Venice Beach Football Club
The sports culture in the United States compared to the rest of the world is immensely different. While sports like basketball, baseball, and American football are idolized in the States, the rest of the world enjoys watching another game. Some call it soccer but the world calls it Football. The beautiful game has been around for centuries and is played in all countries around the world. Literally, more than half the population of our huge planet enjoys and plays the game, over four billion and counting. Why is it that we don't feel that love in the United States?
Surprisingly, there are solutions for this problem and Venice Beach Football Club (VBFC) has come to make a change. VBFC, established in 2016, is a movement that wants to spread a message for the greater good of the sport… the true meaning behind the game. For many, sports are seen as a competitive platform and a way for self-satisfaction through winning. At VBFC, that is not what they believe. The club came out of a need to bring footballers together that wanted more from the game, no matter what age or skill level. Instead of winning trophies and feeling the need to be the best, VBFC focuses on the love and joy the game should be played for. Situated in Muscle Beach, the club was able to find space between the bodybuilders and basketball courts that have long dominated the area. With only the need for two small goals and a soccer ball, VBFC kicked off and gained local attention.
Luckily, one of the heads of VBFC is a close family friend. I had the chance to Interview Nick Santiago, a club player, and mentor at VBFC. Nick is a local to the Venice / Santa Monica area and has experienced the typical life and struggle of a club player at SMU.
For Nick, Football is a part of life that has been integrated into his culture and day to day lifestyle. It didn't surprise me that a man like Nick would end up being a mentor at VBFC but, I wanted to know his reason behind joining VBFC and, surprisingly, they were reasons that all players could relate to. In his younger years, he experienced the game from both top tier and amateur club teams. Away In college, he began to feel frustrated with the dynamics of the clubs and school teams throughout the past years.
“It's all about winning, they don't give a damn about you… No matter the team I was on, it was always: gotta win, gotta win, gotta win. Like for what? When am I going to be learning?”
Behind the scenes of these teams, it's not for the experience or enjoyment of the game, but rather for the title of ‘champion’. Coaches and managers don't mind the loss of a player when there are many up for grabs, this creates a situation where it's everyone for themselves and no one can express their own game, it must be the way the management wants it. Sadly, clubs are suppressing kids with potential to make it big.
“You never get the chance to make a mistake… we’re not given enough freedom and so we start playing with a rational fear that we have to play a certain way.”
And that is why VBFC popped up.
Having the freedom to play your way and explore a more versatile style of play, mistakes will be made, but you can only learn from your mistakes. Coming back from college, Nick met up with his football friends and that was the beginning of VBFC. They were dedicated to giving players, in the same situation as himself, an opportunity to freely play the game.
While they are mostly known for their weekend pick-up games, VBFC offers more resources which club teams don't. With the support of local gyms and fanatics, they provide top training facilities and events for the community. While VBFC doesn't want to create ties with any company, they have caught the attention of the locals around with their intentions.
“We don't want to make ties with any sponsor or company but while we’ve been growing, the community has really reached out to help our movement and to strengthen it.”
Unlike the common club team, and with the help of the community, they are able to offer strength and endurance training which ultimately helps prevent injuries and prepare players for a physical game. I talked to Kyle Hadfield, a local club player, about his experience with VBFC and their helpful training. Kyle and his soccer team had booked a gym day and a beach day with the club and it wasn't what they were completely expecting. “There aren’t many places that can get you one-on-one training to help you in specific areas you want to be worked on,” said Kyle.
What VBFC wants to emphasize with their movement is that they prioritize development for the individual. Too many players don't get the undivided attention in a team and are never improving themselves. They have to conform to the teams dynamic and only focus on one aspect of the game… the team. Everything can be broken down, and when you break down the team, you have individuals, and without them, you don't have a team. “When the next season started I felt that I was more prepared, and felt like I had a little bit more of an advantage than other players.”. Later that season, his team went on to win the League.
With this helpful resource that VBFC offers, more and more local club teams have been starting to take advantage of this training, realizing the results. The opportunity that VBFC gives players might sound like a necessity that all clubs should have but, unfortunately, that's not the case in the United States.
When VBFC began, not much was expected. What turned from 11 people one day, the next it would double and keep growing. They caught the attention of the community quickly creating crowds of people, it was the beginning of something new, something unheard of. It was evident that the football community needed a place to enjoy. While only ten play on the court, twenty others waited in line and close to a hundred spectators crowded the court.
Players young and old are always present on pick up days. There is no discrimination on whether you're good enough or if you win you stay on. You never know what to expect, players, locals, coaches, celebrities, and even you can be there. This wide variety of players break the barriers of authority and status because a player isn't judged by what they do, but what they have to offer. While VBFC gives to the community, they also receive more and more opportunities for growth.
For a couple of months, a regular of the community had been participating in the weekend pick up games. His name is Roge, a Brazilian born musician who had moved out to LA. Loving the work that VBFC had to offer, he wanted to give back to the community. Racking up a little fame in Brazil, Roge had a perfect idea, why not give the community a night to remember. Roge and his good friend, the icon Seu Jorge, put on a show for the VBFC community. With no expectations, a night of music, dancing, and good vibes were enjoyed, and the crazy part, it was run by the community. If you give you shall receive and that's the beauty of VBFC.
It is evident that, as a football player and fanatic myself, there is a lack of hype for the game. In my years as a player, I have traveled to Europe and South America to experience the game abroad. Shocked and intrigued at how football was idolized and popular in these countries, it made me think of home and how the game is treated, in my words, disrespected. In the streets and outskirts of these countries, you would see football fields that were only a couple blocks away from each other, fields comprised of dirt, grass, concrete, and artificial grass, dominating the streets. It amazed and confused me at the same time. I wondered why there were so many fields in these countries. It felt as if there weren't enough people to occupy the fields but actually, it was hard to find an empty one.
Amazed with the abundance abroad, back home it seems as if there is no hope and appreciation for the game. Trying to find space to play is impossible in the busy streets of LA and the fields that are specifically made for “soccer” are always occupied by either lacrosse or American football teams. If you want to play, you must pay. Playing on a club team and paying thousands a month has been the only way to play, maybe now you can see the reason why football isn't as idolized in the United States as it is abroad. With movements such as VBFC, players just like me are now given an opportunity to break out of the restraints of being on a team and to allow the individual to flourish his or her own game. To know that there are safe havens to turn to gives hope for the sport. If you are a footballer yourself, it is highly recommended to give VBFC a try, it will bring out the true beast that's within you.
Home of the Braves: Part One
A series on how "America's Team" became the team to forget.