relief Society general presidency and executive vice president and chief content officer of Desert Management Corp.


Sheri Dew: Well, Coach, it’s fun — it’s more than fun — it’s a treat to be able to talk to you. As Sarah Weaver just said in her brief introduction, the soccer season that just ended was remarkable for all the reasons she just mentioned. And let me just add to that by saying that now two of the last three years, you’ve taken your team to the College Cup, which is the NCAA’s equivalent of the Final Four, right? How have you done that in a soccer program at BYU? Tell us your secrets, right here.

BYU head women’s soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood talks to her team.
BYU head women’s soccer coach Jennifer Rockwood talks to her team after their win during the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA College Women’s Soccer Tournament against Michigan State at South Field in Provo, Utah, on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News


Jennifer Rockwood: Well, I surely appreciate you having me, both. I feel a little in awe, I must admit. It’s not a place that I would have ever thought of, being in a podcast on the Church News. So thanks so much for having me.

Sheri Dew: We’re thrilled to have you.

Jennifer Rockwood: And thinking about me and my team and BYU. And, you know, it’s been quite a ride, quite a journey to get to this spot. I never anticipated coaching at all, let alone as long as I have being at BYU. But yes, what a remarkable year for us, our team, my staff and sports fans, Cougar fans, for sure, across the country and elsewhere. But a remarkable season for us. Had a super special team, an amazing group of young women who came together and played big and were seen far and wide and represented themselves and everything there is for us to represent at the very, very highest level.


Sheri Dew: So, how do you go about molding a team that was able to do what it did? I watched the game against North Carolina, where you were down three goals at halftime, right? And you’re thinking — anybody in the soccer world is thinking — “Yeah, this thing is over.” So, what did you do? What did you say? Or was it you? Was it your staff? Was it the girl? Who comes together and says, “No, no, no, we can come back against this.” How did you do that?


Jennifer Rockwood: Well, it certainly was a defining moment of our season, probably one that we’ll be remembered for for quite some time. It was a magical night, to say the least. But, you know, there was so much that went into that before it actually happened and what made it happen. And certainly that is all the work and time and energy that all of us, as a staff, but really most importantly those girls put into this moment. Most of these girls, a lot of them had played in the national championship game two years prior to that, against Florida State, where we fell short in penalty kicks.

So I would say six or seven of those girls were starters and played in that. So they had been kind of on that scene, and the next year, we graduated some special players and kind of found ourselves. And then when we returned for this season, all of those players, we returned our whole starting lineup, and that rarely happens. That’s one of the few things that came good of COVID, right? Everybody got a COVID year in the NCAA. So these girls all got this extra kind of bonus year. So they had more spirits than any team we’ve ever had, you know, having five years of really playing and competing at a high level. And so, so much of that was led by that group of players. The leadership, you know, when you’re part of an athletic team, especially in soccer, you have to rely on leaders on the field, leaders who —

I was just sitting at a basketball game the other night, right? Iowa State game. And there’s “Timeout, timeout. Somebody’s tired, timeout. Someone’s not running the right play, timeout.” In soccer, there are no timeouts. They play for 45 minutes straight, and so the girls have to be able to adjust. At halftime, we went into that game, and, obviously, as coach, I was quite frustrated. I was actually quite mad. I knew I couldn’t say anything negative or show my frustration, because the girls just don’t react well to that. I’ve tried that; lesson learned over my years. I have to kind of keep it in.

But I think we just went in and said, “Look, yeah, that happened. Wow, we’re down to 0-3, didn’t think this is how our season was going to maybe end,” in my head. Didn’t say that to them. But I remember I just walked in, tried to call myself knowing that they react a lot on how my energy is. I wrote “79” on the board. I said, “That’s how many goals you guys have scored this year. You’re the leading goal-scoring team in the country. You’ve averaged over three goals a game, every game you played in. You know how to score. Nothing we can do about giving it up. We changed the momentum. At the end, probably deserved a goal, so we know it’s there. We also know Carolina tends to panic under pressure. We’ve seen that in other games. And so, go do your thing. Just score one goal. One at a time, the momentum will shift, and then you put the other one in, and you’ll really feel the energy from the fans who are out there cheering you on.”

And my assistants echoed that. Our mental strength coach kind of echoed that individually with some of our captains and our leaders. And I think the girls just said, “Let’s go do this. We’re not going out like this.” You know, I had 11 seniors on the team this year, and so they were truly committed for so long to end and to put BYU soccer out on the map. And surely we saw it all happen and unfold in 45 minutes of play, something that rarely happens in a women’s soccer game.


Sheri Dew: It was unbelievable. It was unbelievable. I want to key off of something you just said that I think is really interesting. What have you learned about motivating and inspiring young women this age? What works, and what doesn’t work? 

