Last spring, Ánimo Ellen Ochoa Charter Middle School (AEO) students hoped to participate in Green Dot’s Ánimo Cup, an intramural soccer tournament for teams in Green Dot’s network of schools. There was just one problem: they didn’t have a coach. Weeks before the competition, they turned to Julio Alvarado, AEO’s Office Assistant and a lifelong soccer player. “Soccer is my passion. Growing up it helped me deal with the situations I was going through, it kept me out of trouble, and it gave me something to look forward to,” said Alvarado. “So when the opportunity came for me to help out our students and represent AEO, I had to do it.” Within weeks, Alvarado and students established the foundation of what would become AEO’s soccer club, one that is not just focused on skill training and winning, but also fostering growth on and off the field.
Building a Team
It takes time to build a great team; lessons must be learned and trust must be earned. Unfortunately, AEO’s soccer team did not have the luxury of time, as the players had to quickly learn how to trust one another, and move as a team before competing in the Ánimo Cup. Though they didn’t win the Ánimo Cup, simply participating brought AEO students closer together. For one student, soccer club is the highlight of her day. It's a space where she is able to come together with friends, challenge herself, and have fun. “Soccer is life. It's been a part of my life since I was a little girl learning the game with my dad,” said Maricela Duran, sixth grader at AEO.
Though their first season didn’t turn out as many victories as they might have hoped, it brought to life one lesson Alvarado strives to teach his players: the process is more important than the outcome. “You can’t fixate on winning, you must look at the journey and all the work you put in to get there, because that is the true victory,” said Alvarado.
For Alvarado, coaching is about more than teaching students how to play and win, but providing them with tools that translate into other facets of their lives. Though some may see soccer as only athleticism, it teaches students, take risks, how to better communicate with others, and how to handle loss. “I often tell my players that like a soccer game, life will challenge you in different ways, and the way you react to those challenges is how you define yourself,” recalled Alvarado. Soccer club has taught Ivan Guerra, an eighth grader at AEO, how to be a better teammate and leader: “When teammates have trouble with a drill or a kick, I’ll show them how to do it. Thanks to soccer I know I can teach and help others on the field and even in the classroom.”
Finding His Place
Alvarado is the first person people meet when they enter the AEO campus, which is something he takes pride in. As a parent, Green Dot’s mission to prepare students for college, leadership, and life resonates deeply within him “I have two kids, so for me, education is very important not just for my children, but for all of the children in this community,” said Alvarado. “[The mission] was one of the reasons why I sought out a career at Green Dot, because I believe that every single student in our community has the potential to succeed in life and should go to college as they are all capable of great things.”
For parents, he helps provide them with information and resources to better support their child on their road to college. “Mr. Alvarado is a really great coach and person, he teaches us techniques, pushes us, and keeps us on track,” said Duran.Alvarado’s colleagues can’t imagine AEO without him. “Julio is always there to support you. He is someone I trust deeply because everything he does is for the benefit of our students, families, and team,” said Beatriz Cervantes, AEO’s School Operations Manager. “He does so much for AEO, but never expects to be recognized for it. To him, coaching our students on the soccer field is just another way he brings his heart to what our team does.” Whether he is on the field or in the office, Alvarado is committed to the success of all students. Students like Guerra know this firsthand: “He knows a lot about soccer, and really cares about us. There's no better coach.”