Soccer is always referred to as the world's sport and over the past decade it has been growing more and more in the United States. In some parts of the United States, young players are already eating, breathing and sleeping soccer.
That was me 20 years ago. Now, I am still doing the same thing. I grew up in a traditional Portuguese household in New Jersey. My father was a professional Portuguese soccer player and gave up his dreams to continue further so he could come to the United States. Needless to say, soccer ran in my genes.
My younger brother and I spent day and night playing soccer. We waited everyday until my father came home from work to practice out in the yard or in our basement during the winter. Soccer was the only thing that existed in our home. All these training sessions led me to division championships in high school, appearances at national tournaments and to a Division II college soccer scholarship. Although I had the opportunity to do all these things, the best thing about it is that I remember it all with a smile on my face.
I think back to my teammates and all the fun times we had in between games at tournaments, trips to away games or the pranks we used to play on our coaches. Many of us played at different high schools and it was always such a rivalry playing against each other. As we started getting older and announcing where we were going to college, we realized we might not see each other as much anymore. The memories will always be there though.
Not everyone has the luxury of having a relative with such great soccer experience who can coach them. I was lucky. My parents put in a lot of time, a lot of miles on the car and a lot of money into soccer. As I got older, I realized all the sacrifices they made and I still thank them until this day. Soccer led me to my college education and that led me to where I am today - Mifflin County.
I moved here to take on my dream job, a teacher and a soccer coach. It was something I dreamt of all my life and something I loved to do. I thought about three things: First, I thought about all the great memories I had playing soccer and was excited at the opportunity to provide players with the same memories. Next, I thought about the kind of coaches I had and everything I had learned as a player to develop my coaching philosophy. Lastly, I thought about my parents and how they had done everything, so I wanted to see their opinions on what I could do to better help other parents. After seeing things from so many different points of view, I knew that my coaching philosophy was formed.
I wanted to develop players, at all ages, to enjoy the game as much as I did and to develop them to the next level. I also wanted to teach my players the importance of sportsmanship and responsibility. Most importantly, I wanted them to have great memories and more experiences than I did.
When I moved to Mifflin County, I quickly learned that there were not as many soccer opportunities as the area where I grew up. I knew my task as head coach was not going to be easy, but I was eager to get started. I found myself at every moment trying to think about ways to build the program and provide my players more and more opportunities to play and have fun.
During the offseason, I found myself trying to find other locations to coach and meet new players and coaches. My eating, breathing and sleeping soccer continued. About a year ago, I started working with the Mifflin County Soccer Club on ways to help develop players and the soccer opportunities in the area. The club members knew the community. I saw the potential the community had.
Many people are aware that the club offers recreational leagues in the fall and travel teams in the spring, but we were aware that we needed more. We worked to help educate coaches by offering the USSF "E" license coaching course in January and provide players with more camp options in the summer. In the last couple of months we have been working really hard to offer opportunities for beginners, intermediate players and those who want to play at the premier level.
Mifflin County Soccer Club will continue to offer the recreational league in the fall along with other opportunities for young players. It also is important to educate parents and volunteer coaches on the sport, and the club will work to do that as well.
Over the years Mifflin County Soccer Club has generated some youth soccer players with incredible talents that were looking to pursue their soccer careers at the next level. There also were players who really wanted to become better soccer players and could not find the experience in coaches. Unfortunately, there haven't been many options in Mifflin County and players have started traveling to Harrisburg, Lock Haven or State College. This summer, the Mid Penn Soccer Academy has come together to create those opportunities for the premier players and for the players seeking the next level right here in Mifflin County from ages 5-18.
All these opportunities are a start to building a community of soccer where both players and parents will create friendships surrounding this great sport. The memories players will create will last a lifetime and I hope to see that their experiences are even better than mine.
Anita Valerio is Indian Valley High School's varsity girls soccer coach.