Jennifer Rockwood: That’s a great question.

Sheri Dew: Because you’re right: You key off the leader, right? It doesn’t matter if you’re talking to a family or a business or anything else; people key off the leader, for sure in a head coach.


Jennifer Rockwood: For sure. Yeah, you know, that’s energy that you have to bring in, and you always have to be very aware of how your body language is and how the energy that you’re out there, I have found that my players tend to feed off a little bit. Everybody always says, “How are you so calm on the sideline?” I’m not; inside, I’m about ready to explode. I’m exhausted after games. But I feel like I have to have that confidence and that energy of composure that my players can feed off of, and I feel like that’s helped a lot. And my assistants are so much like that.

And, you know, to try to motivate and inspire these girls, you know, everybody’s different, so you have to take an approach that’s not a, you know, “I do this for this group of girls,” it has to be more of an individual approach, which involves relationships and trust and really getting to know the players.

It’s interesting; our job is based around trying to help these young women be the very best they can be on a soccer field, but certainly that carries over to life. And there’s so many life lessons to be learned in athletics. As you know, growing up as a young athlete, so much of what you learn as an adult has come through those opportunities. You had to compete, to set goals, to go through the hard times, to conquer fears, you know, all of those things we’re so involved in with these young women.

And a lot of it is just setting a really positive opportunity. I mean, we play very competitive. Girls are going after each other, so it’s a fine line of getting kids to compete to be their very best against their teammates, who they love and want the very best for them, and find confidence in doing so and progressing. Whether you’re playing or whether you’re not, we all have a role. You might not like your role, and that’s OK. We want girls to not like the role if they’re not playing, because we want them to improve and to push those who are playing in front of them. So there’s a lot of little tricky things that are involved, I think, in my job. And yeah, you learn every year something new.

Coach Jennifer Rockwood speaks to the BYU women’s soccer team after a home game between BYU and Ohio State.
Coach Jennifer Rockwood speaks to the BYU women’s soccer team after a game between BYU and Ohio State in Provo, Utah, on Aug. 21, 2017. | Jaren Wilkey/BYU


Sheri Dew: You’ve put your finger on, and I’d love to expand it a bit, is part of the reason I really do love sports — I probably care about them way more than I should. But I grew up playing sports. It was a big deal where I was raised. And the thing I do love about it is sport gives you a chance to try to excel individually, but you can’t win unless you play as a team. So there’s that interesting push-pull, almost, right, about trying to encourage individual excellence, but also sometimes somebody else is going to be the star. Sometimes somebody else is going to get the headline.

So, how do you motivate the team play while also motivating personal excellence? What have you learned about that? Because that really transpires to a classroom, a family, a team at work. That translates all the way around, really, around any kind of environment. Any tips there?


Jennifer Rockwood: Yeah, I mean, certainly there’s so many different avenues and different areas that you can cover. But just for an example, you know, every year we have there, the captains kind of decide on the team theme, you know: What are we going to kind of base this year on? Every year is different, every team is different. And this year was “All in,” right? And that’s a great one, to be all in. And what that does is says that, “Hey, we have 32 girls on the team, you know; 11 start. I say on average, 16 play. That’s a lot of kids not playing.

Sheri Dew: Half of them, almost.

Jennifer Rockwood: Yeah, a lot of girls that have done all the same work as the starters. How can we be “all in” and recognizing that it’s not about the individual, it is about the team, and we have to do and find our role to help our team be successful? You know, there’s so many different things going into that, but we try to have an environment of extreme competition, where we like the feistiness, we want girls to want to win. But some of those most feisty, competitive girls on my team are also, step off the field, the most kind, loving, amazing people that there are. And so you can have both. You can be, you know, a very inspiring, loving leader off the field, with a strong testimony, with a big spiritual heart, but yet hit on a competition field doing what you love, that passion that comes out.

So, you know, everybody has their “why” of why they’re there. One thing we asked is, “Why are you here? What is your ‘why’? Why are you willing to go through the hours and hours of agony, of training and recovery and, you know, therapy and experiencing injuries? Why do you do it?” You know, “What is the reason?” So, finding your “why” is something I think that drives our players. And part of that is representing not just each other, but representing BYU, in turn representing the Church, and, most importantly, representing the Savior and our Heavenly Father. And that’s something we talk about as a team, and we talk about that with recruits. So, we feel that that’s part of our culture.

So, we expect to be our very best, knowing that we all fall very short from that. But our players are competitive to drive themself. And I think it’s an extra mantle that we feel playing at BYU, is knowing that we represent so much more than just our university. And that’s a pressure that our athletes also have to learn, you know, competition, dealing with pressure, you know, the pressure of competition. And that’s something that they have learned that’s going to take them into the rest of their life, whether they go into a career. Or sometimes I’ll have a player, “Well, school is just really hard. I just want to be a mom.” And I’m like, “That is the hardest job you’ll ever have. And so all of these life lessons will help you prepare for that as well.”

