We had the opportunity to sit down with coach-mentors Sal and Perla ahead of our Soccer for Success clinics in the week leading up to MLS All-Star in Los Angeles. Not only are Sal and Perla stellar on the field with the kids, but we were also thrilled to get to know them off the field and learn more about their love for the game, experiences as coach-mentors, and their goals outside of soccer.
Sal and Perla have been coaching Soccer for Success with El Monte CBI – one of the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s longest-standing Soccer for Success partners – for several years. While soccer had played a huge role in each of their lives, it was through their involvement in the local community that they ultimately became coach-mentors.
How did you get started with Soccer for Success?
SAL: I’ve been playing soccer all my life starting at six years of age and then competed in AYSO and started playing club as time went on. I played in high school level competition, but an accident kept me from playing in college.
Right after high school, I came across a coaching assignment with the City of El Monte. Through their parks and rec department, I was coaching with youth anywhere from 3rd all the way to 8th grade. The opportunity to work with the U.S. Soccer Foundation came up when I was working with Our Saviour Center at El Monte CBI and Jose Vega, the program director, told me about an organization that did year-round soccer and asked if I was interested. That organization turned out to be the U.S. Soccer Foundation! I’ve been coaching in the city of El Monte basically my entire life with different organizations, but I’ve been with the U.S. Soccer Foundation for the longest amount of time – about 10 years now.
PERLA: Soccer has always been big in my family. I started playing soccer at age 10 and, as I got older, found myself volunteering as a coach. I got involved with Soccer for Success because one of my old soccer teammates started working with El Monte. When she told me about this job I thought, ‘this is cool that I get to do something I am interested in and also get paid for it.’ I’ve now been with the program for about three years.
What do you think makes Soccer for Success different from traditional sports programs?
PERLA: I really enjoy the connection that we build with the children. I build strong relationships with a lot of them and their parents too. Just seeing them smile and seeing them have all that fun on the field is what fulfills me and makes me want to come back to Soccer for Success day after day.
The kids approach you and want to talk to you about their day. That really impacts me because I know I’m really doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m here helping these kids. I’m allowing them to open up to me.
Our coach-mentor network is also incredibly strong. All of the coaches in El Monte are just amazing people. I know that if I ever need help with anything, like teaching points for a specific soccer drill, they’re always there.
SAL: I love the way the program gives back to the community. When I was growing up, everything was about money, and it cost me a lot of money to be involved in these programs. You are not charged for equipment; you’re not charged for uniform; you’re not charged for game times.
The program itself is great too because it allows us to show the kids the fundamentals of the sport. Not only that, but the nutrition aspect teaches the kids how to maintain that balance between eating healthy food versus junk food. I think soccer is ultimately the best sport just because it keeps you physically conditioned and it’s a great way to get involved in something positive.
How has being a coach-mentor impacted you personally?
PERLA: In addition to coaching as a Soccer for Success coach-mentor, I’m also going to school and majoring in child development. I have a cousin with a disability. He built a very strong relationship with me, and it was something that he hadn’t done with any of his family before. That opened my eyes into a possible career and, ever since then, I’ve been working on majoring in child development – specifically, working with children with disabilities.
Once I graduate, I’d be working in a school setting, so that would mean working with a lot of different children and a large group of them, too, because I know that I wouldn’t only be responsible for just one child.
This is all to say that Soccer for Success is giving me that experience working with more than one child and knowing how to control more than one of them. The connections that I’m building with children in our Soccer for Success program are helping me just as much as them.
What is one of your favorite things about Soccer for Success?
SAL: Every time I set foot on the field, especially during our game days, it’s just overwhelming to see how the kids’ eyes light up and how parent participation is on our Saturday games. Our parking lot is full. It’s hard to find parking with how many children and parents are involved in our organization. To me, that’s an “aha” moment I have every Saturday when I set foot on the field. The kids just can’t wait every Saturday to participate in their games and that’s a great, overwhelming sensation for me.