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Lakewood Ranch soccer club charges ahead with new director

The Lakewood Ranch Chargers is a nonprofit soccer club based out of the Premier Sports Campus.


Connor Ryan, 6, is enjoying the Chargers summer camp at the Premier Sports Campus.
Connor Ryan, 6, is enjoying the Chargers summer camp at the Premier Sports Campus.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer
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Juan De Brigard, a soccer coach for 40 years and the new director for the Lakewood Ranch Chargers, said very few players reach the top of the sport. 

“The other ones are going to continue with life, and hopefully, we can contribute in helping their families to make good, decent people,” De Brigard said. “Youth sports are a builder of character.”  

The Lakewood Ranch Chargers are part of the larger Chargers Soccer Club, a nonprofit Tampa Bay area youth club that has 3,800 participants from ages 4-19. The program was formed 46 years ago.

The Chargers offer a recreational league, competitive program and summer camps at the Premier Sports Campus.  

De Brigard began as the club’s director in April. One of his top priorities is to even out the ratio between boys and girls. After tryouts for the competitive program, there were 19 boys teams and only three girls teams. 

“It’s a bit ironic that soccer is one of the most successful women’s sports in the United States, yet there is a struggle to attract young girls to the game right now,” De Brigard said. 

Rebecca Waterman brings an even ratio to the club. Her son Bradford, 9, earned a spot in the competitive program, and her daughter Samantha, 6, plays on the recreation league. 

Bradford played soccer with i9 Sports and the YMCA before joining the recreation league last season. He earned a spot in the competitive program starting this fall. Players have to try out and be chosen to participate.  

“(We switched to the Chargers) because of the more competitive nature, and we heard the organization had a good reputation,” Waterman said. “They both enjoyed the rec league last season. And the coaches are supportive, which is great.”

The Watermans now have to travel for games since Bradford is playing competitively. The recreation league only plays at home, once a week on Saturday mornings. 

Samantha Waterman gets some extra practice in at summer camp. She's on the Lakewood Ranch Chargers recreation league during the regular season.
Photo by Lesley Dwyer

De Brigard said soccer offers an array of teachable moments from dealing with a loss to being graceful when you win. Teamwork is at the top of the list.

“U.S. American sports are built to have an individual hero — a quarterback, pitcher, point guard,” he said. “In soccer, you can’t achieve anything unless you have a team. It’s very difficult for any player in the world, no matter who they are, to be successful without constant and productive teamwork.” 

De Brigard is Colombian. Over the course of his career, he spent 14 years working for professional soccer clubs in Colombia. He’s been coaching youth sports in the Tampa Bay area for the past 15 years.   

He said soccer stars aren’t made over a season. It takes years to develop a great player. They should be playing by 7 years old. He compares the players’ long-term development to students progressing through grades in school. 

“A grade is adapted to the capacity of their brain,” De Brigard said. “In the case of the soccer player, it’s adapted to the way the human body develops the capacity to coordinate and grow speed with your feet.”

He used baseball, football, basketball, ice hockey and lacrosse as examples of sports played with the hands. He said soccer is a completely different coordination process.  

But the league is not all about soccer. De Brigard said the club is a good community member, too. 

“We, as clubs, should never forget that word ‘community,’” he said. “If we have the privilege of being allowed to use a facility like Premier, we should definitely provide a service to the community.”

De Brigard hates to see parents drive over an hour for a competitive program when local clubs can be competitive, too. Colleges and universities regularly recruit players from the Chargers. 

Camps cost $180 a week, and the recreation league is either $185 or $195 depending on the player’s age. The competitive league requires travel, so it’s best to discuss pricing with the club. 

Scholarships are available through a business partnership program. Businesses sponsor about 500 kids a year between the recreation league and the competitive program. In exchange, the businesses’ logos are stitched on the team jerseys. 

“Nobody’s really refused here. It’s a nice club,” Coach David Hawkes said. “We’re just trying to develop the kids. They know if they want to play or if they want to move on to another sport.” 

 

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Lesley Dwyer

Lesley Dwyer is a staff writer for East County and a graduate of the University of South Florida. After earning a bachelor’s degree in professional and technical writing, she freelanced for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Lesley has lived in the Sarasota area for over 25 years.

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