So, that’s kind of a lot of information. Maybe not specific, but if you have any more specific questions. It’s kind of general, but it’s just, you know, remembering that yeah, it’s OK to compete. It’s OK to win. And we have a lot more fun when we win, and so we want to do everything we can do to ensure that win, but we have to do it together. And everybody plays a role.


Sheri Dew: So, now added on to all of the challenges of being a Division I coach, and now coaching, you’ve built an elite program. But coaching at BYU is unique, really, in all the country. Let’s talk first about the Honor Code. There tends to be a tendency, I guess I would say, to think of the Honor Code as “Boy, that makes it hard; hard to recruit, hard to whatever.” But I’d be curious to know if the Honor Code sometimes is the coach’s best friend. Are there ways the Honor Code actually helps you as a head coach?


Jennifer Rockwood: For me, absolutely, 100%. BYU is very unique. I like to use the word “unique,” right? We are very unique from any other program, soccer program, university in the country, because we have an Honor Code, and we have certain expectations and certain standards of living that our students are expected to live by. For me, when I started very young, my goal was to try to go out and recruit the top LDS kids in the country. And that’s kind of what we did. So, unique to our program is all of the girls on our team are members of the Church. And I think that’s a little bit unique. And we’ve been able to maintain that.

Most people think, “Oh, you’ve got to go out and get other people who aren’t members and kind of bring them into BYU” and that sort of thing. And that’s great. But for our program, we’ve had quite good success. We’ve been a top-25 team most of the years that we’ve been in the NCAA, with members of the Church. And so when I go out and recruit, I’m recruiting girls who know exactly what the Honor Code is and they want to be at BYU — not because of soccer, not necessarily because of the soccer program, but because of everything that BYU is; because it’s unique, because it’s different. Not only a top-notch education, but, you know, the Church obviously behind it, and all the things that can be done that way that can’t be done in other universities.

So, yes, most of my girls have dreamt to come play at BYU since the time they started playing. And for a coach and recruiter, that’s a built-in bonus, so to speak, when you have a little girl who has been coming to camp and meeting your players and their whole, you know, junior high and high school is doing everything they can to maybe have that opportunity to come play for the program and wear a BYU jersey. That’s something that a lot of other universities don’t have. You know, there might be a Notre Dame or, you know, the Stanfords or the Harvards or something that’s more unique than just their athletic program. So we tell girls right out, “We’re looking for someone who is dying to come to BYU. They have every opportunity to go anywhere they want in the country with soccer, but they want to come to BYU.”

BYU fans cheer in the stands prior to the NCAA national women’s soccer championship in Santa Clara, California.
BYU fans cheer prior to the NCAA national women’s soccer championship at Stevens Stadium at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Sheri Dew: Because of BYU.

Jennifer Rockwood: Because of BYU. And then the bonus is the opportunity to play on a very successful soccer team that’s been proven to develop players and create great individuals who will go on to do fantastic things. So for me and my staff and our program, the Honor Code is fantastic because that’s why the girls come; they want to be a part of BYU and the atmosphere and the environment and everything that it offers that they can’t find at other schools.


Sheri Dew: I love that. I’ve had endless numbers of conversations with colleagues and family members and friends, all of my friends that are also huge BYU fans as I am, and we debate the merits of the Honor Code over and over and over again. And often, we get to the point where we say, “You know, it’s — yes, it is a requirement, but it’s more of an advantage than a disadvantage, and here’s why.” And you’ve just explained it better than any of us ever have in all my millions of conversations.

Another unique thing about BYU with girls was demonstrated this year. You had several returned missionaries on your team. So, I’ve always wanted to ask one of the coaches at BYU: Tell me how you manage that. How do you manage the girl who comes, she wants to play soccer, but she also wants to go on a mission. Now she’s going to go away for 18 months. She’s going to come back, and she’s going to have to get in shape all over again, and you’re trying to hold a spot for her. All those things, I’ve thought: How do you handle that as a coach?


Jennifer Rockwood: Yeah, I’ll be honest; it’s really hard. And I don’t think many of the other coaches have that issue, for one reason or another. It’s been a struggle. When they changed the age to 19, me and my sister were like, “This isn’t going to impact us,” you know. “That’s after their freshman year,” because in the past, we had girls go on missions, but they played their four years; it was 21, so maybe they waited four months, finished their senior year, and then went on a mission.

And when they changed it to 19, we’re thinking, “No, look, these young girls have worked their whole life. Their parents have invested time, energy, and then to get to be the, you know, 0.1% of LDS girls soccer players that get to come to BYU, that’s going to be their mission, is coming to BYU,” because we talk a lot about being missionaries, wearing BYU on our jerseys, right? That’s how we can impact young players.


