FRISCO, Texas (Sept. 27, 2016) – While Dallas Kicks SC (TX-N) coach Juan Martinez was the one being awarded the 2016 North Texas Soccer Dr Pepper Girls Competitive Coach of the Year, he’'ll be the first to admit he wasn’t the first coach in the family.
“My wife was actually the coach of the family. She coached my nieces’ team, and she always had a lot of fun,” Martinez said. “We met through soccer, and she always tried to get me involved, but I knew from playing the demands of the job.”
Martinez’s hesitance would eventually evaporate when he began coaching the Kicks, which have become a North Texas powerhouse that has claimed multiple US Youth Soccer North Texas State Cup and Region III Championships titles, a US Youth Soccer National Championships finals finish in 2015 and multiple players being called up to U.S. Youth National Team camps. Not bad for a team that began practicing in Martinez’s backyard.
“Things started with seven girls, four who are still with the club, with the goal of putting them in a good environment to grow. Besides that there wasn’t much of a plan,” Martinez said. “The team’s success has allowed me to help other coaches who were in similar situations of having players who didn’t have the money to pay for select soccer. I was able to take them under my wing, and we became a club that was able to compete with the ‘pay to play’ system and not exclude players from low-income families.”
Having grown up playing in North Texas and competing in the North Texas State Cup and regional events, Martinez is all too familiar with the competition that he describes as “cut-throat” in North Texas. Martinez remains persistent in his pursuit to leave no player behind due to financial reasons.
“I’ve always said to parents ‘if there is a will, there is a way’ whether that is through team fundraisers or coaches taking pay cuts,” Martinez said. “Now we have players who wouldn’t previously have been able to afford select soccer on the team, and we can focus on player development and creating a positive environment – not who can write a check and who can’t”
The Dallas Kicks 01 team has become an embodiment of that philosophy as the team has qualified to the National Championships three years in a row. In addition to acquiring multiple state and regional titles, the Kicks have claimed US Youth Soccer Southern Regional Premier League titles and a first-place finish in the prestigious US Youth Soccer National League.
“Once we get on the field, it doesn’t matter who has the better facilities or the nicer jerseys,” Martinez said. “All that matters are the 11 players on each side of the field with a ball in the middle.”
While his team’s success on the field in state, regional and national competitions is apparent, Martinez remains focused on how tournaments of these magnitudes help his players grow and mature.
“This team has grown so much during these events on and off the field. Learning the sportsmanship of winning and losing is very important to me. Losing back-to-back State Cups back at the Under-11 and Under-12 level and not winning regionals in 2015 taught them that sometimes the ball doesn’t bounce your way, and if you don’t win, lose graciously and respect the game,” Martinez said. “They have learned the road to success is not a straight path. There are valleys, hills and mountains to climb and through those competitions your character is built through adversity. Every time they have bounced back with more determination. They are always going to remember winning state and regional titles and reaching a national final, but more importantly they will remember those lessons that allowed them to grow so much as individuals because of those events.”
That’s not so say his side hasn’t had its share of individual achievements. Kicks forward Jaida Thomas has been a leading scorer in National League seasons, Regional and National Championships. Thomas received the 2015 National Championships Golden Ball award and has been named to the National Championships Best XI team all three years the team has competed at the National Championships. Kicks midfielder Samantha Meza has been named to two Best XI teams and has been called into every Under-15 U.S. Women’s National Team camp this year. Meza helped the U-15 USWNT win the 2016 CONCACAF U-15 Girls’ Championships while scoring six goals and being named to the CONCACAF All-Star team.
“Samantha went to the CONCACAF tournament a couple weeks after nationals, and I think the playing time helped her because she was sharp after having played regionals and nationals. She was prepared mentally and physically, and it paid off. She was recently called into the U-16 camp in the Netherlands,” Martinez said. “I think playing on a national team has really helped her mature and become a role model for not only the younger teams, but becoming a leader on our team.”
Martinez says he sounds like a broken record to all of his coaches, but emphasizes the importance of creating a good environment for players. He explains at the youngest ages, fun is the most important factor, while learning is second and winning is third. So practices at that age are games with the hopes of getting the kids excited about practice and fall in love with the game.
“Then at the U10-12 age I tell the coaches it becomes more about the learning. Fun is still second and wining is third. Learning has to be in the sessions where they are being taught the game. You can still have fun, but if they want to compete at the state, regional and national level, it can’t be all games,” Martinez said. “Once they get to the U-13 level you have to focus more on winning because if you don’t win you don’t have the opportunity to play at the most competitive tournaments. They are still learning, and the players have so much fun competing at the highest level because they fell in love with the game at a young age.”
When asked to recall winning the Coach of the Year award, Martinez explains that it is an honor, and a testament to what putting players first can achieve.
“Oh man it was unreal. I never imagined being recognized as the North Texas Soccer Coach of the Year, because I know how hard and demanding it is to coach in North Texas. It was great sharing that moment with my family,” Martinez said. “Awards like this are given off a body of work, and not just a season. I think it also inspires other coaches in our club that if you do the right thing and put players first, you will be recognized. It was a special night for me personally, but for the club it was great to be recognized off the field.”
When asked if he had advice for coaches who are just beginning, Martinez talks about trusting your gut and not losing sight of why you began coaching in the first place.
“Coaching is a partnership between coach, parent and player. If you are not all on the same page, it won’t work. It is very demanding, but at the end of the day if you are doing it for the kids, it is all worth it,” Martinez said. “I feel like I found my purpose in life. I feel blessed to impact lives through this beautiful sport.”
For a profile on the North Texas Soccer Dr Pepper Boys Recreational Coach of the Year, John Moen here.