Travis Wilkinson | Passing Skills to the Next Generation
Imagine a young Travis Wilkinson surrounded by 100 ambitious four-year-olds. Now imagine all of them with a soccerball.
For some, it sounds like a nightmare. For Travis, this was the beginning of the competitive soccer community in Southern Utah. Travis won’t take all the recognition for helping create it; countless community members and an ambitious wife should also be credited for helping develop the soccer clubs in Southern Utah.
“The city would have a recreational program but for young kids,” Travis said. “They had 22 kids on the field, so eleven against eleven, and it would just be this massive swarm…and that’s when we were thinking wow if only we could make it a little smaller-sided, like four on four, more touches on the ball. And that’s sort of where it started to transition.”
After Travis and his wife’s children had an interest in soccer, they formed what’s now known as the Southern Utah Interregional League that now boasts over 150 teams, 1500 players, and a dedicated staff of all volunteer coaches and organizers.
“I loved sports as a kid and I had some fantastic coaches,” Travis laughed. “And you feel they had a huge impact on your life. That had a lot of motivation for me to [start coaching].”
Travis grew up playing the traditional sports of football and baseball in Southern Utah, but his love for soccer grew as he began to learn the intricacies of the game.
“I think the frustration with Americans with soccer is how do you end a game in a tie? We need a winner,” Travis said. “I think the thing I really enjoy about the game is the little victories. The little things. The build up of 12 connected passes to create a shot. Even if it didn’t go in, the team worked hard to get that one chance. I’ve really learned to appreciate the buildup.”
Soccer is unique in that there’s no time outs. The clock runs continuously over a 90 minute game stopping only for a short halftime. Because of that, Travis really has to teach his kids strategy and problem solving.
“You’re really teaching the kids to solve problems,” Travis said. “As a coach you just can’t yell out what you want. You may see a tactical adjustment but you have to send the message out through a rotation or substitution. The crazy part of that is you get frustrated as a coach because you just can’t effectively implement and make an impactful change. Most of that is just the flow of the game.”
What’s truly unique about the club is the fact it’s 100 percent volunteer based and is still so successful. Similar clubs in Salt Lake and Southern California pay their coaches a full-time salary yet the teams in Southern Utah are still winning and getting equal, if not better, results. Several older-aged teams have had success in state and national tournaments.
“It grinds the big machines up north. Especially when we beat them. We all have day jobs and all of us just [coach] on the side,” Travis laughed.
The commitment and dedication to volunteering and serving something outside yourself is something Travis connects to the unique Southern Utah community.
“Most of these clubs and teams are run by volunteers,” Travis said. “None of our coaches have been paid. I think that’s something that’s really unique to the area.”
Travis also tries to make sure the kids in the competitive clubs have had tremendous opportunity for recruiting and scouting. One player was invited to a tryout by Atletico Madrid, a professional football club in Spain, with the possibility of recruitment. Two other players visited a team in York, England. Many others have been recruited to play in Division I and Division II athletic programs. A lot of these players come from lower income families that would have never had the chance to play in larger, more expensive clubs.
“The quality of soccer players you’ll find here is just as good as you’ll find anywhere else in the state,” Travis said.