Sheri Dew: But you’ve got some girls that want to do it both. They want to have a name tag, and they want to have a jersey.

Jennifer Rockwood: They want to have both name tags. So the first year, thinking naively that it wasn’t going to impact me, I had five girls come to me in the offseason. So, you know, if you understand recruiting at our level, we do recruiting two and three years in advance. So if a girl comes and tells me they want to go on a mission, I can’t replace them. I’m short.


Sheri Dew: If it’s somebody you didn’t know. How often when you recruit do you know, “I want to come and play soccer for you, Coach, but I also want to go on a mission.” Does that help you in recruiting?


Jennifer Rockwood: It’s hard because then you’re like, “OK, do I take a chance on this kid who’s going to come and then leave?”

Sheri Dew: Do I give her a scholarship spot?

Jennifer Rockwood: Exactly. Or do I go to someone who I know will commit? Because as a coach is thinking, “Look, I’m committing to you for four or five years. I’m going to get to help you graduate, you’re going to help our team be successful,” and you need that continuity. On the boys’ side, you can plan it because you kind of know they’re going, most of the time. With a girl, I could be recruiting them as a 16-year-old, and the last thing they’re thinking of is a mission. But then they get to BYU, and they’re there, and after a season they come to me and say, “Jen, I feel like I should go on a mission.” And so that’s where it becomes really tricky for us.

So I’ve panicked. I’ve thought of different ways to handle it. I’ve actually been frustrated, although I 100% support it and recognize that they can have an opportunity unlike they can have at soccer. But if we can make it work, can we combine the two? We’ve been able to do that pretty successfully the past five or six years.

Sheri Dew: Well, clearly; just look at your results. Look at your results.

Jennifer Rockwood: And that’s the thing that allows me, when last year I had three girls come and say, “I’m going on a mission” who I wasn’t expecting, you know, and I just remind myself, “It’s all going to work out. We’re supposed to get blessings from these missionaries, right? I want blessings for these girls going on a mission too.” But it becomes a challenge. It’s sleepless nights sometimes, to be honest with you. And even this year, I had my top returning player, who started every game as a freshman and a sophomore, decide right before our season that she was going on a mission. And now this is 11 seniors I’m graduating.

So I only have a few returning players with significant minutes. And she was one of them. And, you know, I was a little shocked but super supportive. I will support it 100%, because I’ve seen them come back and how much they have to offer our team as the mature person with new experiences. And they have been able to get their soccer back. It’s just taken a lot longer than they thought. But with patience, they’ve been able to come back and compete.


Sheri Dew: So you just touched on where this was going in my mind, because I’ve wondered about this, so thanks for being so clear and also just honest about the unique challenge. But I’ve also said to myself, looking back — whether it’s your team or, frankly, any of the teams at BYU — I’ve thought: Do you think that when all is said and done, and this feels like this couldn’t be true, but I have wondered, “Really does it bless/help your program when these girls come back?” Because they’ve now given 18 months to the Lord. They’ve set aside a scholarship not knowing what will happen to them when they come back, so there’s some faith involved. They’ve now learned to deal with hard knocks. They’ve learned some discipline, probably, although they’re probably disciplined by nature, anyway.

Jennifer Rockwood: But then it’s different, yeah. It’s a different discipline they have to learn.

BYU players console goalkeeper Cassidy Smith after the overtime loss during the NCAA national soccer championship at Santa Clara University.
BYU players console Brigham Young Cougars goalkeeper Cassidy Smith after the overtime loss during the NCAA national soccer championship at Stevens Stadium at Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, California, on Monday, Dec. 6, 2021. BYU lost in overtime penalty kicks. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Sheri Dew: So, does it elevate your team when these girls come back onto the team, even if it takes a while for them to get back in shape? Do you feel that?

Jennifer Rockwood: One hundred percent. And that’s what I have to remind myself when some young girl comes in that I’m planning on for next year, tells me they’re going on a mission; I have to remind myself what we’ve gotten because of this. We had 10 returned missionaries on our team this year who went to the Final Four.

Sheri Dew: That’s astonishing.

Jennifer Rockwood: I didn’t even notice until someone pointed that out, because I’m like dealing with this mission thing that’s a juggling act.

Sheri Dew: So, you’re always juggling.

Jennifer Rockwood: Always juggling. I had — it might catch up to us a little bit this next fall, I’ll be honest — but I’ll have a smaller team than I expected because I have four, five kids that I was expecting that I can’t replace. But it definitely has been a blessing because you look at the girls who’ve done it and come back and how they’ve matured. I think, really, they appreciate BYU and the importance of being at BYU more than they ever did as a young player coming in. I mean, they love BYU, but now I think they realize what BYU can do for them. Now that they’ve returned, the maturity level is amazing. Their testimony and the spirit that they bring to the team every day, even though they’re a rambunctious, fun, outgoing, spazzy, crazy group of girls who love to dance all the time and work hard, that’s what we do. We balance having so much fun but working extremely hard. To see that is truly unbelievable.

