Tibor Pelle wants young soccer players to learn the same lesson his son once did: good grades are better than skills.
“If you cannot handle your stuff academically, there is no future in college soccer for you,” Pelle said.
The Phoenix Rising FC Youth Soccer Club, one of the largest Arizona youth soccer clubs in Arizona, hosted a college advisory presentation for its youth soccer players August 12. Experts in the field spoke to the young students and went over key details that will help them become college soccer players.
The Phoenix Rising FC Youth Soccer Club is the only youth soccer club in Arizona with a full-time director of college advising program. Pelle, the director, seeks to empower young students by giving them the proper tools for success.
But, regardless of the skills of the player, he said it all comes down to how the player performs within the halls of an institution.
“It’s about character and it’s about academics and it’s about your conduct on the field. It’s about how you deal with adversity and it is also about if you have a high GPA,” Pelle said.
During his presentation, Pelle talked about his son, Miguel Aguilar, whom he adopted when Aguilar was 16.
Aguilar had moved away from Mexico and to Sacramento, California, to get away from a war-fueled environment, Pelle said. Eventually, Aguilar went on to be part of the club Pelle was coaching at the time. He quickly realized Aguilar had a talent for soccer. But Pelle reminded the young soccer player that the work he did in the classroom was what mattered most.
“Aguilar went on to play the University of San Francisco, graduating in three and a half years with a 3.75 (GPA) and two degrees, one in finance and one in business administration,” Pelle said. “Miguel drafted in the first round, 17th pick, and all of the sudden is playing in the DC United.”
Aguilar spent three seasons at DC United before being transferred to the L.A. Galaxy, for whom he played two seasons before retiring to pursue a master’s degree program in accounting and finance. Pelle used the story of his son to inspire and caution the young soccer players to put effort into their education.
“If you are diluting yourself into believing you’re going to play professional soccer and using that as an excuse to not put the time in and not study hard enough, that is not going to go well for you,” Pelle said.
Pelle said that even if soccer players get drafted by professional teams, they will be “lucky to earn $3,000 a month.”
“We live in a country that is crazy about professional sports, but there’s a massive difference between being a professional baseball, basketball or football player on one hand, and on the other hand a soccer player. It’s just the reality.”
Pelle encouraged the players in the room to begin thinking what they want to pursue in college so that they are ready to answer that question when a coach from a college asks. Even if they don’t know the answer, Pelle said, they should talk about what classes they excel in and what fields interest them.
“Go somewhere where you could study something that is handy and practical and tangible. Something that you can jump into the work world with,” Pelle said.
Like Aguilar, there was a promising student and soccer player in the room who wanted to support the points Pelle was making by sharing his own story with the audience.
Pedro Lara, a PRFC youth player and future freshman at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, said, “Soccer for me is all about education. I think it is very important nowadays to look at education. If I could play soccer, great, but for me at the time was always about education.”
Lara said he was unsure if he wanted to attend RPI at first, but after going through his options, the New York native realized it was the perfect place for him.
“In my heart, I always knew I wanted to go back to (the) Northeast, and after looking at RPI and then that summer going out and seeing the campus, meeting up with the assistant coach who had gone out to see me and giving me a tour of the facilities, I decided that RPI is really something I wanted to look into,” Lara said.
Now, on his way to college, Lara reminds younger soccer players of the importance education plays into landing a college soccer position.
“College coaches also have a responsibility to you and to the university in seeing that you do what you’re supposed to do, make academic progress and eventually graduate. If you don’t graduate, it makes them look bad,” Pelle said. “If a coach sees that you’re going to struggle academically, that you’re not disciplined enough to study and get the job done in the classroom, are they going to be interested in you as a soccer player? No.”
Though the coaches would love to watch the young athletes work their way to the professional leagues, what is most important in a person’s upbringing is his or her education, which ultimately gives them more options in the long run.
With meetings like this, Phoenix Rising FC Youth Soccer Club will continue to steer young athletes in the right direction and, hopefully, produce more inspiring stories like Aguilar’s and Lara’s.