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Putting Resources Toward the Right Things

Kids with Soccer coach

“We strive to coach the individual within the team.”

DSAL serves thousands of youth and families every year through a range of fitness and recreation activities, including soccer, boxing, taekwondo, fitness, muévete, dance, and the Rhythm Cadets drumline. The fitness and recreation activities are led by passionate, talented coaches and instructors who are dedicated to DSAL’s mission to improve lives by providing a chance to experience competitive team sports that would otherwise be out of reach financially for many families.

DSAL’s soccer program, which includes a competitive Sheriffs Fútbol Club, provides more than 1,800 kids with the opportunity to experience high caliber coaching and competitive play. Some of the teams have been participating in US Club Soccer tournaments and have demonstrated that they can compete with top teams in Northern California.

We caught up recently with one of DSAL’s soccer coaches, Ricky Salazar, to learn more about DSAL’s soccer methodology.

Ricky has been coaching with the Deputy Sheriffs’ Activities League for three and a half years, and he has been a soccer coach for seven years. He started out as a volunteer with DSAL, first helping with afterschool programming, and then helping run the recreational program on Saturdays and Sundays. Eventually, Nick Lusson, DSAL’s Athletic Director, asked Ricky if he wanted a job, and that’s how he joined the coaching team.

DSAL’s soccer programs are unique not only because they are part of the Alameda County Sheriff’s Community Capitals Policing initiative to overturn decades of disinvestment and improve public safety in the Ashland and Cherryland communities, but also because of their style of play.

“In our style of positional play, we help the kids learn where to be on the field using what we call a global method where we train technical, tactical, psychological, and social aspects of the game all at the same time,” said Salazar. “A lot of clubs break the components down and train them separately, whereas we think teaching kids how to have all four corners during all moments of the game helps them to be self-sufficient. Our goal is to have our players be reliant on themselves and their teammates.”

“We strive to coach the individual within the team,” Salazar explained. “Other clubs might start off with a particular topic, like passing and receiving. They go through a technical exercise, then they have partners who pass in a triangle, rectangle, or diamond. After that, they’ll add a little bit of pressure, and at the end there’s a game. Players aren’t making a lot of decisions, and the answers are predetermined by the coach through the training session. The way DSAL sets it up, 99% of the time there will be defenders, so the player will have to make a decision whether that’s on offense or defense. Whatever principles we choose and highlight, we try to catch the players doing them well—not correcting them—because they’re here to learn and have fun. If we keep correcting them for doing something wrong, they’re not going to want to come back.”

In addition to the competitive programs, DSAL also offers grassroots play, which gives younger kids a chance to experience the game and get familiar with the style of play.

Salazar said that what motivates him is “seeing kids try to do the things we’re implementing.”

“At first, they’re afraid to make a mistake, but slowly, as they train with us, they try more things,” he said. “We want to let them know that it’s okay to make mistakes—and they will make mistakes, just like I’ll make mistakes. I like seeing their mindset change, recognizing that what’s important is to keep trying. We make sure they enjoy the journey and the process and not just the outcome or the result.”

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, DSAL moved all of its soccer programs online, with Zoom chats and training videos. DSAL’s coaches also held webinars with college and professional players, like Emrah Klimenta, who plays for San Diego Loyal SC, and Catarina Macario, Stanford National Champion & Player of the Year and upcoming US national team player. The coaches also conducted one-on-one visits to check in with players and their families during the pandemic. Today, they’re getting back to live play, with daily temperature checks and other social distancing and safety measures.

Salazar said he enjoys the camaraderie of the coaching staff, and he and the other coaches bring that energy to the training sessions.

“If I’m happy coaching, it shows in the training sessions,” he said. “Things move smoothly because we’re all on the same page.”

Salazar thinks that by investing in these soccer programs, DSAL and the Sheriff’s Office are “doing the right thing.”

“When people are talking about defunding the police, I think it’s about what we’re doing, putting resources in the right things, not just sports, but mental health, access to food, public art, all that stuff,” said Salazar. “I hope other communities start to do what we’re doing, and I hope what we’re doing takes off nationally.”

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