And we graduated a few pretty good returned missionaries, but we’ll still have quite a core of at least six or seven returned missionaries on our team right now as we’ve started training and preparing for next fall. So it has been a blessing. It’s been a blessing to me because it’s been a great example. I mean, when I was their age, I could have never given up that. I just wasn’t. Maybe I was too selfish or maybe not strong enough in my testimony or faith.

But to see, like you said, these girls have worked their whole life to get to this spot, to give up a scholarship, give up a spot, give up everything they’ve worked for, to go and serve the Lord and bless the lives of the people that they’ll come in contact with, knowing that they will come back to even more uncertainty than when they were freshmen. And that has taught me a lot about faith and trust. And oh, I think as a team we’ve learned together because of that.


Sheri Dew: This makes me remember a photograph that — I think the Church News published it. But it was, what, three years ago when you went to the College Cup. And it’s your whole team and all of you standing outside of a Latter-day Saint meetinghouse on Sunday because the, what would it have been, the semifinals on Saturday and then the finals on Monday? If I’m remembering that right?

Jennifer Rockwood: Yeah.

Sheri Dew: And here’s this picture of your whole team, went to church, and there you are. I just thought that was the most thrilling photograph because of what it represented.

Jennifer Rockwood: Absolutely.

Sheri Dew: I thought, “Those are the most adorable girls. Look, they’re so talented. Here they are getting ready to play in the finals.”

Jennifer Rockwood: And they’re such good kids.

Sheri Dew: “Look how beautiful they are. Look how good kids they are, and they’re at church.” What missionary opportunities have you seen because of the quality of the girls that play for you? And the fact is those who’ve been on missions, especially, have figured out how to talk to others about the Church, right?


Jennifer Rockwood: A hundred percent. We have opportunities all the time, and that was a special moment.

Sheri Dew: Like, give us an example.

Jennifer Rockwood: That was a special moment. So, the NCAA had to change their championship dates, right? That’s been my goal since I first started coaching back in 1995, is to try and make the NCAA change the national championship game.

Sheri Dew: Because they had to move it from Sunday to Monday.

Jennifer Rockwood: To Monday. And so that was pretty cool for us to do that.

Sheri Dew: Right there was a missionary moment.

Jennifer Rockwood: Exactly. Everybody was, “Why they can’t,” you know, “Oh, because BYU doesn’t compete or practice on Sundays.” And so here’s, you know, a team. Can you imagine any other football or basketball team preparing for the national championship game and not practicing the day before it? And that’s kind of the situation we’re in. And it wasn’t even something like we’re like, “Oh, dear, what are we going to do? This is a disadvantage.” It’s like, “No, we don’t practice or play on Sunday.” Again, part of the reason the girls came, soccer is a Sunday sport in the NCAA. Coming to BYU, they don’t have to practice or play on Sunday.

So that was a huge moment for us, I think, for people to be aware of who we are. It also was a really special moment for the team to be in that setting together, knowing what we were doing was where we should be, and even though we’re playing for the national championship the next day. But we have moments of impact even for our bus driver. We have bus drivers who stay in contact with us because they’re so impressed with the girls on these trips, because that’s what they do; they take different men’s and women’s teams around. And you’ll get a Christmas card from our northern Cali bus driver who requests our team for wherever we go.

And so the girls make an impression, whether it’s planting a seed, possibly opening a door for the players they compete against, the people they meet in the airports. Because we have so many missionaries, I guarantee you most of them have had a conversation with every bus driver we’ve ever had. People at the hotel that are helping us. And they are very comfortable sharing their testimony and sharing what we are, who we are and what we stand for, where we want to go and why we’re doing what we do. And so that’s really special. It happens quite often.

BYU forward Brecken Mozingo fights with North Carolina forward Isabel Cox for the ball during a match.
BYU forward Brecken Mozingo (13) fights with North Carolina forward Isabel Cox (13) for the ball during the NCAA tournament quarterfinals in Provo, Utah, on Friday, Nov. 24, 2023. Mozingo was one of five BYU players selected in the 2024 NWSL draft on Jan. 12, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News


Sheri Dew: Against all this backdrop, then, it’s really interesting. And I was kind of blown away when I read just recently that you had five members of this year’s team drafted into the professional ranks. How does that make you feel as the coach who’s mentored them and brought them along?


