Soccer Saints unite athletics and academics on the field

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Coaches Ryan Beard and Monse Barragan play a math game during a Soccer Saints class at Central Park in Menifee, Oct.2. Valley News/Diane A. Rhodes photo

When Ryan Beard decided to create a soccer enrichment program for children, he wanted to be sure it included building character and brain power as well as footwork skills. He founded Soccer Saints in 2019 with his wife Estrelle and currently has four locations that attract children from 3-12 on a weekly basis.

“At Soccer Saints we bridged the gap between education and athletics,” Beard said. “We infuse every class with STEAM education. There are three different ages of curriculum that we have and each age group has curriculums for four different seasons throughout the year. We teach children from 3-12 years and we’re always having parents coming in and stretching our ages even further.”

The coaches teach the STEAM element of the class about halfway through the lesson. Some of the STEAM activities include the engineering aspect of how pumping up a soccer ball really works, playing “How’s My Math, Mr. Wolf?” where the children are given a math question and then dribble their soccer ball as many times as their answer warrants.

Important soccer skills such as dribbling, controlling the ball and scoring goals are taught through the use of age-appropriate games played throughout the hourlong lesson. The players also learn tactics of the game as well as positioning and strategy.

“We are so passionate about what we do,” Beard, 34, said. “We started Soccer Saints because we felt there was a gap in children’s soccer. Soccer is probably the most popular sport in the world and in the United States it is extremely popular with children.”

Beard has taught sports through a number of different companies including TGA Sports where he was selected to train coaches and new franchise owners how to manage and coach coaches. He also taught privately. During his many years of teaching soccer, golf and tennis, he said he heard multiple times, especially from children that they’ve “already done soccer or tennis.”

“Retention was a big issue,” he said. “Children had lost the fun of the game and I believe this is for multiple reasons.”

Beard, of Temecula, said many clubs have high level coaches but feels there are three main issues as to why children don’t continue with the sport. He cited that travel time to games can be upward of two hours, the cost per quarter can be more than $2,000 and parents on the sidelines sometimes pressure their children, which can prohibit development.

Beard serves as head coach and his wife, Estrelle, Adam Chrestman and Monse Barragan are also members of the coaching staff. All are highly experienced, especially with children. Chrestman played soccer professionally and became a Head Coach for Real Salt Lake and loves Soccer Saints’ coaching environment and organization. Barragan grew up in the Temecula Valley and played lots of soccer as a goalkeeper.

“I like the fun the kids have out here,” Barragan, of Wildomar, said. “The curriculum flows right into whatever skills we are teaching them and I like that we have a word of the day, which adds to their character development.”

The word of the day Oct. 2 was optimistic which the players were told meant being hopeful and confident. “When we learn something new, we want to be optimistic,” Beard told the children and emphasized its use throughout the remainder of the class.

“We are really blessed to have lots of returning players and we feel it’s because of the way our curriculum is designed to be progressive, fun and can always challenge players to improve on their skills,” Beard said. “We teach our coaches how to coach a multi-level class, meaning working on a skill modified to be slightly easier for a student just beginning and made to be more challenging for those students who are more advanced.”

Shawn Brant of Hemet said his wife found out about Soccer Saints on Groupon and their eight-year-old son, Jesse, has been enjoying his lessons while his younger sister likes the Menifee park’s nearby playground equipment.

“With COVID, it was hard to find places for him to be active sports wise,” Brant said. “It turned out to be more than I was expecting. Coach Ryan is great, exactly what a team leader should be. He’s encouraging and communicates with all of the kids.”

Joel Wind of Murrieta agrees saying that “Coach Ryan is absolutely phenomenal. I’m a former competitive ice hockey player and as a top athlete I can say that he is one of the best coaches I’ve seen.”

After attending two programs at the YMCA and through AYSO, Wind said his son, Kai, was not engaged with sports until he joined Soccer Saints and started working with Beard. “This program is very well put together,” he said. “Kai 100% wants to stay after the lesson and wants to help out Coach Ryan. It’s about the buy-in you get from your coach; how he relates and communicates while continuing to model consistency by giving all kids the same level of encouragement and engagement.”

Kai, now 8 years old, said he likes the classes because the coaches are nice, adding, “I have fun coming here; scrimmage is the most fun.”

Toward the end of each class, the coaches videotape each child scoring a goal which is emailed home to families so they can monitor the progress throughout the session. The children then play a short scrimmage where they can practice what they’ve learned in the class that day.

Adalynn Bolbat, 7, started taking classes at the end of the summer and loves it. Her mom Kourtney Bolbat, of Menifee, said, “She likes all sports, she’s very outgoing and she likes academics, too, so this program is great.”

Alberto and Pamela Rogers have three of their seven children enrolled in the younger players’ class. Maddox, 5 and 4-year-old twins Emmalyn and Addisyn took to the field after the older children, which included their sister Tracie, finished their class.

“They do have a really good program here,” Pamela Rogers said. “It’s more than soccer and it’s not competitive or regimented like AYSO. So far we’ve been very pleased with what we’ve seen.”

Beard plans to continue growing Soccer Saints and will add more coaches as he finds ones with the highest standards, strong experience working with young children and the ability to fit into the organization.

Weekly classes are held in the cities of Fallbrook, Menifee, Murrieta and Temecula. The County of San Diego invited Soccer Saints to become a contractor with the county so they can hold classes at the Fallbrook Community Center. Each has a VIK station for Very Important Kids to take water breaks or rests during the lesson.

Growing up in Southampton, England, Beard played soccer in the United Kingdom for many years but his main sports were rugby and squash, where he was a County squash player. He was also a big fan of the Southampton Football Club, nicknamed The Saints. He has been able to have the team become an International Academy Partner with Soccer Saints.

“In the spring we’ll have a group of children that will travel to England for a weeklong player development camp with the academy coaches who have coached players that are now playing for Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and even Real Madrid,” Beard said.

Beard moved to America in 2005, to pursue an acting career and appeared in many commercials. While attending The American Academy of Dramatic Arts in Los Angeles, he was named Best Actor among his peers. After several years in the industry, he decided to return to the sports world and develop Soccer Saints.

He said during the height of the pandemic, Soccer Saints had to shut down for about 10 months but used the time to focus on branching out and developing more curriculum so there is nothing repeated during a typical 12-week session.

“We are flexible and always welcome feedback from parents, coaches and the kids, of course,” he said. “We always want to do our best in bridging the gap between athletics and academics.”

Soccer Saints hosted several summer camps and will have a recreational league this winter for the first time. Families are invited to try out a complimentary class at any time and all sessions are prorated so families only pay for the classes remaining in the session.

Beard has scheduled a meet-and-greet for potential players and a scrimmage for existing ones Dec. 18 from 9 a.m. to noon at Patricia H. Birdsall Sports Park’s Field 1, 32380 Deer Hollow Way, Temecula. Everyone is invited to attend the free event to learn more about what the Soccer Saints are all about.

For more information, call or text (323) 326-2316, email SoccerSaintsTemecula@gmail.com or visit www.SoccerSaints.org.