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The Journey of SP Soccer Academy: From MLS Cup Champion to Youth Soccer Dynamo

In this guest blog post, Gino Padula, the Director and Owner of SP Soccer Academy, shares his journey as a footballer, beginning with his childhood in Lanus, Argentina, and culminating in a successful professional career that took him from South America to Europe and eventually to Columbus, Ohio. He reflects on his decision to transition from a professional player to a youth soccer coach and the establishment of SP Soccer Academy, emphasizing the importance of giving back to the soccer community and nurturing young talent. Gino Padula's academy focuses on holistic player development, combining technical skills with the physical, tactical, and mental aspects of the game. The post also highlights the academy's commitment to staying current with the latest trends in player development and its use of technology for coaching.

This article concludes with a message to parents and the local soccer community, stressing the value of prioritizing player development and enjoyment over winning. SP Soccer Academy is preparing for its upcoming winter season, an international tour to England, and spring tryouts.

SP Soccer Academy is a Premier OSMD Insider and paid Sponsor of Ohio Soccer Moms and Dads. This is a guest blog post written by Coach Gino Padula. Thinks contained in this post are sponsored links.


Can you share with us some of your playing history?

My journey as a footballer began at the age of 5, when I started playing on my local neighborhood team in Lanus Argentina. Four years later when I was 9, my family got me a trial at River Plate, the club I have been a fan of all my life.

At the trial there were about 200 players in my category and after 6 months of trials they told me that I had earned a place on the youth team. Over the next several years, I worked my way up the youth ranks and eventually made my debut in the first team at the age of 20 in August 1996, fulfilling my dream of not just playing professionally, but doing so for River; my boyhood team.

I played in Argentina for 2 more years from 1996-1998 at Club Atletico Huracan, and in 1998, I left to play in Europe. My first experience in Europe was at Xerez Sports Club in Spain, where I spent the first part of the 1998-1999 season.

In January of the following year, I received an offer to play in England and moved to Walsall football club. I arrived at Walsall in the middle of the season and despite only being there for half of the games that year, had a very good season and was selected by the club as the "Best player of the 1998-1999 season."

I then got the opportunity to play for Wigan Athletic in the 1999-2000 season, where I played alongside Roberto Martinez, former Wigan coach, and manager of the Belgian national team. After leaving Wigan, I moved to Q.P.R where I played several seasons from 2000-2005, achieving promotion to the championship in the 2004 season, and was chosen as the best left back in the league that year as voted on by players and coaches.

After leaving QPR in 2005, I played briefly for Nottingham Forest in England, and then moved to France and played for 2 seasons at Montpellier.

The final club of my professional career was the Columbus Crew, where I arrived in the 2008 season. That was a magical year, where we won the MLS Cup and Supporters Shield. I enjoyed 3 wonderful seasons with the Crew, and at the end of the 2010 season decided to call time to my soccer playing career.

What made you decide to start your own youth club, and can you give us some history and context around the start of SP Soccer Academy?

Soccer is my passion, so I always knew it would continue to be a huge part of my life after my playing days ended. During my time in England and France I went to several soccer clinics to begin preparing as a coach.

Once I came to the Columbus Crew, the club did clinics in different clubs in Columbus with kids and I realized that it was what I wanted to do once I retired. The soccer landscape in America is very different from other parts of the world, and I felt that with my knowledge I could help kids in this area train better and improve as players.

While I was playing for the Columbus Crew, during my vacation time I went to get my "A" coaching license with the US Soccer Federation.

This community welcomed me as a player and at the end of my playing career I wanted to give something back. Coaching children and helping local players in the Columbus soccer community become better was my goal from the first day I opened the SP Soccer Academy in this beautiful city. My goal was also to give as many players as possible the opportunity to play this beautiful sport called soccer, without discriminating against their level, since in my opinion every child deserves the opportunity to play, and every player can improve with proper training.

The soccer landscape is constantly evolving with new coaching methodologies and technologies. How does SP Soccer Academy stay current with the latest trends in player development, and how do you ensure that your coaching staff is well-equipped to provide the best guidance to young players?

At SP Soccer Academy, the coaches seek to improve the players from the basics such as ball control, passing, technique in general, without forgetting the physical, tactical, and mental aspects of the game.

In my opinion, football has changed a lot in recent years, but there is something that has not changed, and it is the simple things. Repetitions in each training session are very important, not everything is about winning. When you train children, teaching should always be of greater importance than the result of any match.

Positive results are a byproduct of commitment and consistent training. However, the focus in training is on the growth and development of the player first and foremost. For this reason, patience is important to shape the future of players. Without patience there are no results...and SP coaches always take that into account. Players need to feel free to express themselves on the field, and need to make mistakes and to figure out through trial and error what will bring them success on the field based on their unique attributes.

