- Joel Apudo coaches with Soccer in the Streets
- He’s volunteered countless hours of his time
- “My favourite part is watching kids become more creative”
Twenty-two. That’s the age when you feel like your whole life’s ahead of you, and you’re ready to make the first big step of your carefully-crafted, planned career. You’re caught up in a tangled web of job applications, cover letters and dreams.
For Joel Apudo, he’s standing on the edge of a five-a-side pitch underneath the elevated train tracks of the West End MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) station yelling instructions at six-year-olds, pleading with them to pay attention, to follow instructions and to not pick up the ball with their hands.
“I love the sport,” Apudo said to FIFA.com. “The first coach I had that I felt was more than a coach was someone I had when I was nine years old.”
Joel is Community Program Manager with Soccer in the Streets, a non-profit organisation centred around providing better access to quality soccer programming and opportunities for youth in the city of Atlanta, Georgia.
When Joel turned 12, his coach tragically passed away. The coach had encouraged Joel and his friends to mentor young kids because, as he said, “There will always be those who look like you who want to play.” That was when Joel knew the door was open for him to one day pass on the knowledge he learned to the next generation.
Joel’s father is from Kenya and football is in his blood, so it was inevitable that the young man would get involved with the sport in some form. Once his dad got his coaching license and even coached Joel, his desire to coach grew.
When asked how football helps youth development he said: “It helps in terms of respect, perseverance and enrichment, making connections with kids you normally wouldn’t meet and play with.”
Joel had several stories of kids who he helped go from never kicking a ball in their lives to going on to coaching alongside him and making giant strides in their own playing careers.
“All I do is show them how ultimately they’re responsible for their own development,” Apudo said. “I’m just a coach. This programme is just a vehicle for them to get better. Watching them reach those goals has impacted me the most.
“I feel like their big brother. I’m learning a lot about patience, it’s so big. I forget I’m dealing with really young kids, some who are four years old, who are bringing baseball shoes to practise – they’re brand new to the game. I’ve also learned about appreciation for development.
“As long as you encourage them, as long as we put these kids in the correct environment, understanding that it’s our job as coaches to make sure their environment is safe and fun and makes them want to get better. If it’s not, they’re not going to want to play again and they’re not going to get better.”
Joel’s not doing this for his own good. He’s not sacrificing hours upon hours of his time to merely get along and to co-operate; he’s helping plant a seed that will grow a lifelong love of football while teaching his players to respect others in every aspect of their lives.
“My favourite part about coaching these kids is watching them become more creative and become more confident; it’s almost like watching your kid grow up,” he said. “When I get kids who are afraid to take more than two touches on the ball and then at the end of the season they’re trying to take on players one-on-one, that’s my favourite part.
“It’s not about me doing something for them or about finding the best player in the world, it’s that they believe.”