One day in the mid-1980s, Stuart McCarthy — a former Staples star now coaching a Westport Soccer Association girls team — told Todd Coleman, “It’s time you gave something back to the program.” McCarthy named him coach of the WSA’s Under-17 girls squad.
Coleman was all of 19 years old.
He coached girls for 3 seasons. And McCarthy’s words have resonated ever since.
Coleman is in his 3rd decade of giving back. Now — as the new Westport Soccer Association co-president — he’s in a unique position. A former WSA player who has seen the program and sport evolve, he’s trying to balance the fun, play-with-your-buddies aspect he remembers with the realities of youth sports, 2014-style.
Coleman’s introduction to soccer came in 4th grade, at Hillspoint Elementary School. New to Westport, he had no idea what it meant when Rob Sweetnam asked at recess, “Want to kick?”
But he quickly learned. He played WSA recreation soccer, and made his 1st travel team at 13. Each year, his teammates’ bonds tightened.
Coleman went on to captain the Staples soccer and wrestling squads. He earned the Block “S” MVP award and Loeffler Scholarship, and won a state championship as a junior. At Bates College he was a 4-year starter and captain. He won another state title with Westport’s Under-23 Kixx team.
“Real life” followed. He worked in financial services in Europe and San Francisco. His brothers Scott (a soccer player) and Keith (a wrestler) were killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11. But soccer kept him connected. When his buddies formed a Westport Over-30 team to honor Scott, Coleman played whenever he could. That team too won a state title.
Todd Coleman (top row, 3rd from left) with the Westport Over-30 team, on a tour of England. To his left is Ivan Gazidis, Arsenal CEO, who played with Westport when he was assistant commissioner of MLS. To Coleman’s right is Mark Noonan, a former Staples teammate who won a national championship at Duke. Other former WSA and Staples players include Dr. Jonathan Sollinger, Guy Claveloux, Brian Sullivan, Dan Donovan and Mike Brown.
Seven years ago — now back in Westport — Coleman volunteered at the WSA’s indoor tournament. (A portion of the profits go to the organization’s Coleman Brothers Foundation.) He liked what he saw. He got more involved. And he always remembered McCarthy’s words.
“Volunteering makes you a better person,” Coleman says. “Giving back helps you get a little bit outside yourself.”
The WSA has expanded greatly since Coleman’s playing days, when there was 1 travel team per age group, and parental involvement was limited to coaching and driving. There are now 1,500 players; 29 travel teams; a robust recreational program, and professional coaches.
But though the organization has grown, its core mission remains the same. “The WSA should be as inclusive as possible,” he says. “I want it to be fun for the kids. I want them to have the same love for soccer I had when I was young. When I was 10, I didn’t feel pressured to make travel or think about college.”
Parents are involved, he says, “almost more than the kids now.” But Coleman has nothing but praise for the WSA’s 165 volunteers. “They’re enthusiastic about soccer, and they’re focused on the benefits for everyone. There are board members whose kids did not make a travel team. No one complained.”
Youth soccer — all youth sports — are different today than when Coleman was first invited to “have a kick.” (It was a red playground ball, he laughs — not even a real soccer ball.) Travel teams begin at younger ages. Parents drive further distances. Children are “showcased” for colleges.
Coleman can’t change that. But he will do everything he can to make sure that the organization he now heads holds true to the same principle — “soccer is fun” — that powered it when he was young.
And that impelled him to give back to it, starting at the ripe old age of 19.