Jennifer Rockwood: Super honored, just so proud of them. I’ve known most of them since they were about 12 or 13. We do recruit a lot of Utah kids because there’s a concentration of members of the Church here in Utah, and Utah has great soccer. So I’ve known a lot of these girls for a long time, and to see their growth, to see their struggles, to see what they’ve had to go through to get to where they are to play at the highest level. We have four girls playing professional already, so they’ve kind of had the role models, and most of them knowing them, someone like Ashley Hatch, playing with the U.S. Women’s National Team, who also I’ve known since she was about 11 or 12 years old.

But a really proud and special moment for me to be there with them and to represent our team and our program, and like I said, everything that there is, to see BYU come up on the big screen, “Brigham Young University,” along with the North Carolinas and the Florida States and the Penn States. That’s a pretty cool thing. And so these girls have worked so hard. It’s fun that I had spoken to most, an assistant or a head coach, of all of the pro teams asking about our players. So people are quite aware of our program and our university and the uniqueness of it. And most of those coaches were saying to me they know the quality of our girls. I mean, I think, as a coach, that’s the proudest thing you could say; not only are they good, but they know the character and the quality of our players. It shows on the field.

We played a team this year in the Big 12 on the road, and their best player’s parents came up to me after the game because they’ve been such huge fans of our program, watching us play. And we actually beat this team. But they wanted to come and thank me because they loved how our girls played. They could feel it.

Sheri Dew: Wow, that’s beautiful.

Jennifer Rockwood: And I get that a lot with different coaches and different parents. They wanted to give me a hug after the game, after I just beat their daughter. We just beat their daughter in a huge, big, swell game on their home field. But yeah, that dad wanted to come up and thank me, and my other assistant was there, for just playing how we do and noticing that our players were different. And I get that a lot.

I go out on the recruiting trail, and they’ll see me be in a BYU hat or jacket, and they’re like, “We watch you guys on BYUtv.” The great thing is, “Your girls are so beautiful.” You know, as a coach, you don’t think that that’s what you’re going to hear, but I hear that from a lot of moms. “You guys are so beautiful. Do you have to be beautiful to be on the BYU soccer team?” And, you know, that beauty is from within. And that’s the light that these girls share when they play on the field, and they’re aware of it. And we have to remind them, you know.

I also get the experience to run the soccer camps and see all of these little girls just look up to these girls.

Sheri Dew: Role models, totally, right?

Jennifer Rockwood: Absolutely. And they come for four days, and they get to meet these girls. And that’s one reason we have such a great following, especially on South Field, No. 1 attendance in the country. And a lot of it is those young campers who come and they meet these girls, and they’re all in, and they want to be them someday. And the girls on my team right now can remember when they were at camp and played with an Ashley Hatch and had Ashley Hatch as a camp coach, and aspire to be there.

When I recruited Jamie Shepherd, who was an All-American and drafted to — now she’s up at the Bay. She’s going to go to the Bay. They left today. They were a little anxious and a little nervous to go. But when I sat with her and her parents in my office, they were looking at some of the pictures. And they’re like, “We’ve watched all of those girls play for their whole career.” And this was when Jamie was probably a sophomore in high school.

And so, they sometimes don’t realize the impact, you know. Us older people, we realize the impact they have, and we help remind them of the impact and influence they have and how they represent themselves on and off the field. And we take a lot of pride in that. The girls take a lot of pride in it. And they put a lot of pressure on themselves. But they’re amazing role models. And we’ve got some great young ones coming in to replace the ones we just left. And we just keep trying to do it over and over again.

Brigham Young University fans celebrate after a penalty kick in the women’s soccer match against Michigan State in Provo, Utah.
Brigham Young University fans celebrate after forward Brecken Mozingo (13) makes a penalty kick during the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA College Women’s Soccer Tournament against Michigan State at South Field in Provo, Utah, on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News


Sheri Dew: In that spirit, what motivates you as a coach to keep going? You’ve been at this a while now.

Jennifer Rockwood: I have. You know, it’s all I know, to be honest with you. And it’s nothing that I ever intended to do. I played on the club team, I came to BYU in 1985, and I haven’t left. So I graduated in ’89, had a chance to coach the club team that very next fall. And all my good friends, I was all of a sudden in coaching, so I’ve always been head coach. I’ve never been assistant. I guess I just like being the boss sometimes, you know.

But that journey has been remarkable. It’s nothing I ever expected. I coached the club team six years after that, and we were sanctioned in ’95. And I’m like, “I might as well apply.” I was teaching at the time as well. And then I’ve just been on this journey. This will be our 30th season. And I never anticipated being this long. But I think I do it because of the girls and because of the opportunity to be a part of that. It keeps me young.

As I’ve gotten older, it’s a grind. Last year was probably one of my hardest seasons because of the pressure I felt because we expected to go win a national championship. But what drives me, and what I kept trying to remind myself each day, is, “Give your best for the girls. Do your best to help these girls, who have given so much and have worked so hard. Help them be successful.” And that’s what has really driven me. I have more help than I’ve ever had, I have an amazing staff, and I wouldn’t still be doing it if I didn’t have amazing staff and people around me who were so supportive.

