Coaches Play Critical Role in Sports Development

By Jeff Martin

There was a time not long ago when the sport of soccer had a bad reputation among families in Western New York.

Russ Parisi, a retired corrections officer, said many likened it to a foreign invasion.

“It was like communism around here for a long time,” Parisi said recently.

Yet all proof would indicate otherwise. Having just put the finishing wraps on summer recreational soccer for Little Valley and Cattaraugus students, Parisi, like many volunteer coaches, is seeing a dramatic turn in the sport’s popularity. Football and baseball are no longer the sport of choice for elementary and high school students.

“Those used to be the only two sports anyone ever played,” Parisi said. “But, really, those two sports, unless you’re playing specific positions, rob players the feeling that they’re part of a team. A lot of time they don’t even touch the ball.”

As a volunteer coach for the past 20 years, Parisi has seen the sport of soccer grow from a kind of small cult following to one that shuttles as many as 300 through winter and summer leagues.

And volunteer coaches are a critical part of it.

As is typically the case, volunteer coaches begin coaching because there is a need within the team their children play for. That’s what happened to Parisi, whose son started playing at a young age for a Little Valley team. That was before both Little Valley and Cattaraugus merged.

Parisi’s son got into an argument with a coach during a game and Parisi, teaching his son that wasn’t appropriate behavior, asked the coach if he needed help. Always needing help, the coach accepted the offer and Parisi has coached ever since. He has taught several age groups, from elementary children to, most recently, high school students.

The job comes with its frustrations, specifically about the schools that enlist the help.

“A lot of people that come in to coach don’t know the sport or the rules very well,” he said. “Part of that comes from the newness of the sport here, but if you’re committed or getting paid, you should know the fundamentals.”

As it turns out, fundamentals continue to cause problems among players in the area.

“The players just don’t have a strong handle on them,” Parisi said.

The return of Myrna Reynolds, a former Little Valley teacher, has put some spunk back into the sport. Because of her, the program attracted 200 children in Little Valley alone last year.

Parisi knows Reynolds well, having coached beside her. He considers her a good friend who has the players’ best interests in mind. As the years have gone by, Parisi has learned to enjoy the sport for what it truly is: a chance for kids of all ages to get out and move and understand the value of teamwork.

“I learned it wasn’t just about winning, and unfortunately a lot of parents don’t understand that,” Parisi said, who plans to referee against this fall. “That’s unfortunate, but I think they learn eventually. I’m pretty competitive and I’ve learned that.”

Jerry Titus, a Little Valley resident, knows the lessons well. He was once a player on Reynolds’ team — over 20 years ago in Salamanca. When he played as a kid, Titus was especially fond of playing indoors, but that offering disappeared until just recently, when it was reintroduced.

“The sport is really coming back pretty strong,” Titus said. “It was just so much fun back when I played. I just wanted to help get it back to where it was.”

Titus just finished coaching the summer league.

“It hasn’t been this vibrant in years,” Titus said.

Reynolds said the sport hasn’t been this vibrant since Dr. Lito Guiterrez, an Argentine doctor who lived in Salamanca, started leagues in the area many years ago. He worked to get other cities and villages competing. Now players play each other.

“I will say that soccer is a great avenue for kids of all ages to play,” Reynolds said. “I believe that, and I have been at it for over 40 years. The philosophy is important and we try to instill the idea in our coaches. We want everyone to play and learn: parents, coaches and kids. The idea is that recreation soccer is not to win, but to learn and develop and have fun.”

For more information about these and other programs, call the village of Little Valley at (716) 938-9151.