Dozens of countries’ flags rippled through the air at Cooper Park in Mountain View earlier this summer, with each flag representing a team of local kids wanting to spend two weeks of their break playing soccer.
The annual Kick, Lead and Dream (KLD) Soccer Camp has been completely volunteer and donation based since Akash Nigam, then a freshman at Mountain View High, launched it in 2007. Run under the aegis of the Sunnyvale Police Activities League, the camp provides low-income students a place to learn lessons on and off the soccer field.
Local high school students volunteer their time to be coaches and leaders and, with the help of a parent leader, plan and organize the camp beginning in January.
Thirteen summers later, despite the dramatic increase in campers (from 30 to 300) and new faces every year, the culture of the camp has remained the same.
Michael Martinez was a camper in 2007 when KLD held its inaugural event at Bubb Elementary School. From a camper to a fifth-year coach, KLD staff and campers refer to him as a historian and role model.
“Every year it’s fun no matter what. You’ll see new faces and returning faces,” said Martinez, a 2018 Los Altos High graduate. “But there’s one constant through the whole 13 years and that’s that KLD’s fun and the environment is energetic. I’ve never seen someone not really like the camp.”
Martinez emphasized that everything they do is for the campers.
“As a coach, I always want to make it feel that my presence is right there with the campers,” Martinez said. “If your presence is physically there but not mentally there, the campers aren’t going to like it. And that’s the whole point of the camp: for the campers to have fun.”
For the two weeks they’re at camp, the second- through eighth-grade campers are split into teams represented by the flags of traditional soccer countries. There are different games played throughout the three hours – from scrimmages to PK shootouts.
When they’re not chasing or kicking a soccer ball, the participants have a chance to bond and talk with their coaches about school and what’s going on in their lives, according to parent leader Angela Tamada.
“It’s a really personal connection that they make,” she said.
The connections carry on throughout the years. Many campers become coaches and fondly remember their coaches from when they were younger.
“I’m still close with some of my coaches (from when I was a camper); we’re still friends,” said student leader Guppy Uppal, who just finished her ninth summer at KLD. “I see some of the campers that I watched grow up and now they’re coaches. It’s just really sweet knowing that we still have that bond that we built multiple years ago. It’s what keeps me coming back.”
Tamada said that’s her favorite part of the camp.
“Kids come up to me and say, ‘Someday I want to be a KLD coach,’” she said. “They just think it’s the greatest thing in the world.”
This year, campers were treated to their traditional water day and a visit from San Jose Earthquakes mascot Q. Nigam’s parents came to speak as well. Tamada said they talked to the campers about the important aspects of KLD’s culture and how its fun environment remains the same year to year.
Tamada has noticed that campers aren’t the only ones learning and growing – the coaches are, too. Several coaches have gone on to play soccer at the collegiate level.
For Uppal, KLD taught her what she wanted to do during and after college.
“From the first time I was part of the camp, I found out that I wanted to be a coach, and from that I realized I wanted to work with people and give back to the community once I’m past my college career,” the Fremont High senior said. “I want to focus on that in college: finding ways to come back and support smaller communities and bringing nonprofit organizations like KLD to different cities.”
Registration for next summer’s camp is set to begin in mid-April for coaches and early May for participants. For more information on KLD, visit kldsoccer.com.