Success Academy Upper West soccer coach Danny Ospina has taught the game of soccer to kids all over the world — from four-year-olds in Tokyo to middle schoolers on Long Island. A talented player in his own right, Coach Ospina loves sharing his passion with the next generation of soccer stars.
We spoke to Coach Ospina about his path to Success, his growth as a coach, and why the Success Academy model provides a glimpse of American youth soccer’s future.
How did you get into coaching soccer?
I was born and raised in Queens and my parents introduced me to soccer when I was four years old. I loved it from day one and have played all my life, including at the college level. I ended up playing semi-pro, but I didn’t start actually coaching until a few years ago.
I was spending a year in Japan teaching English to both children and adults. In my free time, I played pickup soccer. One day, some players asked if I could coach a team of kids and simultaneously teach them English. It was sort of a crazy experience — the kids didn’t know much English and I didn’t speak much Japanese. But I realized then how much I loved teaching soccer. When I got back to the States, I coached a competitive youth club team on Long Island.
What interested you about coaching at Success?
I did a ton of research on SA before I applied and learned about the idea of going “Beyond Z,” which is a Success term for going above and beyond (in the classroom and on the field!). That really resonated with me. Of course, I also learned about SA’s amazing results, being among the top schools in all of New York State. I went to New York City district schools growing up, and they just don’t compare to what SA is doing. Most importantly, it was clear from day one that this wasn’t going to be just a soccer gig. Even though kids call me “Coach,” I’m a faculty member. I’m valued like every other teacher. My principal really does appreciate my work and it inspires me to work harder.
What’s the soccer program like at Success? How does it compare to other programs?
Programs like this just don’t exist elsewhere in the United States. Soccer is built into the school’s fabric and daily schedule. This is going to be a model at any school that’s serious about building a soccer program. Today in the U.S., when a family wants to enroll their child to play high-level soccer, they have to go to a private club and pay thousands of dollars for uniforms, travel, participation fees, and a bunch of other things. That makes the sport inaccessible to a lot of kids, especially some SA families that struggle to make ends meet. Everyone should be able to play soccer, because after all, it’s the world’s game. SA makes it possible.
At my school, SA Upper West, every single scholar — no matter their socioeconomic status — is exposed to soccer as part of the school day, and if they’re interested and show enough progress, they can join the school team. From there, they can eventually join a network-wide team, which plays in club tournaments. We do this to play against top competition — clubs play at a far higher level than most school-based teams. This kind of structure is unheard of in this country — it’s the “academy style” that is common in Europe. It makes it all affordable and keeps the program all in one place, while kids can climb the ladder based on their interest and ability.
What’s different about coaching at Success?
The fact that I’m always learning from my scholars. One of my scholars, a fourth grader named Eli, just got back from a national chess tournament in Saratoga Springs. We were chatting about his time there and all of the sudden he started explaining this difficult math concept to me — how to solve an open array. I was shocked. He broke the whole thing down for me — I literally learned math from him. Kids can teach us, too.
I really understand my kids as well-rounded people and understand their school experience. If one of my scholars is struggling in science, I know about it. If they’re acing their math quizzes, I know that too. It’s actually mind-boggling how much my scholars love reading. Sometimes before soccer practice, I literally need to tell some scholars to stop reading. As much as I hate to do that, it’s soccer time!
What opportunities have you had at SA to develop as a coach and teacher?
I’m always growing as a coach, especially because of professional development days that are built into the schedule every few weeks. All of SA’s coaches get together for a full day session run by the Network’s soccer leads. We learn a lot, but it’s also a ton of fun. We actually get to do the new drills we’re learning, play games, and then also see how we can improve as teachers. We’re always learning new ways to teach the game.
All this professional development has paid off. I started out as an assistant coach at SA Upper West, and the next year, I moved up to lead coach at the school and a co-coach of the SA club team for Upper Manhattan. I never thought I would move up so quickly.
What’s the most rewarding part of the job?
The kids I work with are so goofy, but also so ready to learn. I remember my first practice with new players this past December at SA Upper West. Here are these tiny first graders with their bright orange jerseys, and they can barely do anything. They were all so excited, but even just passing back and forth was basically impossible. Now, a few month later, these kids can do all the drills I gave them on day one so easily — toe taps, dribbling, passing. They have a special place in my heart. It’s just really nice to see how far they’ve come in such a short time.
What is one piece of advice every new coach at SA should know?
If you genuinely love the game and want to ignite a love of learning to play soccer, you will love coaching at SA. It will be the most fulfilling job you’ve ever had.
Note: Success Academy is hiring new coaches for the 2019-20 school year. Apply today at SuccessCareers.org.