SP coaches do not typically shout instructions from the sidelines, but instead give players the freedom to individually and collectively solve the problems that arise on the field during games.

Furthermore, for more than 5 years we have been using the Veo camera platform to film and analyze tournament matches, league matches and also training. These recordings are an excellent teaching tool. Throughout the year, each SP coach does video sessions in our video room to explain to the players what they are doing well and what we can improve both as a team on the offensive and defensive side and we also show how to improve individually.

What competitive platforms do you utilize for your players (tournaments/leagues etc...), why have you chosen these leagues?

The majority of our academy teams compete League NPL and also compete in local leagues like OCL/COPL and Buckeye and attend local tournaments here in Columbus. As a director of a local club, I place great importance on supporting all of the local tournaments, and doing everything I can to help our soccer community here in Columbus to continue to grow and thrive.

Apart from that we also like to challenge our high school aged and Elite teams by traveling to compete in tournaments in other parts of Ohio as well as in different states. Our players really enjoy these weekends away playing in tournaments against different teams and enjoying moments off the playing field making friends and being exposed to new perspectives.

The teams also tend to compete in regional leagues, such as NPL because they typically offer a higher level of competition and are more effective at helping older players to prepare for playing in college.

Can you share with us some of the successes of SP Soccer Academy players and teams?

Our best success is that each and every SP player improves during their time as a member of our academy, that they know how to compete and that they understand that they always have to give 100% in each training session and match, not forgetting that they are children and that they have to enjoy their time with us. We have managed to get many players to play in College with scholarships thanks to their effort and work while at SP. We have played national, regional, and local tournaments achieving good results. We have given several players the opportunity to try out clubs in Europe and South America, trying to fulfill their dream of playing professionally.

Do you have any collaborations or major plans you want to share with our readers?

We have our 2023-2024 winter season coming up, which we have been doing since 2012. Registration is open for girls and boys from U5 (2019) to U19 (2005), in 2 different locations, Westerville and Columbus. Our winter season is open to SP players and also to players from any club or players who are not playing for club soccer. Everyone is welcome to train with us this winter. Also in February 2024 we will travel to England for a 10-day tour, where players will have the opportunity to train with Premier League coaches and compete against English teams in matches. Our upcoming UK Tour is not exclusive to members of SP Soccer Academy, but is also open to players from other local clubs as well, since we do not believe that only our players deserve this unique opportunity, but any player in the soccer community here in Columbus.

Finally, if there are any players looking for a club in the Spring 2024 season, we will hold 2 Tryouts dates for girls and boys players from U7 (2017) to U19 (2005) Tryouts Spring 2024 Dates: 1) Saturday October 28 at Casto Park (Westerville), Address: 5550 Westerville Rd, Westerville 43081 Time from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM Arrive for registration at 10:30 AM 2) Saturday November 4 at Casto Park (Westerville), Address: 5550 Westerville Rd, Westerville 43081 Time from 11:00 AM to 12:00 PM Arrive for registration at 10:30 AM

For more information visit our website or you can contact our office at our email or you can call us at 614-496-3930

The transition from professional player to youth soccer development is quite unique. What challenges did you face while establishing SP Soccer Academy, and how did you leverage your own experiences to address these challenges effectively?

Honestly, one of my biggest challenges when I started with the academy was to explain to the parents that I was going to be at the academy every day, since many professional players opened a soccer academy and only put their name in and only appeared once a year. After 12 years since we opened the academy, both the players and parents already know they can see me in training, league games and tournaments and that is something that I feel proud of, to be involved in the academy day by day and see how the players and families feel happy with our daily work.

Any other information you would like to share with our readers.

I would like to leave a message to our Columbus soccer community. From my experience both as a professional footballer and now as a coach, many times the only thing that matters is winning, and many times, most of the time I would say, more games are lost than they are won.

In my opinion there is often too much drama in youth soccer. Far too much of an emphasis is placed on winning rather than on the development of players. Parents need to support their kids and should not be too critical of their on field mistakes. Mistakes are an essential part of the learning process. Their focus instead should be on ensuring that their child enjoys every moment of their soccer experience, every training session, every game. Time passes very quickly, and you have to enjoy today. To this day, I still treasure the moments from my childhood when I played with my friends back in Argentina and saw my parents supporting me in every training or match. I don’t recall how many games we won or lost doing that time, but many of those same teammates became my lifelong friends.

Parents, let's allow our children to make mistakes and if they make a mistake, try again without being afraid of failing again. Encourage them to be fearless in their pursuit for finding the skills and techniques that will bring team success and give them the freedom to express themselves on the field. It is important that we all remember that our objective as coaches, parents, family members of the players is to see these players improve and be happy, the results give confidence, but it is not the most important thing when we train players from 5 to 19 years old, the important thing is teach every day and progress every day. We should always strive to "Become Better" Thank you so much Gino Padula

Director and Owner of SP Soccer Academy

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