Daniel joined Soccer for Success as a coach-mentor during the 2012-2013 season at Madrid Middle School. It was there that he first met players Jonathan and Giovanni “Gio.” Little did he know that, just over six years later, he would be coaching alongside them as Soccer for Success coach-mentors.
AS SOCCER FOR SUCCESS PLAYERS
Daniel remembers Jonathan, who started the program in the 7th grade, as timid. Jonathan explains that when he first started, he “was still pretty new to soccer,” and agrees that he was very shy. “I wouldn’t ask many questions. I’d just be in the back,” he says, also remarking that he “thought that playing in an after-school program with people [he] knew” might help him improve his soccer skills.
Throughout Jonathan’s experience with Soccer for Success, coach-mentor Daniel saw him grow as a person and come out of his shell. Daniel explains that Soccer for Success provided a place where Jonathan could both discover his interests and develop a sense of independence. “I feel that Soccer for Success really helped Jonathan out a lot, because once he got to high school, he didn’t need help from anybody, even counselors.”
Though Gio was playing on a club team, he enjoyed coming to Soccer for Success practices because they allowed him to play soccer with his school friends. Additionally, he felt that Soccer for Success taught him to value the impact nutrition had on his game—an aspect of athleticism not emphasized at his club.
“Before practice, the [Soccer for Success coach-mentors] would talk to us about nutrition, and I was never into that [before],” Gio explains. “It just got me interested because they started talking about how it could benefit you to be a better soccer player when eating right.”
After graduating from the Soccer for Success program and as he entered high school, Gio continued to integrate what he had learned about nutrition into his daily life. “I started incorporating [the nutrition lessons] after the program,” he recalls. “I was just more disciplined in watching what I ate.”
Coach-mentor Daniel emphasizes that the most critical thing that both Jonathan and Gio learned from their time in Soccer for Success was team building and team relationships. “Even in their younger days, they really valued that,” he explains. “They would prefer to lose but with a team that would play together and give an effort together as opposed to being on a team with a lot of individuals looking for a scoreboard.”
In high school, Jonathan and Gio maintained a close relationship to the Soccer for Success program. “Every year that I can remember — from their freshman to senior year — they were constantly asking me about the program: if we have the same coaches, if we have more schools, how are our games going,” recounts Daniel. Jonathan and Gio “were always indirectly involved with the program after they left, just checking up. Every now and then, they would go to our sites on Saturdays where we’d have our Saturday games.”
However, it was through different experiences that Jonathan and Gio came to realize that they wanted to be coach-mentors.
For Jonathan, his realization came through a guided discovery with his coach-mentor, Daniel, who also happened to coach at his high school. Throughout Jonathan’s senior year, the two would work one-on-one so that Jonathan could improve his game. “I would ask him to help me out with soccer in general,” Jonathan remembers. “We would talk about the…mentality of players and just the philosophy of soccer.”
Daniel, too, saw that Jonathan’s interest was piqued the more they trained together. “Through those practice sessions, he began to get more and more interested in coaching. He began to offer me ideas…He began to ask how my week would go with my program.”
Throughout those sessions with Daniel, Jonathan’s confidence in his own ability grew. “I really felt like I could do a good job of explaining soccer to other kids the way [Daniel] did for me.”
For Gio, the moment he wanted to become a coach-mentor was almost immediately evident. Having played soccer since the age of six — on multiple club teams, as a Soccer for Success participant, and for the U16 U.S. National Team — he knew that soccer was always going to be a part of his life. But it wasn’t until he suffered a career-ending injury in his junior year of high school that he knew he would be a coach. He says, “The injury made me realize ‘I don’t want to stay away from soccer, from the thing that I love.’”
So, when Gio came across the coach-mentor application, he says, “it brought back a lot of memories.”
Jose Vega, the El Monte CBI program manager who, among other things, oversees the hiring of new coaches, says he always asks one question of prospective coach-mentors: Why do you want to work with us and with kids? Jose recalls that both Jonathan and Gio had similar responses. They said that the “program has been one of the things that has opened [their] eyes; that [now] there are so many things that we can do.” He further explains that they “have that mentality of wanting to give back.”
Now, with a season of Soccer for Success coaching under their belts, Jonathan and Gio have been able to reflect on their time as participants and how to use their own experience as players to keep their kids engaged.
“When I was a player,” remembers Jonathan, “I would look up videos [to learn more] and I would go back to those videos [as a coach] to refresh my memory.”
“[Jonathan and Gio] wrap their head around concepts and ideas very quickly as well as being aware of how the program was back then and what we’re trying to do with it now,” explains Daniel. “It’s really helped us with a few of [the participants] primarily because it literally is a first-hand voice on what participants think about the program.”
Jonathan and Gio are also grateful for the impact their coach-mentor had on them. “He was so inspiring to me,” Gio says of Daniel. “I got everything he taught me, and I taught it back to the kids, giving them speeches and how they could improve every day, not just in soccer, but in their lives.”
“He was a good mentor, even now,” says Jonathan. “He’s the reason why I have the job in the first place.”
While Daniel played a role in Jonathan’s and Gio’s growth, both as players and as coaches, Daniel is confident in their abilities. “They still have a pure love for the game, and it shows in their coaching,” he says. “I think they’ve discovered a lot of who they are.”
Jonathan agrees that without Soccer for Success, he’d be a different person. He says that without it, “I’d be a bit more reclusive…I definitely think I wouldn’t appreciate the game as much…both as a player and a coach.” He says that now, “I’m more outgoing. I’ll speak louder. I’ll ask a lot more questions. A million times more different than back in 7th grade for sure.”
Now, as coach-mentors, Jonathan and Gio have a new avenue through which to appreciate soccer. “I fell in love with coaching,” says Gio. “[The kids] don’t just see you as a coach, they see you as a mentor.”