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CoachUp: The Difference in the Details

When you’re coaching your child’s soccer team, it’s almost second-nature to recall each game in fine detail. But when the details don’t reflect your team’s potential, it’s time to take action.

Antonio Oropeza of Lomita, California heads his son Antonio Jr.’s under-14 boys soccer team, Melbourne City FC. He clearly remembers the game before his son received one-on-one coaching through CoachUp.

“We had taken 3 total shots on goal,” says Oropeza of that match. The team was averaging 5 to 7 shots on goal per game throughout the season and had yet to win a game. “All of a sudden, we were attacking the goalie.” The Melbourne City FC took 18 shots on goal that day, winning their first game of the season, 2–0. “My son took 5 shots,” Oropeza recalls like it was yesterday. “The other boys’ shots on goal were 4 for Richard, 5 for Chris and 4 for Noah [for] a total of 18,” he recounts on cue.

Antonio Jr. had one session with Kenney Walker, a midfielder with the Los Angeles Galaxy, where he worked on ball control and gaining better field vision. Not only did the one-on-one coaching improve Antonio Jr.’s own game, but he related what he had learned to his teammates, elevating the entire team to their full potential. “I told him that you have to incorporate what you learn back in the team,” says Walker. “Talk to your teammates, and everyone else will start catching on.”

Oropeza decided to turn to CoachUp this season after his son decided to switch from goalie to a field position. Over the summer, Oropeza practiced soccer fundamentals like first touch and striking the ball with his son, but he soon found that he was unable to give him a lesson where he could challenge himself and truly improve. “We could practice, but it wasn’t an engaged practice,” says Oropeza.

Though he didn’t initially have the intention of having his son coached by a Galaxy player, when he saw Walker on the website, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

“From talking to other professionals—[David] Beckham, Landon [Donovan]—I’ve learned that soccer fundamentals always come back to the first touch, which is trying to put your first touch exactly where you want it,” says Walker. “I try to work on that with the little guys, as well as ball control. [Antonio Jr.] had the talent, but he just needed the refinement. He picked everything up really quickly. Repetition is the easiest thing for young players. And, if they’re willing to get better and want to get better, that’s half the battle.”

Antonio Jr. has the drive, as his dad notes that his son would like to pursue soccer and engineering in college.

Walker isn’t the only Galaxy player signed up with CoachUp, as teammate Chandler Hoffman also coaches budding soccer stars in the Los Angeles area. The two bounce coaching ideas off of each other, often running into each other’s sessions on area fields. “We talk about how kids react to our techniques,” says Walker. They both often coach kids who are eager to work on the high-energy aspects of soccer, like shooting, and can relate to the challenge of encouraging kids to also work on technical skills that will ultimately improve their entire game. “We figure out how to incorporate dribbling into the session, and how to get them [to] not feel bored. We’ll do things like add three or four touches [before shooting] so they don’t even notice that they’re getting better at the little things.”

Oropeza immediately noticed positive results. “What changed was [Antonio Jr.’s] ability to take in all the info, [and he learned skills that] he could continually work on,” continues Oropeza. “He also learned drills, which he now continues to do.” During the game, Antonio Jr. displayed an increased awareness of where everyone was on the field, making passes to teammates and shooting on goal instead of kicking the ball blindly without a target. “The other kids started mimicking what he was doing,” says Oropeza of the winning game.

Oropeza noticed that, in addition to his son’s increased dexterity with the soccer ball, he had also built confidence. “I told him even the best players mess up,” says Walker. “Pretend like you didn’t mess up. Laugh it off. If you can do that while doing anything, you’re doing all right. No one is going to notice.”

Coming from a pro athlete, the advice was more relatable for Antonio Jr., as Antonio Sr. noted that having a coach closer to his son’s age also helped him to stay engaged during and after the session. “He related to Kenney more,” he says. “It makes it more clear for him, as the language is more the same.”

Walker, who played collegiate soccer at Louisville, uses his childhood soccer memories as motivation for helping get other kids to the next level in soccer. Growing up in Cleveland, he recalls the challenge of perfecting his game, particularly during the harsh winters. “I didn’t know it was going to pay off until I got to where I wanted to be,” he says. “That’s what I think about when I’m coaching kids. If I can do something that pushes [a kid] a little further, that might get them to the level where they want to be.”

Walker’s expertise as a pro also helps the kids he coaches to better understand the game and its intricacies, a key component to helping soccer gain additional traction on the national stage. “When we play the game better from a younger age, it will become more popular,” says Walker.

“I’m super convinced that this level of coaching is worth its weight,” says Oropeza. And, because of the immediate success, Oropeza is confident his son will continue to improve his game with Walker. “When we commit to something, we stay. We’ll work with Kenney for at least the next year.”


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