For Joel Apudo, being a coach and mentor with Soccer in the Streets is like working for Santa Claus. No … he isn’t taking gift requests for Christmas, but each minute he spends on soccer fields in and around Atlanta brings the satisfaction that can only come from the wide smiles on the faces of budding soccer players.
Joel, 22, was born in Dayton, Ohio, but has lived with his parents in Atlanta for the past eight years. In the eyes of many youth soccer players and adults, he is a community leader.
"I started playing soccer at my local YMCA around the age 8, my dad was the one encouraging me,” Joel said. “My parents both grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, but my mom isn’t that into sports. I kept playing and at the age of 11, I met the first coach who inspired me to be a soccer coach. He was young, but he was the best soccer player I had seen at the time. He always told me that if I ever stopped playing I should think about coaching."
The coming of Station Soccer, the field at the Five Points MARTA station, has ushered in a novel approach to soccer in the city and Joel is all-in on the concept and the positive results that have come from the program in a relatively short time. Joel has been inspired and motivated by the power of soccer to bring together youngsters from all over the city -- attracted to a game, but taking away much more from their time on the field.
“Joel is an excellent example of what we strive for in terms of our coaching staff,” said Lauren Glancy, Director of Programs at Soccer in the Streets. “His ability to connect and build relationships within the community through the medium of soccer allows him to serve not only as a coach but as a role model and mentor.”
“The kids are all so eager to learn and they are respectful,” Joel said. “I love that it gives me a chance to teach the kids about the mental part of the game. I think it’s something that is hard to talk about especially with young kids but for me, it’s something that needs to be understood early. Being mentally tough, and intelligent is much more than just a soccer lesson.”
That said, the lessons have been a two-way street for Joel. The interaction with the youngsters at the Five Points MARTA Station has had a profound impact on him, presenting Joel with the opportunity to help the players deal with their emotions within the context of a sport. The program has also seen Joel become an important, positive influence in the lives of the players. Each time on the field, Joel learns a bit more about himself and becomes a better coach while also recognizing that his words and actions have an unquantifiable but important influence on the young players as they grow with the game and into themselves.