Stephen­son shows off soc­cer pas­sion

A look at the coaches and vol­un­teers of New­ton’s recre­ation scene

The Covington News - - SPORTS - GABRIEL KHOULI gkhouli@cov­

Philip Stephen­son is a highly-en­er­getic per­son, and his son Drew fol­lows in those fast-paced foot­steps. So when Stephen­son was look­ing for a sport to hold Drew’s at­ten­tion, he turned to a child­hood fa­vorite, soc­cer.

“It’s a great sport for that be­cause kids are con­stantly mov­ing. He tried base­ball and bas­ket­ball… but soc­cer is a great sport for highly ac­tive and en­er­getic kids,” Stephen­son said.

More and more chil­dren are turn­ing to soc­cer in Cov­ing­ton and have the op­por­tu­nity to do so, be­cause of the ef­forts of ded­i­cated vol­un­teers like Stephen­son, who coaches three Cov­ing­ton Y Galaxy soc­cer teams.

Galaxy soc­cer is the Y’s more ad­vanced league, which has been build­ing up over the past six years, said Ja­son Wil­liams, sports di­rec­tor for the Cov­ing­ton Y.

“Philip is a very passionate guy. He not only coaches the un­der-13 boys (team), but he also coaches un­der-9 and un­der-10 girls academy teams. He does more than is asked and is will­ing to ex­ert him­self be­yond most,” Wil­liams said. “He also works full time. He’s purely a vol­un­teer but is on the field four days a week (con­duct­ing prac­tices).”

Stephen­son’s will­ing­ness to go above and be­yond was ev­i­dent dur­ing a re­cent tour­na­ment. His boys team made it to the fi­nals of the Nike Cup in Nor­cross, but due to a sched­ul­ing mishap the op­pos­ing team didn’t show up and the Cov­ing­ton team won the cham­pi­onship by de­fault.

Stephen­son called the other team to let them know what had taken place. The play­ers of both teams really wanted to play to see which team was the best, so Stephen­son worked with the other team to set up a sep­a­rate game to­day at 6:30 p.m. at the Y’s Stone Road soc­cer fields.

“That’s the kind of sports­man­ship I love,” Wil­liams said. “He was so con­cerned about the kids get­ting to play that he took the time to sched­ule the field, re-line the field, sched­ule the ref­er­ees, co­or­di­nate the lights… it was all on him. He had the tro­phy, but he felt the other team de­served the op­por­tu­nity to play the fi­nal game, and he felt his team de­served to play the fi­nal… I thought that was really cool as a vol­un­teer.”

Stephen­son didn’t plan to be­gin coach­ing eight years ago, but his son’s team had no other op­tion. When the Drew’s team ar­rived for a game at Por­terdale Ele­men­tary School, it had no coach and no one with coach­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. How­ever, it did have Stephen­son, who had played soc­cer in ele­men­tary and mid­dle school.

“I’ve been hooked on it ever since,” he said. “It’s been in­cred­i­ble to watch, not only re­learn­ing the sport, but hav­ing more of a life­style with the sport.”

He’s got­ten back into watch­ing the sport, in­clud­ing the English Pre­mier League, Italy’s Serie A and Spain’s La Liga. When Stephen­son grew up, there were only a few play­ers with world­wide fame, like the fa­mous Pele, but now he’s been able to watch his son and daugh­ter Dal­las get into the sport and find their own fa­vorite teams and play­ers. For his 40th birth­day this year, Stephen­son re­ceived tick­ets to see a U.S. World Cup qual­i­fier game in Tampa, Fla., courtesy of his wife and chil­dren.

“It be­comes not just a sport, but part of the fam­ily,” he said, and, even more im­por­tantly, all of the fam­i­lies in­volved in youth soc­cer be­come one big fam­ily.

How­ever, at its heart, coach­ing is about teach­ing young men and women to be re­spon­si­ble adults.

“Learn­ing to play soc­cer is some­thing, but our role as coaches is (more than that). We have to be real­is­tic and hon­est; less than 5 per­cent of kids get a schol­ar­ship, but as a long as we can keep them ac­tive in sports and help them learn about the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process (we’re do­ing our job). Soc­cer is great sport for that, be­cause there are so many things they can do when they get the ball and a lot of de­ci­sions to make when they don’t have the ball,” Stephen­son said.

“We get kids to learn why they made a bad de­ci­sion and what they should have done. Also in life we make good and bad de­ci­sions, and we need to learn from the bad ones and the good ones. We want them to be­come a pro­duc­tive part of a so­ci­ety, that comes first. If they be­come great soc­cer play­ers, so be it.”

An­other rea­son why Stephen­son coaches is so that he can spend qual­ity time with his own chil­dren. Drew plays on the un­der-13 team and Dal­las plays on the un­der-10 team.

“I have brought in a lot of coaches. I just tell them it’s an op­por­tu­nity. We’re so­cial crea­tures, and we ob­vi­ously live in a coun­try where we have the op­por­tu­nity to have a lot of bless­ings and an op­por­tu­nity to give some­thing back,” he said.

Stephen­son was born in Rock­dale County and moved with his wife Christy (Woods) Stephen­son to Cov­ing­ton in 1995. He is cur­rently the di­rec­tor of qual­ity for Hill Phoenix and headed up the com­pany’s re­cent de­ci­sion-mak­ing process to ex­pand op­er­a­tions in Cony­ers and Cov­ing­ton.

As for his own sports ca­reer, he played soc­cer up un­til high school, when he switched over to pur­sue semi-pro­fes­sional skate­board­ing. How­ever, he se­verely in­jured his left foot and it never healed to the point he could pur­sue the sport fur­ther. His left foot still gives him trou­ble when he strikes a ball, but he couldn’t be hap­pier.

Photo by Gabriel Khouli /The Cov­ing­ton News

Philip Stephen­son has a full-time job and a fam­ily but that doesn't keep him from do­nat­ing a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of his week to Cov­ing­ton Y youth soc­cer.

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