With over 250 million people playing football around the world, it is the most popular sport in the world. Like basketball, it’s a sport you can start at an early age, where all you need is a ball to start building the fundamentals of the game.
FC Sonora, a youth soccer program serving Southern Arizona, seeks to provide more opportunities for local children to not only get active, but also learn to love soccer. Founded in 2010, the program’s vision was to take a developmental approach to the game by providing opportunities for athletes to truly grow to be competitive before entering the field.
At FC Sonora, the focus is on the players and their development needs. By teaching players a solid skill base, learning to understand the game, and developing a love and sense of passion for it, FC Sonora hopes to create a more positive atmosphere and experience to prevent burnout in young people.
“We don’t push the numbers like an FC Tucson or an AZ RFL,” Gabriel Roche, said the director of coaches of FC Sonora. “I think we are around two, maybe three hundred players a year.”
Rocha’s mission is to use the game to impact young men and women beyond the pitch by providing opportunities for more players, families and individuals in the region.
“What we want is for people of all ages, different ethnicities and backgrounds to simply fall in love with the game and make it accessible,” Rocha said.
FC Sonora is a grassroots, non-profit organization that aims to provide financial assistance, scholarships, and waivers to youth in the Southern Arizona area who wish to participate in football competitively or recreationally. As all staff coaches are volunteers, this helps to keep the costs of participation low.
“Our club has a lot of volunteers, but the level of experience is there and we are committed to coaches who are committed to us,” Rocha said. “We want to grow, but first and foremost we’re looking for coaches who want to be part of that, part of giving back to the community.”
According to Rocha, while the club strives to serve all young people in the region, particular emphasis has been placed on the south side and the refugee community. More than 20 scholarships are awarded each year to those from surrounding refugee communities to give them the opportunity to play club football.
“We’re trying to keep making bigger commitments, bigger progress,” Rocha said.
Rocha says FC Sonora recently received a $4,500 grant to help continue using the game as a way to promote higher education among Lutheran social service players. Small local organizations and businesses have helped fund tournaments for teams to gain experience. In addition, the club hosts a tournament every year which has continued to grow each season. This helps provide much of their necessary financial support for each season.
“We’re doing the best we can with the resources we have,” Rocha said. “We hope that this grant will be renewed, because it will be of great help to us.”
Mainly, Rocha hopes that those who participate with FC Sonora come out of the field as better individuals. He said the club works to bridge the gaps some children may have at home in their family life by ensuring they provide ways to stay on track.
The most recent member of the club to benefit from mutual commitment is Boniface Ekenya, a Kenyan refugee. Ekenya will attend Paradise Valley Community College on a football scholarship starting this semester.
“He played for me at Catalina High School for a few years and plays for FC Sonora,” Rocha said. “He’s an executioner, a Catalina product and the kid is an absolute stud.”
FC Sonora is currently looking for people who are passionate about sharing their knowledge and love of the game with others to get involved in their organization. Rocha says the sport, in general, desperately needs more female coaches to serve as role models for young women on the court.
“The club is still desperately short of more female coaches and I would like more female coaches to come and train to [FC Sonora].”
For more information on FC Sonora, you can visit their website here.
Brittany Bowyer is a freelance journalist who began her career as an intern for a small sports website in 2015. Since then, she has earned her Masters in Sports Journalism from ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and is currently at its fourth year of coverage. different levels of sports on a wide range of platforms in Arizona. You can follow her on twitter @bbowyer07