And I really wouldn’t do it if I didn’t have the quality of young women to work with every day. You know, you worry about them. As a coach, you go to sleep thinking about them, how you can help them, praying for them. You wake up in the morning thinking what you need to say to them to motivate them or what are we going to do. And so it’s a 24/7, 365-day-a-year thing that’s hard to go. Us coaches are kind of crazy, I think, to do it. But I keep waiting for the final moment to say it’s time to move on, and it just hasn’t come yet. And we’ve had success, and I enjoy my staff, enjoy the teams and the girls, and excited about the young ones coming up. And I just take it a year at a time.


Sheri Dew: It’s remarkable what you do, really, and you’ll probably never know in this life how much influence you’ve had on all these girls. I’ve just been thinking as you’ve been talking about — and in fact, somebody asked me the other day, “Think about and tell me a teacher that made a difference in your life.” And the first person that comes to mind is a coach. So, a coach who also was a teacher.

Jennifer Rockwood: Me too, yeah.

Sheri Dew: So, I had him in a class also. But he kicked me and helped me be better than I would have ever been on my own. But there was something that he did that made me think he actually thought I had potential to do something, and I wanted to deliver up to what I thought he thought. So, isn’t that interesting that the first thought that comes to mind is a coach?


Jennifer Rockwood: A hundred percent. And as you say that, I think of my high school coach. He pushed me, he made me feel uncomfortable. But I wanted to impress him. I wanted to please him. And that helped me, you know, go through those grinds, and he believed in me, you know.

Sheri Dew: Yeah. See, that’s the thing.

Jennifer Rockwood: And we’ll run through walls for people that we love and feel like they believe in us. And I think that’s what we’re all looking for, for someone who really believes in us. And that’s what we try and do with our staff; we try and show the girls. You know, sometimes we go to them, “Look, we’re a bigger fan than anyone besides your parents, right? But until you believe that you’re capable of it, it doesn’t matter how much we believe in you, right? We can believe in you all we want. But until you learn to believe that yourself, that’s when special things happen.”

And that’s when some of our seniors were able to cross over, where they were relying a lot on what we are saying or what we were thinking, but then they genuinely learn to find it out on their own, and that’s what’s going to help them in the rest of their life, is finding their own confidence, finding their own energy and their own worth, through all of these experiences and ups and downs and crazy times and fun times and tears and all of those emotions that athletics brings, you know.


Sheri Dew: We’ve talked a lot about the tremendous success you’ve had. And truly, you’ve built an elite program recognized everywhere.

Jennifer Rockwood: Thank you.

Sheri Dew: But you’ve also had disappointing seasons. What have the disappointing seasons taught you? I mean, everything doesn’t always roll out like you hope it will, year after year after year. Some years just don’t.


Jennifer Rockwood: Correct. And sometimes even in the good years, there’s individual things that happen that are super hard. And, you know, I’ve had plenty of those, more than my fair share. But I think that’s when you have to turn to the Lord, and you really have to have someone that, again, believes in you and know that you can always turn to for that guidance and that support, to get you through that adversity, and knowing that you always have someone you can rely on. And I’ve had to do that a lot. I still do it every day. Wake up this morning, saying, “Heavenly Father, help me get through this day and do the right things and say the right things.”

But I think, you know, just like we talked about today with my team, is we all go through those ups and downs, but those adversities and those hard times are where you learn and grow the most. And so when you’re in them, you have to remind yourself something good is going to come out of that. There’s something to learn. When a player goes down and you know how hard they’ve worked, and they tear their ACL, and you know that’s a nine-month process back, you know, you can honestly say to them, “You’re going to learn something from this that you wouldn’t have otherwise learned. You’re going to go in a direction that you wouldn’t have otherwise gone. And you’re going to meet and go through experiences that you wouldn’t have otherwise that are going to help you on that path.”

And so as I look back, my most challenging year as a coach, where I almost just gave it up, that is what helped take the program in a new direction and made me a better coach. And that wasn’t too long ago, you know, six, seven years ago. And so they’re ours. And, you know, as you know, some days are worse than others. Some days, you’re just like, “I’m done with this. I’ve been here, done that. I want something different.” But then it always comes back to, “I like the challenge of it.” I’m a true competitor at heart, I like to solve problems, I like to figure out ways to fix them if they’re not working. And so I think all of us, too, like the thrill and adrenaline that competition brings, and I’m right in the middle of it.

I tell people a lot, not many people get experience. You can feel like you’re the best coach in the world one minute, and a goal scored on you or three goals are scored on you, and you feel like, “I don’t know what I’m doing,” you know.

