From the Pitch

Finding the Value of Youth Sports


Growing up here in the USA, soccer was never the most popular sport. The game, an immigrant to this country, always found itself secondary to several traditional American pastimes. Even now, I find that more kids take up football, baseball, or basketball as their sport. I dabbled in those sports growing up too, but soccer was the one that stuck.

I was immersed in fussball (soccer) by my German dad and my family in Germany, especially my opa. Looking back, I don’t think it was necessarily any technical attribute of the game itself that created this connection for me. It wasn’t soccer that made me love soccer. It wasn’t the kicking of the ball or scoring the goal. Sure, that rush of scoring or making a good play was a piece, but not the most significant piece. It was something deeper that transcends sports. It was the memories. It was the love and connection that it made me feel with my friends, family, and community. It was the passion from those times kicking the ball with my dad and opa in the cul-de-sac in front of our house in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the summer memories of Germany, playing out in the street with friends during the day and watching the German national team play in the evening.

The sport has persisted as a way for me to connect with people in new places as I moved from Charlotte to Switzerland and back, eventually ending up here in Washington. As a sophomore at Peninsula High School, I’ve made so many friends playing for my high school and club teams. For this reason, I think that love for a sport depends not so much on the sport itself, but on the people and memories you associate with it. Youth sports are more than a way to keep kids fit and healthy. They offer kids a place to connect with their communities and develop those happy memories. Youth sports also are a path for kids to learn values such as hard work and respect through competition.

I started playing premier soccer for Harbor Premier, our local soccer club, in 2021, and since then I’ve had a variety of positive and negative experiences under coaches and cultures for both my high school and club teams. In this period I’ve gone through times where pressure and on-field struggles made me completely hate playing soccer. I’ve seen it with my peers as well. Youth sports can make you lose the reason you loved the game in the first place.

When Harbor Soccer hired a new director in May of this year, I was intrigued by his philosophy and German history. Jason McGlothern, formerly an Elite Clubs National Coach at PacNW soccer club in Tukwila, told me he believes culture is one of the most important components of a soccer club. Born in Germany, he learned the love of the game from his opa too.

McGlothern moved to Washington at 5 years old, where he played for clubs such as PacNW, Eastside FC, and later the Sounders Academy. In 2010, McGlothern spent a year playing in the academy of 1. FC Nuremberg, a German team then in the Bundesliga (German first division). He told me that this journey as a player taught him many lessons that he wants to apply to coaching and directing.

Like me and many other youth players, McGlothern had times when he began to lose touch with the love of the game, albeit at a much higher level. “When I got to Germany (with 1. FC Nuremberg), like all of a sudden you’re like, holy crap, you start to kind of forget why you played the game in the first place. You start to forget the days that you’re running in the backyard or on the streets and you’re playing just because you’re purely excited and love the game.”

He told me that at Harbor he wants to instill a culture that develops players and provides them with values that prepare them for life. “We’re always looking to be the best in everything that we do, and I think there is some truth behind it. I think it is an important value to obtain, but winning isn’t development. Winning is a byproduct of development. So I think it’s really important that we as coaches cultivate environments that continue to nurture love for the game.”

Playing youth sports can mean different things to different people. For some, it is simply a fun pastime, while for others it evolves into a full-time commitment that may lead them into professional or collegiate athletics. Soccer, a game treasured by millions across the globe and many within our community, is a joyful experience.

In the next two years, as I approach the end of my time at Harbor Premier and PHS, I hope that I can contribute to the development of a culture that encourages players and coaches to foster positive values and love for the game.

Jonas Koller is a sophomore at Peninsula High School.