Monday, November 7, 2022
If there is one coach in the club that can share the challenges of being a player facing more daunting opposition, it is new SJP Valley Director and coach Ben Atkinson, a native of Alaska that used family lessons as inspiration for playing and coaching.
It is of no surprise that the soccer culture in Alaska is very different from Washington. And Atkinson experienced both the highs and lows of growing up in an isolated soccer community.
“Playing in Alaska was a great experience, there are some challenges playing outdoor sports up there, but we were able to utilize indoor centers to play year-round and keep touches on the ball.
“The soccer community there was pretty tight knit. I started playing when I was eight with my club team and basically played a decade with that same group of guys all the way through high school. It was an awesome full-circle moment winning our 4A State Championship with the same group I started my soccer career with all those years ago!
“Our clubs in Alaska worked really hard to bring in outside academy coaches and training sessions to us in the summers, which really helped in prove our level of play. I also had the opportunity to play in a Junior Winter Olympics in Canada when I was 14 with an Alaska-based USA team that was a super great experience, playing international teams really helped me gain perspective as a young player that I took with me as I started my high school soccer career.
“As much as I loved playing in Alaska, whenever we would play in a tournament in the lower 48 it was quite a wakeup call of the level of play, we were at. Alaska lacks that next level of competition you get with a larger pool of players that we have in Washington and other states down here.
“In addition to that, the club organization and reach here in Washington really helps push players along the right path to make it to that next level, especially with the Sounders! Most of my SJP girl’s teams would have run circles around me when I was there same age.”
Despite those challenges, Atkinson would continue his soccer career outside of his home state and along the way find a new career, family and home in Spokane.
“I was given the opportunity to play in an ID tournament my senior summer of high school. I did not have any intention of playing at the college level, but my high school coach played a year at CC Spokane and had a couple contacts and told me to come to Washington and give it a shot.
“After playing in that tournament, I came to Spokane and did an informal tryout with the Shadow men’s team. After two days I was given a spot on the roster and flew down the next week to start college here in Spokane, it was a crazy month! I had a great first year experience, and it was a lot of fun playing at the college level.
“I met my wife my second year of college, and shortly after I met her found a career path that I really loved, now eight years later we both help run three different businesses and I plan on being in Spokane for the foreseeable future! Spokane has a great community that I really enjoy being a part of my parents moved here after they retired and my sister now lives in Seattle, so we are full-on Washingtonians now!” Atkinson said with a chuckle.
With his post-playing life in full swing following his time at CC Spokane something was absent.
“I missed coaching when I had to step away a few years back to focus on my career. Soccer was a huge part of my life when I was growing up, and a majority of my free time as a kid was spent on a field playing with friends rain, snow or shine.
“Jason Bellefeuille gave me an opportunity to come back with a SJP girls team this past spring and I just could not pass it up! Seeing players learn and grow in the game is such a rewarding thing to see, I really enjoy passing on what I know to the next generation and being around soccer simply just makes me happy! I love the game and really enjoy being able to be a part of the players development, especially at the SJP age. I really started to love the game when I was that age, and as a coach I hope to pass on that passion to the players I am able to coach.”
Atkinson’s coaching experience began at a young age due to the Alaska’s unique soccer culture. With fewer experienced coaches, older players like himself sometimes find themselves as mentors and coaches for the younger generations behind them. And it proved a valuable lesson for him then as a player and for the future as a coach.
“It was great, it helped me improve as a player teaching other kids what I knew and being able to see the game from a different perspective. I helped mostly with academy training sessions as a player/coach to help demonstrate different drills we were going through. When I was in high school, I would help at our JV practices when I was a junior and senior in the same way as a player/coach. I also would run individual sessions with players getting ready to move into high school soccer to help them get to the that next step up in play. That was when I started to really love coaching, and before I was given a spot at CC Spokane, I had fully intended on staying as a coach for the high school I played at.”
And now as a coach, Atkinson utilized the myriad of lessons learned through not only his experiences, but those from his own father as well as mentors here in Spokane.
“My biggest philosophy that I have followed in soccer and in life is work hard. Playing in Alaska we never were the most naturally talented players. I always had to work extra hard to get the improvement I wanted as a player, and to win games.
“My Dad would always tell me the saying, hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, and that is how I played and trained. I try to pass on that mentality to my teams, especially when facing tougher opponents. You may not always be able to have more talent than someone else, but you can always work harder than they do.
“Another big one for me is to never give up and always try your best. You never really lose a game or fail unless you give up and don’t try your best to succeed. I try to pass that on to my teams, there will be games we lose and win, but the most important thing is to never give up, always try and keep working as hard as you can. When you lose or fail in life, but you gave it everything you could, you can be proud of it, and then learn what you need to improve on. You cannot improve or learn if you give up as soon as you face adversity, and you cheat yourself out of becoming a better player or person when you do so.
“When I started coaching, I was taught by my college coach. He had a great mentality for soccer and a lot of knowledge of the game that I was able to pick up from him. I worked with Manny Faridnia on the South Hill and he really expanded my coaching knowledge when I first got started, and really helped me adapt to coaching younger players and what steps they needed to take to develop.
“I then had the opportunity to learn from Jason when I moved into the select program. He really helped me develop as a coach and learning the Sounders way of soccer. I also helped him with some of his director sessions, which helped me develop my training sessions to better help the kids grow as players.
“He still mentors me now as I take on a new role as a coach and director. I really appreciate the time he has spent helping me learn as a coach and director, and I continue to learn from him each day!