Spotlight Profile: Mike Martinez of Xplosion Soccer Club
They were the little team that could.
Mike Martinez played for one of the most celebrated club teams in Whittier’s history, winning two State Cups titles, one Western Regional Championship and several Coast Soccer League championships.
His teammates included Nomar Garciaparra, who went on to a storied career in professional baseball with the Boston Red Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, and Peter Prieto, who played pro soccer for Tecos in Guadalajara, Mexico.
It was the kind of magical time that most athletes consign to their memories and move on.
But memories weren’t enough for Mike. He was determined to bring that same sense of achievement and pride he felt playing for his hometown to new generations of soccer players as President of Xplosion Soccer Club in Whittier.
Now a school counselor at Katherine Edwards Middle School, Mike says Xplosion has no ambitions to become one of the big, corporate-style clubs that are steadily engulfing Southern California. He wants his club to remain rooted in the community - and to ensure no child is priced out of playing for one of his teams.
“One of the things that separates us from other clubs is that we are a community organization,” he explains. “What we recognized was that there is talent in the area and so we got together with other community members and decided to make our own club so that our community kids would get the opportunity to play at a high level and get college exposure.”
Xplosion is able keep costs to a minimum because their coaches, while vastly experienced with higher level coaching licenses and with some ex-pros, are volunteers. Mike explains, “ I am grateful that my school administration and the Whittier City School District and Los Nietos School District believes in our brand and what we stand for and allow us to use their facilities.”
“We are not running this as a big business,” adds Mike, who coaches a U-14 gold level boys team and a newly formed 03 girls side. “My feeling is that a lot of clubs charge way too much money, some for basic trapping, passing and shooting. How can you charge $1,500 for teaching a kid how to kick a ball?”
Xplosion has 16 teams and “no interest in building 60 or 80 teams.” Teams that are accepted into Xplosion must be in line with the philosophy and club goals.
“We are providing a service,” says Mike, “and the more teams we have the harder it is to do that and monitor.”
Here’s Mike’s Q&A for Football.com:
1. Can you sum up your soccer philosophy?
MIKE: First thing we want teach kids is to work hard, be accountable and committed to their teammates, be active listeners when given direction and be coachable. Beginning with our recreational league, Little Dynamites (5-8yrs), we introduce the game to them by setting up drills where kids will be making soccer movements, jogging, sprinting, jumping, pivoting, dribbling, passing and shooting. The goal here is to get the kids to fall in love with the sport and want to come back. We do this by creating small-sided games, relay races, and fun games with the ball so kids could start to feel comfortable with the ball at their feet while we start to introduce a sense of competition.
With our higher level teams, the emphasis is always mastery of the ball, getting 100s of touches on a ball at each practice and we want every single player from defenders to forwards to be able to get out of tight spaces, find feet and come out playing from the back going forward. Once kids can do this, then we start to introduce the more tactical piece and mental aspects of the game. It’s a process and it all starts with hard work and solid practice ethic.
2. What are the most important attributes you look for in a young player?
MIKE: We are not looking for the next Messi or Ronaldo. We are looking for kids that love the sport and want to develop and be part of a team that will grow together.
3. What are your goals with the club?
MIKE: Not to become one of those clubs that is in it for the money. We are in it for the kids. Our goal is for our kids to develop into sound student athletes that are ready to compete at a high level. Xplosion has recently had kids picked up for soccer academy teams, ODP progam (Olympic Development Program) and we just had our first 2 girls earn full ride soccer college scholarships. Not bad for being a small club and only 5 years in existence. The word is out.
4. Who is/was your favorite pro player and pro team?
MIKE: My childhood heroes were Michel Platini of France and Roberto Baggio of Italy. I was lucky enough to see both of them play in World Cups - and both of them missed penalties in the games! My favorite team right now is Barcelona but I have always followed Chivas Guadalajara from Mexico. Being an underdog club team, it's really neat to follow what Leicester City is doing in the EPL.
5. What’s your background as a player?
MIKE: I played club soccer in Whittier with a great team. My team were 6 time Coast Soccer League Champions, made the State Cup finals 4 times and won twice and won the Western Regional Championship and played at St. Paul High School. I also played in the Dallas Cup Super Group when I was 18. I earned a soccer scholarship to play for Cal State LA which at the time was a division one school. One of my teammates from that Whittier club side and college teammate is Peter Prieto who now coaches with me at Xplosion.
6. What’s the best advice you can offer to a youth player?
MIKE: Always put your best foot forward in whatever you do and have no regrets. Last thing you want to think when its over is, “I should have studied a little hard or I should been more aggressive or trained harder for the tournament.”
7. Is there a coach that was a particular mentor to you?
MIKE: Leonardo Cuellar, former Mexican international player and current head coach of the Mexico Women’s National Team. I played for him at Cal State LA. Also, former USC women's soccer head coach Ali Khosroshahin who was a teammate of mine at Cal State LA.
8. What’s the best advice you can offer to a parent with a child in your program?
MIKE: Best advice I can offer to parents is to give their child every opportunity to be successful in school and on the field. I also feel that I have to make things clear to new parents on what Xplosion stands for. I get the impression that many may see us as an extension to recreational soccer because we don’t charge a lot of money, “How can it be good?” Just because you don’t see our coaches like vultures at fields trying to lure and recruit kids from other clubs doesn’t mean we are not competitive.
We pride ourselves on developing players and in providing our kids with access to highly competitive tournaments and the opportunity to play vs the “big clubs” and academies. Nothing gives us more satisfaction than to earn their respect and the obvious, beating them.