Steve Yorke, FC Heat Elite’s Director of Coaching and Director of Communications, is keen on providing opportunities. Whether it be on the field for aspiring young soccer players, or off the pitch through programs that help grow the sport locally, Yorke is eager to help and inspire. In an exclusive interview with SoccerNation.com’s Cesar Hernandez, the Director of Coaching opened up about his own history with the sport, his goals for the non-profit program and his thoughts on San Diego soccer in general.
SN: Tell us about FC Heat Elite and the role that Escondido Soccer Club plays within the program.
Yorke: Escondido Soccer Club and FC Heat Elite are part of the same non-profit soccer organization serving the youth of North San Diego County. Escondido Soccer Club is the recreational division where we have approximately 60+ teams that play in-house at Ryan Park in Escondido. Some of these older teams are traveling rec teams that play other local clubs in and around the county. The recreational division is a developmental farm for our players and coaches. We have an apprenticeship coaching program where we partner rec coaches with competitive coaches for at least a season before we choose to hire them. FC Heat Elite is the competitive division of the club that currently has 41 teams playing in CSL, Presidio and SDDA leagues. We have approximately 30 competitive coaches on staff. I am the Director of Coaching and the Director of Communications for both divisions of the same club.
SN: What about your own personal history with soccer, how did you first get into the sport?
Yorke: I am originally from Stoke-On-Trent in England and grew up with the game as 90% of kids do from those north midland cities. I started playing in a program called ‘Lads & Dad’s’ around 9 years-old with a good friend of mine, Garth Crooks, who went on to play for Stoke City, Spurs and England. As a youngster, I went on and played for Port Vale in the then English third division for a short period of time before joining the Royal Navy. I traveled the world playing soccer for the Royal Navy, which in turn introduced me to the United States where I came to live. In the 80s I was the Head Coach for Rancho Bernardo Hornets and also worked alongside John Napier for 10 years with his soccer camps. After a break, where I concentrated on other family businesses, I returned to soccer when my wife gave birth to our twins. We came through the rec and the competitive program with them at Escondido Soccer Club where, after a few years, I was eventually given the position of DOC for the club.
SN: When did you make the transition into coaching and what inspired it?
Yorke: After suffering many injuries over the years like breaking both ankles and eight toes in a car accident, I knew then that any competitive soccer was out of the question. So as Martin O’Neil once said, “There is nothing like playing the game of football, but there will come a day when you cannot play any longer. Coaching is the next best thing!” In the 80s it became a great challenge to come up with good competitive teams in North San Diego County as soccer was not the most popular sport, and I was given the task to build two of those teams at the boys U12 –U14 level. This was a lot of fun and I instantly meshed with the kids and found that they did indeed listen and learn from me. I am still in touch with some of those kids/adults today. Currently, or let’s say starting 10 years ago, I felt that I could offer Escondido Soccer Club my services by putting fairness into coaching. Equal or fair playing time, not so much emphasis on winning etc. etc. This created a lot of happy, young players coming out of rec and moving through to All-Star teams. Eventually I took my beliefs and coaching beliefs into the competitive arena once again.
SN: I recently got a chance to watch the video of FC Heat’s trip to China last year. Tell us about the experience abroad.
Yorke: Going to China with a squad of 14 year-old boys was a fantastic experience. The majority of these players would probably never leave the country in their lifetimes, let alone visit China to play soccer as a teenager. Needless to say, we were very well looked after by our Chinese friends, who allowed us to stay in one of the best hotels and play in some of the best stadiums in the world. We got to walk ‘The Great Wall’ and visit many tourist landmarks while there, and best of all we were able to build a great relationship with Chinese players, families, coaches and government officials. We hope to have some of them visit us later this year. One of the best things that happened from our trip to China was that Dalian, known as the ‘City of Soccer’ has now become sister cities with Escondido, who they call the ‘City of Youth Soccer.’ And from this one trip where we reached out to each other, many other things that will benefit both cities are now in the planning stages.
SN: What are some of the hurdles and difficulties that youth soccer programs face?
Yorke: Apart from the many common hurdles that most clubs have to face, I would have to say that funding and financing programs for our players is by far the greatest challenge. In Escondido and our surrounding cities we have many great, young players that may not see competitive soccer, simply because of the high fees involved. At Escondido Soccer Club and FC Heat Elite we have many programs in place that allow families numerous options for their children to play. We are one of the few clubs in California who allow our players’ families to work for the club in exchange for some of those fees. We also have a program in place similar to a Craigslist, but in-house, which again assists these families in raising the fees.
SN: What goals do you have for FC Heat?
Yorke: This may take a while, but I will try and keep it brief. First of all, we have no plans to become a big club. We love the hometown club feel, where we know we are doing a great service for the families and the children of our city. Where we are now in size we are very happy with. As mentioned above, we try to find a way to allow all players in our city and surrounding areas to play in the competitive arena. We love to bring in new programs every year and try to introduce at least one new one annually. Last year was the China program. This year we have an outside company teaching our coaches and players; strength and conditioning, proper warm-ups, speed and agility and age appropriate nutrition. This is all part of our current fee structure where the players pay nothing extra. The management at Escondido Soccer Club and FC Heat Elite run a very tight ship and as long as we break even while doing our part for the community, then we are content.
SN: What are your thoughts on the current state of youth soccer in San Diego?
Yorke: Well to be honest, I don’t like to see the smaller clubs being swallowed up by the larger clubs. I know that in many cases the bigger clubs are expanding their services to out-of-town communities. But I like there to be healthy competition between numerous non-profit corporations. I just wrote a story about Dave Shelton-who died in 1999-for our newsletter. He was one of our founding fathers. His grandkids are now in our program and we are doing exactly what Dave Shelton would have wished us to do. Having said that, over the last 3 years or so, since I have gotten to know many of DOC’s of other clubs and the management of our leagues, I have full faith in youth soccer continuing to grow within our region.
SN: Would you support the idea of an MLS/NASL/USL team starting in San Diego?
Yorke: I surely would. Last year I was fortunate enough to spend 3 days with Houston Dynamo and the coach at that time was Owen Coyle. Owen and his staff gave me an open forum to sit down with everyone who was involved in every capacity at that club and to ask any questions I wanted. Obviously many of my questions pertained to the academy and youth soccer in and around Houston. A local professional soccer team just gives all of the youth players something to shoot for while supporting their team week in and week out. FC Heat Elite and Escondido Soccer Club have also supported our NC Battalion professional team since their inception.
SN: What can be done to ensure and support the growth of youth soccer?
Yorke: I think all clubs should try and work together at some level. We understand that we are competitors and we all want the best for our club, but there is nothing that states that we shouldn’t share ideas that work. We have a great relationship with all clubs that surround our city, and if after tryouts we have players needing a team or teams needing players, I am right on the phone to the management of those clubs. It’s a case of you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, and we are only doing it for the children of our community. I think corporate sponsorship is another must. By putting together programs that allow some of the successful companies within our cities, to become part of our club is a great way to raise funds while advertising for them. This was a big part of our China trip.
I have a good friend who is a marketing manager for a professional soccer club and who was trying to raise some funds for their academy and the soccer camps for the club. With a little homework and one phone call he was able to secure a contract worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. He found that in his particular area, childhood asthma was prevalent, more so there where he lived than any other surrounding states. So he called up a large pharmaceutical company that was famous for asthma inhalers and within a week the contract was signed and the logo was imprinted on the club’s youth shirts. I think it just takes some thinking out of the box once in awhile and California will continue to be a soccer hot-bed.