Interview by Mike Woitalla
When Josh Hodges finished his college playing career at Azusa Pacific a decade ago, he started a youth club in Glendora, an inland Southern California city of 50,000. Last year, three Legends FC girls teams reached the USYS National Championships and the U-15s, under Coach Rick Young, lifted the crown. We spoke with 34-year-old Hodges about how he steered a club that started with five teams in 2002 to national contender that now fields 50 girls teams and 20 boys team and is sending scores of players to college ball.
SOCCER AMERICA: What inspired you to start a youth club?
JOSH HODGES: When I look at my college bio’s career goals, it actually says, “Start a youth soccer club.”
SA: So how did it unfold?
JOSH HODGES: I grew up in Kansas, and I just loved soccer. Worked at the indoor soccer arena, played club, helped out coaches. I came to California because soccer seemed to be pretty popular and got a chance to play college soccer out here [Azusa Pacific]. I got involved in high school coaching in [nearby] Glendora. It didn’t have a rich soccer tradition. It didn’t have a formal club structure for the better players. I became pretty passionate about starting something in the community. I started the club right out of college.
SA: And that was Glendora FC in 2002?
JOSH HODGES: Right. In 2007 we combined with FC Stampede and became Legends FC.
SA: What were the challenges when you started out?
JOSH HODGES: Glendora was a strong baseball, softball, football community and soccer was hardly to be seen. There wasn’t a soccer culture.
The biggest challenge, any time you’re starting something brand new, is getting everybody to buy in and believe in what you’re doing, believe in you, and trust you through the very complicated club soccer process.
We were fortunate the first year -- we started with five teams, three boys and two girls -- and one of the girls team I coached was a brand new team, starting at bronze, considered the lowest level, all kids out of AYSO, and we beat everybody. We beat all the big-time clubs and got to the State Cup final, and lost 1-0 on a PK in the final. That kind of skyrocketed us, convinced more people to believe, and we were able to build on that. …
And little by little we started to attract people from outside the area. Now we're kind of everywhere: Glendora, Chino, Chino Hills, Corona, Temecula …
Our location is actually convenient, because we’re right where a bunch of freeways come together. The 210, the 57, the 71, the 10, the 60. There’s a bunch of little communities connected in there.
SA: The U-15 USYS national championship win came 10 years after you started the club …
JOSH HODGES: When we started the club, we had to start teams at U-11, because it was too hard to start 9s and 10s. And that was the first team we started as a U-9 team. The first team to go all the way through the process, which I thought was pretty cool.
SA: How do you balance the pressure to win games and coaching in a way that’s good for the players’ long-term development?
JOSH HODGES: There are different phases of the year. The spring phase for us is a time to get better individually. A time to let everybody play. Try different things and try different people. And then you get into summer tournaments, and you’re still doing that, but there’s a little bit more of a competitive drive behind it.
I would say 75 percent of the year is really committed developing the individual player and making them better, put them in situations they aren’t the most comfortable in but it’s going to help them in the long term.
Then there’s the part of the year when winning kind of helps you advance. There’s the 25 percent where it’s more driven towards winning and maybe not everybody plays as much.
SA: Are the goals different at the younger age groups?
JOSH HODGES: When we first started out we kind of had to win for people to believe in us. We’re at the point now where there’s less pressure to get results and we have specific goals where we want the 9s and 10s to be when their done with their programs. And where the 11s and 12s should be …
SA: Give us an example for the 9s and 10s …
JOSH HODGES: I see in women’s soccer a lot of players not confident in the attacking third, and not trying a move to beat a player. And so we really preach to our staff and parents and players, that we want those kids to develop confidence and not be afraid to fail, and if they fall down and make a mistake, just get back up and try and win the ball back.
Our coaches will never yell at any of our kids, no matter what the event is, if they’re trying a move to beat somebody and they make a mistake. That’s a culture we created. We want all our kids to be really, really confident on the ball.
Some parents when the kids are younger get mad at the kids for trying to dribble three players, because it’s not teamwork, but for us we want those kids to be confident enough to try and beat three people. Because in the bigger picture, if they learn that now, when they get older it’s going to come more natural.
If they don’t learn the skill and get the confidence at those younger ages, they’ll really have a tough time when they get older.
SA: How do parents react to your philosophy?
JOSH HODGES: We truly want to develop and we want be successful at the same time. We try and communicate that to the parents and 90 percent are on board. Sometimes people, if you lose some games, or maybe you would have won if you’d done things differently, they get a little bit restless.
But we’ve established relationships and 90 percent of the people trust us through the process and don’t get caught up on the wins and losses in the short term.
SA: Despite being a relatively smaller club and not playing in the ECNL, how do you still manage to land scores of players in college?
JOSH HODGES: We’re in that spot where we have good teams but we’re not part the ECNL, so we have to work extra hard on the college side of things. It really challenges us to be the best club we can possibly be.
So we’re constantly looking at our players, giving them opportunities to play up. They’re on their own team, but we play them up to get them as many looks as possible. …
We lay out a calendar for the year and try to find the best events that provide the best competition and the best opportunity for our kids, if they’re age-appropriate, to be seen by college coaches. … We’ve had college coaches come to our practices. …
We hired a college coordinator whose full-time job is working with 14s through 19s in that whole process.