Sheri Dew: After all these years.

Jennifer Rockwood: After all these years, And that adrenaline out on South Field, 5,000 people, the cameras are on, we’re playing UCLA at home, the No. 1 ranked team in the country. And I’m thinking, “Man, there’s not a lot of people who get this feeling that I get.” And so you try and remind yourself this is a pretty cool blessing. I’ve been truly blessed. I’ve worked really hard, but I’ve been blessed to have such amazing people and a group of supporting assistants and administrators that really help us do what we do every day.

Brigham Young University teammates celebrate  after a penalty kick in a women’s soccer match against Michigan State in Provo, Utah.
Brigham Young University teammates celebrate forward Brecken Mozingo (13) after making a penalty kick during the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA College Women’s Soccer Tournament against Michigan State at South Field in Provo, Utah, on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023. | Megan Nielsen, Deseret News


Sheri Dew: Boy, I’ve loved this, Jennifer. This is just awesome. Let me conclude with this question: You have had, as you’ve just articulated, a privileged seat — a pressurized seat, but a privileged seat.

Jennifer Rockwood: Absolutely.

Sheri Dew: And privileged in one way in the sense of having the opportunity to day in and day out work with young women and help them in a crucial phase of their lives, really, probably set a platform from themselves that will help drive them maybe the rest of their lives. So, would you picture all of the parents out there and leaders and educators and others who also work with young women — or young men, for that matter, but young women in particular — what would you tell us to help us do better in helping the next generation mold their lives? What have you learned about that?

Jennifer Rockwood: Oh, that’s a big question.

Sheri Dew: It’s a huge question. And there’s not any easy answer, right?


Jennifer Rockwood: Sure, yeah. And there’s so many different answers. I would think that one of the big things is find a connection. You know, in today’s world, with all the social media and all of the stuff that’s not real, find a real face-to-face connection with these kids. They want it. They’re striving for it. They want someone to hold them accountable. They want someone who expects big things from them. They want someone to challenge them to be better and do it with love. And that little connection can inspire them to try harder or to find a way out of some hard things knowing that someone cares about them deeply, not just because they’re called to do it, but because they have found a personal connection, where they believe that they’re more capable of what they’re doing right now. And it can help.

And sometimes we just need a smile, a positive word, a simple connection. And that goes a long way, as we all know. You know, one of my campers comes up and says, “Jen, those are cool shoes. I like those.” That simple thing from a 13-year-old makes me feel pretty good. You know, after everything, it’s those simple things. And that’s what I have to kind of remind myself as well, is it’s sometimes just the simple things. I think we want to do all this and write all these notes and do all this. You know what? Simple eye-to-eye connection, tap on the shoulder, “How was your day?” you know, “What are you doing tonight? Who’s your boyfriend? What’s your family doing on vacation?” Those are the kind of connections that I think kids really yearn for right now and need, and they need it from a lot of different people, not just one, right? They need it from so many people.

I think of growing up in Portland, Oregon, and the people in the ward and how influential they were. I have four younger brothers, and our lives growing up, and our parents were around all the time. And we had coaches, and we did sports, but, you know, you’re Young Women’s leader, the guy who takes you camping and merit badges and Eagle Scouts and all of that, the influence that they have on all of our lives is so magical and can really help us. And it just seems like there’s a need more than ever, especially for these, you know, 10-, 11-, 12-, 13-year-olds who need some sort of connection and know that they’re valued and that they have a lot to offer.


Sheri Dew: I love that because what I’m hearing you say is, “It’s about love.”

Jennifer Rockwood: It’s always about love.

Sheri Dew: It’s about love and caring.

Jennifer Rockwood: Absolutely. Genuine, not superficial or fake, but genuine, yeah.


Sheri Dew: Well, Coach Jennifer Rockwood, we are thrilled that you would join us on the Church News podcast today. Thank you for, first of all, for enormous work over many years. Congratulations on such tremendous success. But in particular, thanks for giving us some things to think about, about how to mentor the next generation — certainly in sport, but it bleeds over to every other aspect of life, and we’re grateful that you would share your expertise, your experience with us. Thank you so very much, and go Cougars.

Jennifer Rockwood: I appreciate you having me. It’s an honor to be here, so thank you.

Sheri Dew: Thank you.


Sarah Jane Weaver: You have been listening to the Church News podcast. I’m your host, Church News executive editor Sarah Jane Weaver. I hope you have learned something today about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by peering with me through the Church News window. Please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast so it can be accessible to more people. And if you enjoyed the messages we shared today, please make sure you share the podcast with others. Thanks to our guests; my producer, KellieAnn Halvorsen; and others who make this podcast possible. Join us every week for a new episode. Find us on your favorite podcasting channels or with other news and updates on the Church on

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