These are not your mother’s soccer moms.
While they still taxi children to soccer games, the 10 women kicking the ball around Heritage Oaks Park on a recent Thursday seem hell-bent on perfecting their own athletic skills.
Today, the excited shouts of encouragement are for each other, not for their children.
The moms meet at the park Thursday and Friday mornings for the Soccer Moms’ Fun Fitness class sponsored by the Los Altos Recreation Department under the auspices of Coach Ken Mburu, known as Coach Ken.
Mburu hails from Kapetta, Kenya, just outside Nairobi. For 10 years, he has coached youth 4- to 12-years-old. Approximately a year ago, he received an email from a mom who asked if he would coach her and a few friends.
“They said that most leagues were for former college players,” Mburu said. “These moms were new to the game and wanted to stay fit and socialize. Soccer is a social game. They’re out there, under the sun, running around with friends.”
The moms also wanted to play so that they could understand the game better.
“They wanted to put themselves in the shoes of their soccer players,” he said.
For Mburu, the clinic is about “creating community.” He hopes to institute a soccer festival where the entire family can watch mom play.
He said that in Kenya, a girl would be stigmatized and “not be considered a good girl” for playing sports, but “this is what America is all about and what makes America great.”
A sports-oriented community
It’s partly the Los Altos lifestyle that keeps Alix Apfelberg interested in soccer and sports. Until last year, she was director of operations at Cisco Systems.
“It’s a very sports-oriented community,” Apfelberg said.
The Apfelberg family moved to Los Altos from Menlo Park, where they belonged to the Westside Athletic Clubs, but had difficulty finding similar facilities in Los Altos. Soccer has become a great physical outlet for her.
Apfelberg has 10-year-old twins, a boy and a girl, and a 4-year-old son. Her older son is in Red Star, a competitive soccer club, and her daughter plays on a team through the American Youth Soccer Organization. Both of them “really, really love soccer,” Apfelberg said. With two elder siblings already in the game, younger brother Ryan wants to follow in their footsteps. Ryan is enrolled in a soccer class with Coach Ken, and during breaks in Apfelberg’s own class, she gets him ready for his soccer class from his stroller seat.
Apfelberg finds soccer a great workout, especially because she doesn’t really like running. She has been surprised to discover that the game is “much harder than it looks, but a great way to fill my time.”
Her enthusiasm spurred her to join Kathy Lebakos in organizing the Almond School Moms Love Soccer Auction. Mburu donated his time and equipment to teach a soccer clinic to help raise funds for the school at the annual Walkabout.
Like most of the moms, Apfelberg thinks Coach Ken is “awesome and so much fun.” She enjoys watching him coach her daughter, with “a great sense of humor.” Mburu’s daughter and his wife, Dorothy, both often help him on the field.
“I like the way he motivates the kids without making them feel scared,” Apfelberg said.
Free to play team sports
Los Altos resident Hala Ramish remembers that women in her native Afghanistan were not allowed to play sports due to cultural restraints. She immigrated when she was in grade school, and always wanted to play a team sport.
Now that her children are in third and fifth grades at Almond School, she has time to devote to her own interests. In addition to soccer, she’s participated in swim lessons and even a triathlon.
Although Ramish has been an assistant coach on her children’s soccer teams, she felt she needed to learn more about the game. Since signing up for the women’s soccer clinic, she has become more confident about her own skills.
“Coach Ken is amazing. He’s very patient and he’s funny, too,” she said.
First to sign up
Rose Lue grew up in the Philippines and came to the U.S. as a freshman in high school when Ferdinand Marcos was still in power.
“I was very excited that Ken was doing this mom’s class, because I had wanted to learn the game and didn’t know how,” said Lue, the first mom to sign up for the Los Altos clinic.
Lue, who describes herself as a stay-at-home mom and professional volunteer, watches her children play soccer and has even coached their teams, but she never really “knew more than kicking a ball around” with her son Nathan, now 12, and daughters Amanda and Diane, both 8.
Now she appreciates the sport better, and “it’s great fun to meet other moms who like to stay active,” she said.
Lue praises Mburu as a “coach who cares.” More importantly, she feels “he’s not in it for the money – he really likes the sport and is an ambassador for it.”
Happy on the field
Dianna Carter, former Hewlett-Packard marketing specialist, signed up for the soccer clinic in September. She thought playing would be good exercise and that she’d gain new skills.
At any given practice, Mburu may introduce 10 or more skills before coaching a 30-minute scrimmage. He doesn’t keep score, because “it’s not so much about competition,” but more importantly about staying happy.
Carter said the clinic has been “great fun, a fantastic aerobic workout,” and she applauds Mburu as an “excellent teacher.” Although at 55 she is the oldest of the bunch, Carter seems to have little trouble keeping up with the other women.
Mburu, who earned a master’s degree in finance from San Jose State University, is also a writer.
“It helps me a lot with soccer, because I use very creative ways to teach instead of doing dry drills,” he said. “We are having fun.”
Mburu is grateful for the large, grassy field available for the moms’ soccer class. Such spaces are hard to find in Kenya, he added.
Some players are not so fond of the dog poop they have to sweep clear before they start the clinic, a complaint they will have to lodge with the Parks and Recreation Commission.
For more information on Coach Ken’s soccer classes, visit www.coachkensoccer.com.
Soccer Moms’ Fun Fitness classes are scheduled 9:30-10:30 a.m. Thursdays and 9-10 a.m. Fridays. Fees are $140 per session. For more information and to register, visit losaltosrecreation.org.