Laurent Courtois: "The world can be yours"
By Kim Tate
It’s not every day you get to speak to a player who exudes such passion for youth development and mentorship. Laurent Courtois, formerly of Chivas USA and now currently training with MLS Champions LA Galaxy, wants to devote time off the pitch to helping kids discover their potential on and off the soccer field.
Courtois has been known by Goat fans as being one of the most interactive with his followers on Twitter. The social media fan favorite was born and raised in France, beginning his youth career with a club team before joining the ranks of Olympique Lyon at age 14 until he was 20 years old. Upon departure of their development system, he went on to play for two club teams in France’s second division league, (Ligue 2) helping one of them to promotion up to the top flight (Ligue 1) which recently saw the likes of David Beckham for a season before he retired.
He went on to play in the English Premier League for West Ham and another club team before joining Spain's top flight league, La Liga, at Levante for three years.
After his time in Spain, Courtois made the trek back to France to play with a Ligue 1 club for two years before tearing his ACL during the last game of the season. After his injury, he spent a season in the second division with and ultimately ended up helping them in their promotion to the top flight before making the move to MLS.
That was two years ago, when Courtois decided to move from Europe to the United States with his family, including his eight and four year old sons, to join Chivas USA. He remained with the club until the end of June of this year, a day after he scored a beautiful goal against the New England Revolution.
Now, Courtois is training with the LA Galaxy in hopes of being able to land a contract with Bruce Arena and the MLS champions in Los Angeles, but hasn’t forgotten his love and passion for instilling important skills and values into the kids who love and play the game, just like he does.
When I ask him about his time with LA Galaxy, he says “I’m really excited.” It sounds like he took the time immediately after practice to talk to me from his training grounds. It's afternoon, and I can hear the wind which occasionally breaks up his accent. “This organization, it’s something else. The way everything is organized, the mentality, it’s really enjoyable. I hope I find a way to end up with them.”
While continuing on with his playing career is his number one priority, so is being a motivating figure to children and young athletes in southern California. The excitement coming from him when he discusses all this with me is apparent; almost contagious. I can tell he is smiling. I can hear the desire in his tone. He is serious, and he’s delighted to be sharing it with someone.
Courtois is 34 years old, and though he’s dedicated to becoming a part of a team so he can keep his playing career kicking in high gear, he has recently linked up with a new idea coming to town from his home country of France. An idea that would give him the opportunity to teach what he’s known all his life to kids in his area.
The French Soccer Institute, located in San Clemente, California, reached out to Courtois when they were initially in discussion with the French Football Federation to establish a presence in the United States. They knew how much of a youth soccer mecca southern California has been, and they wanted to partner with a player with familiarity of the French development system who could also play a role in serving the youth on their behalf.
The French Soccer Institute, or FSI, has certainly made an impression so far in Southern California and has several camps planned for August and September in Orange County. This idea sat well with Courtois, since the idea of forming his own camps hasn't come to fruition yet.
“I wanted to offer camps to kids, but then decided I also want to keep playing professionally, so I didn’t want to have camps I couldn’t run myself. If I can’t be there, it’s not fair to the kids,” he said. His tone changed. I could hear a slight disappointment in his voice, but when discussion shifted to his role with the FSI and his potential impact on young athletes, it reverted back again. Happiness.
The FSI will not only provide camps for kids to enhance skill levels based on the models followed by the best teams in France, but they will provide courses for higher level coaches, and for Courtois, that is a vital component. “The French youth development program has a lot of good quality, and it will be good to get the knowledge right from the source,” he said.
Leadership and platforms to mature – as an athlete and a person - are important to him. He looked to several coaches and players in his early years to guide him, as most aspiring athletes do. But when we discussed coaching in his youth, and whether there was a key-figure who stood out, the answer was “no.” Like any athlete, Courtois had coaches and mentors he disagreed with and often didn’t like, but it wasn’t about personality parallels to him. He always saw the bigger picture. “I tried to make the most of every coach I had, whether I liked them or not. There was always something to be learned.”
It’s that mentality he hopes to translate to the kids he works with through the French Soccer Institute. “I really want to be coaching and pass on what I’ve learned to the youth. I want them to make the best of every opportunity, I want to give tools to them on and off the field to contribute to them and their well being. We ask ourselves, ‘how can we provide opportunities with elevated training like I got in Europe, but without putting them in boxes? How can we make them better people off the field?”
As we start to wind the call down, we casually discuss living in southern California, he said something that stood out to me. “I want to live here. I’ve never felt this good. The last time I felt this good, I was in Spain." (2005) "My world is soccer, and I enjoy it so much that I would do anything to be a part of it on the field, somehow. And I want the kids to know ‘the world can be yours.’”
No matter what happens with Courtois' playing career, one thing is certain. Well, two things. One: whichever team he lands with will benefit from his workrate and leadership. Two: the youth of southern California will have been made better because of the contagious nature of his influence and passion.
Fans can connect and follow Laurent Courtois on Twitter: @LaurentCourtois
To keep up with his role with the French Soccer Institute, connect with their facebook page at www.facebook.com/FrenchSoccerInstitute