For two weeks every summer at Cooper Park in Mountain View, the expansive grassy field is divided into smaller rectangles, each with two goals and kids laughing and playing soccer. The Kick, Lead, Dream (KLD) Camp aims to give low-income students the opportunity to better their soccer skills, learn to be leaders and have the confidence to dream big.
"This camp is really cool because it’s for students and it’s run by students," said Laynie Tamada, a student leader for KLD. "For kids who can’t afford a fancy soccer camp, they can come here, pay an optional $10 and have a good time."
Since Akash Nigam, a freshman at Mountain View High School at the time, founded KLD in 2007, the size of the camp has grown dramatically. It began with five high school volunteer coaches working with 30 campers; last summer, there were 90 coaches mentoring 300 kids.
KLD’s mission is more than just encouraging a love for the game; more importantly, it emphasizes teamwork, friendship and fun. The coaches are students from local high schools, and they all share a passion for soccer and working with children.
"I had two knee surgeries, so I can’t play soccer anymore," said Annika Lund, a student leader and coach. "That happened right before high school, so this was my way of jumping back into soccer, and bringing soccer to other people, bringing people together with it and still being a part of it."
The coaches cherish the opportunities to lead by example and to empower the campers.
"KLD gives (the campers) an opportunity to be with a role model, (and they can) walk away knowing that there are people there to listen to them, people … to care about them, to play with them and have fun," Lund said.
Simultaneously, the campers reflect that the highlight of KLD is learning from their role models.
"My coaches have taught all of our team lots of cool moves and ways to get around other players," said Lydia Anderson, a camper.
"I’ve had a lot of fun, made friends, learned how to not get mad at people, help them out when they don’t make a shot or fall down," added sixth-year camper Nicholas Gonzalez.
Combining energetic and compassionate coaches with soccer and other fun activities like water balloon fights encourages students to return each summer and spread the word to their friends and family.
From camper to coach
Michael Martinez joined the program as a scrawny second-grader in 2007, following his older brothers as they climbed onto the bus, as KLD provides free transportation from Castro, Crittenden and two other schools in Sunnyvale to Cooper Park. He was a camper for seven years, and this summer, he is finishing his fourth year of coaching before attending college in the fall.
"I remember being a camper, and my first coaches were Coach Sonia and Coach Jake. … Ever since then, I’ve been going to this camp every year. I haven’t missed one yet," Martinez said proudly.
Martinez greets returning and new faces every summer. He has practically watched many of the campers grow up, some even becoming coaches like him. Each coach is assigned to a team, represented by a flag of a traditional soccer country. He fondly looks back on every team he has coached and playing in the "World Cup" tournament that is the culmination of every camp.
The coaches gain valuable leadership skills through their commitment to ensuring that all of their campers have a positive experience.
"It’s your responsibility if anyone gets hurt, if anything happens to them, looking out for kids if they need it, and I think just having fun with them," Martinez said of his role. "If they aren’t having fun, then they’re not going to be happy at this camp."
Lilia Rodriguez, a coach and former camper, added, "Some kids just need somewhere to go over the summer. There’s usually a drawing table for kids who don’t really want to play soccer or are forced to come because their parents need to send them to some kind of day care. Sometimes … they’re too tired. We just sit down in the shade."
Soccer experience is not required. While guest speakers include members of the San Jose Earthquakes, an officer from the Mountain View Police Department also addresses the group - one of the non-soccer-related activities offered at the camp. There are refreshments as well.
Martinez said he hopes the camp lives on for years to serve more youth.
Applications for campers and coaches for the summer program will be available online in April. For more information, visit kldsoccer.com