It’s a sunny evening in early April and the soccer season has just kicked off for youth in the IMPACT Sports Program. Players on the U15 – U16 teams (meaning “under” ages 15 and 16) are here on the soccer field next to Weller Road Elementary School. Weaving in and out of rows of bright orange cones, teenagers (both male and female) practice their ball dribbling skills. Among these players are members of the championship-winning team, the Thundercats led by coach Milton Pineda.
Milton joined the IMPACT Sports program 6 years ago as a volunteer soccer coach to, as he put it, “have an excuse to spend time with [his] son.” Milton, who played soccer in high school and Liga B in El Salvador, soon found that he really enjoyed coaching. “I fell in love with the kids,” he explained. Two years ago, Milton was hired as a part-time coach, and he hasn’t looked back since.
His team recently won the U15 boys indoor soccer state championship. When asked how he was able to be so competitive against teams from other soccer academies, many of whom charge players thousands of dollars for training and uniforms (the IMPACT Sports program is completely free), he said three words: respect, dedication, and chemistry. “There’s a lot of trust among the players. I make sure that everyone gets to participate. I also insist that they keep up their grades in school and show good sportsmanship on the field,” Milton added.
On this day, the players are working on drills with both boys and girls practicing together. When asked what she liked about co-ed practices, Rashel, an Argyle Middle School student, said, “It helps build my skills and pushes me to work harder.” Several of the players shared that soccer has helped them build friendships and have something fun to do. The Thundercats will be competing in another tournament at the Michael & Sons Sportsplex in June. In the meantime, they’ll keep practicing twice weekly and ending each of those practices with 5 minutes of field clean up. Coach Milton explained, “You should always clean the field before you leave. I like to teach life lessons as well as soccer skills.”