REGION — Several times a week, coaches hit the field at three North County elementary schools to provide lunch and after-school programs.
The catch, or the kick, is the coaches use soccer as a tool to reinforce STEM (Science, Techonology, Engineering and Math) on the field.
The soccer-based education program is the brainchild of Nick Telford, an Irishman who grew up loving the sport. He connected with University of Arizona engineering professor Ricardo Valerdi, who delivered such programs for the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer and five Major League Baseball clubs.
Telford, though, figured he could incorporate those aspects into schools to assist the kids with what they learn in the classroom. In 2004, he created Coast 2 Coast, which has exploded its reach to more than 1,000 schools in California, Texas and Florida.
But when Telford connected with Valerdi is when the pieces fell into place.
“We like to think our organization is creating this communal benefit,” Telford said. “The coaches who get to earn a bit of money, the principals who get a quieter school, lunch-recess and the kids who get this extra physical activity each day and STEM.”
The company employs mostly college students with a background in soccer, although some coaches come on board, such as Tyson Allen in Carlsbad, who works part-time because he loves coaching kids.
Allen, who works in construction when not coaching, said the program also emphasizes team building.
“It’s teaching kids how to have fun playing soccer and mixing in STEM,” he explained. “It’s fun because their teammates help. I think they are enjoying the games more. So the kids may have not liked the number game … but now they are excited because they may be good at math and still learning how to play soccer, but the get the advantage.”
Elementary students at Hope and Orange Glen in Carlsbad and Escondido, respectively, flock to the fields to learn about angles, the solar system and much more. In addition, they learn the basics of soccer as well as get some physical activity.
Christian Ridings, a regional manager for Coast 2 Coast, spent a day last week at Orange Glen. The subject was the solar system where the kids had to navigate the Milky Way.
The exercise, he said, started with calling on a pair of kids to run to two specific planets, which were designated by a cone outlining the field’s boundaries. Once they reached said “planets,” the kids engaged in a one-on-one drill.
It’s these types of games Telford and his coaches incorporate to reinforce what the kids learn in school.
“Typically, the games are very simple,” Ridings said. “The educational points are meant to reinforce things they already know. We are building from what their teachers have already developed.”
Funding for the program comes either through grants or out of pocket, in some cases.
As the popularity of the program grew, Telford said the focus on STEM curriculum began in earnest about two years ago with an added lunch-recess program.
“We realized that STEM was a huge push educationally,” he added. “We also realized that soccer was a good option for schools to take on board and the educational component was essential for us to grow the company and diversify from other organizations that just offer sports programs.”
All told, Coast 2 Coast is in 82 school districts in California, including three in North County with Carlsbad, Vista and Escondido. They also are in nine school districts in Texas.
The lunch-recess addition, Telford said, has decreased discipline issues with students.
“The kids have this focused structured activity during lunchtime,” he added. “That influence of a college coach there during lunchtime … who is in touch with the youth and being able to create that connection with the kids and providing an environment where they don’t want to misbehave. They just want to play soccer.”