Dave Fernandez spent 22 years coaching soccer at the club, high school, college and semiprofessional levels.
But the 52-year-old Fernandez, a Granite City native, had his fill of the competitive side of the sport and has returned to the grassroots of the game.
Offering instruction and providing an enjoyable environment are among the objectives of Fernandez’s Instructional Soccer Leagues, which are held at Vetta Sports in O’Fallon and the Family Sportsplex in Belleville.
Eight-week leagues are for boys and girls ages 4 through 18. Players have one practice session each week, followed by a game on Friday or Saturday, for a total of 16 sessions.
Registration has begun for the next session that begins Aug. 15. Practices will be held indoors, with games outdoors. Indoor sessions follow in November, January and March.
This is for all kids that want to experience playing soccer. The referees are part of Vetta. The coaches are part of Vetta. Everything is Vetta, as opposed to some other programs where parent-coaches are involved and they don’t practice during the week.
Dave Fernandez on his Instructional Soccer Leagues at Vetta Sports
“This is for all kids that want to experience playing soccer,” Fernandez said. “The referees are part of Vetta. The coaches are part of Vetta. Everything is Vetta, as opposed to some other programs where parent-coaches are involved and they don’t practice during the week. They just offer games on weekend and that’s it.
“Here, everything is manufactured and structured in a way where parents just have to sign them up. All the practices are structured and scheduled during the week and all the games are on weekends. Everything is through my staff.”
Among the coaches are Juergen Huettner, Ryan Roschnafsky, Hanna Schuermann and Brian Severino, in addtion to local college players. Players need no experience to participate.
Matching skill levels
Fernandez evaluates players during practices. During games, he ensures they are competing against players of similar skill levels.
“I form the teams to make sure everything is balanced out and the kids are playing against like players,” he said. “That eliminates the 15-0 and 10-0 (games). Those are experiences kids have that turn them off and turn the parents off because it’s not a great playing experience. This experience is much more conducive to them learning the game and having fun playing it.”
Huettner, the longtime Althoff High School girls soccer coach and the Southwestern Illinois College women’s soccer coach, has for years watched Fernandez in action and lauds his ability to interact with players of all ages and skills levels.
“I’ve seen Dave coaching select teams years ago,” Huettner said. “I’ve brought him out to work with my high-school and college teams. And I’ve seen him with little kids and I’ve talked to parents who have little kids in this program. Everybody just has a real high opinion about what he does. That’s the key part.”
All about the fun
Fernandez said the appeal of the Instructional Soccer Leagues is its emphasis on being recreational in nature. Kids will not be pushed out of the program because of their skill level.
“You have 7-, 8- and 9-year-olds that are getting cut from teams in competitive clubs,” Fernandez said. “They’re two, three, four teams deep in each age group. It becomes a numbers game, and kids get lost in the shuffle. Then they lose interest and then they quit playing the game, the sport, completely.”
That doesn’t sit well with Fernandez, whose goal to develop players has changed.
“At the younger ages, you used to want the kids prepared to play in high school,” Fernandez said. “That was the parents’ reason for having them in a club when they were 9, 10, 11 years old, because by the time they’re 14 and a freshman, they wanted them to be ready to play high school.
“Then, obviously, (parents) were looking for them to be developed so they could play in college. They were looking for that college scholarship. I was in that mode for many years, and that was the premise of competitive soccer. For the past seven, eight years, I’m not in it to develop kids to play high-school soccer or to go on and play in college. I want to turn them into fans of the game, plain and simple, in a fun, family-oriented environment.”
Fernandez also is conducting summer camps in the metro-east for kids in kindergarten through eighth grade.
There will be a morning camp at the Family Sportsplex on Monday through Thursday, an evening camp at Vetta Sports on June 27-30, an evening camp at the Family Sportsplex on July 18-21, an evening camp at Oerter Park in Columbia on July 25-28 and an evening high school camp at the Family Sportsplex on Aug. 1-4.