When Oktay Akgun began working for the Lake Forest Soccer Association (LFSA) 15 years ago, the program had about 14 teams. Since that time, the association has expanded to 28 teams (ages 8–18), added a program called Little Scouts (ages 5–6), and named Oktay the Director of Coaching. This year, the organization, which now includes 400 players, is celebrating a milestone anniversary, marking 25 years of teaching soccer skills, team-building lessons, and the love of the game.
Over the past 10 years especially, the program has become hugely successful. Each year, almost every age group has had a player who was honored nationally, which many would agree is an amazing feat for such a small community. In 2010, the LFSA U12 (age 12) girls team won the State Cup—another huge achievement. The program has also produced many star athletes, including Rachel Quon and Nicole Lipp. Last November, Rachel and Nicole (who attend Stanford and Duke, respectively) played against each other in the national soccer College Cup final—which was a proud moment for Otkay and the LFSA coaches. After Stanford’s victory, Rachel and Nicole both returned to Lake Forest in December to sign autographs for their admiring LFSA fans.
The excellence of the LFSA players is a reflection of the dedication of their coaches, who are extremely talented and passionate about their work. The coaches also have extensive backgrounds in soccer and are licensed by the U.S. Soccer Association. Perhaps most importantly, they understand the importance of their roles. “It’s not just about teaching soccer,” Oktay says. “Many of our coaches have life experience in other countries, so soccer is actually a small part of the education we give.” Because the program is so integrated, many of the coaches also lead teams of all ages and both genders, giving them a well-rounded perspective on coaching.
Oktay, who is glad to lead a talented team of coaches, is quite gifted himself. He was named Girls Coach of the Year by the Illinois Youth Soccer Association in 2006, and he serves as an outstanding role model for the kids he teaches. “I feel like they’re my family. I have been here 15 years, and the United States is my second country, but I feel that I’m at home now. The people are supportive and wonderful. And it feels like I have 400 children,” he says with a smile.
He also knows that the players can gain valuable skills during their time in LFSA to equip them for their future. “When the players come back after college, it’s amazing to see them developing as a man or woman, not just as a soccer player,” Oktay says. To him, seeing the success of his players, both on and off the soccer field, is the greatest goal to achieve, and he feels honored to play such an important role in their lives. “Rachel Quon said I was the biggest influence in her life, not just for soccer,” he says. “For me, that was just priceless.”
LFSA tryouts for the 2012–2013 season will be held in May and June. For more information, contact Club Manager Andrea Perino at 847-778-5372, or visit lfsa.org.