Launching the Player Coach Mentorship Program

This Fall season marks the launch of our Player Coach Mentorship Program. As a relationship based club, our long-term goal is for some players and Player Coaches to aspire to become coaches and serve their community through soccer in years to come. We’re excited that the Player Coach Program can start that process.

Player coach responsibilities are to assist with practice for Little Rascals and Grassroots Academy sessions. The program allows growth for player coaches, providing role models for the players, and for everyone in the program growing in relationship.

Player coaches know what it’s like to be a beginner soccer player and can teach the basics well to our Grassroots and Little Rascals. Additionally, player coaches can look up to and learn from the RCFC coaching staff. We’re incredibly thankful for our player coaches giving their time and energy to the club. RCFC coaches appreciate the extra coaches engaging with the players.  

Get to know our 4 Player Coaches we highlighted who are helping out this Fall season (some coaches not highlighted):

Coach Cooper got involved in the program by coaches recognizing his awesome interactions with younger kids and saying that he’d make a great Little Rascals coach.

Coaching tip: Keep working and practicing on 1 thing until you get it right.

Favorite food: Buttered noodles 

Coach Ali was reccomended to coach through a friend. He loves kids and appreciates learning from RCFC coaches. 

Coaching advice: Try and be Ronaldo.  

Favorite food: Bologna

Coach Austin (also known as Tino) decided to help out because he had some extra time on his hands. 

Coaching tip: Don’t give up and don’t get distracted.

Favorite food: Mac and cheese


Coach Lana likes soccer and aspires to be a teacher so she figured she’d put the two together Best coaching tip: Stay loose and have fun. Favorite food: pasta 

If you know of anyone interested in the Player Coach Program, e-mail

#05Rave – Nailing 2 core values in 2 months!

At the Kingdom Cup in Kalamazoo, the ’05 Rave lost the championship game 2-1. The team’s goalie Cooper Hutt got upset at the close loss and tears began to fill his eyes. Recognizing that, Xander Darling and some other teammates kept insisting to give the Cooper the trophy to hold for a team picture. “It was moving to see how Cooper’s teammates kept insisting on giving him the trophy so they could celebrate together,” said coach Jeff Merritt.  #Teamwork

This past Saturday, the Rave found themselves in a close match and the assistant referee approved of a goal they scored. As the referee was running back to midfield, numerous of the Rave offensive players went up to the referee and told him that it didn’t go in. They continued to insist that the referee should call their goal off. While the referee didn’t listen to them because he wanted to support and stand by his assistant referee, the Rave players decided to do the right thing in light of a close, competitive game.  A team effort of #Integrity.

Great work ’05 Rave! You not only look good (see below) but we’re proud of your character despite a loss or a close game.

If you see a good #BeyondTheField story worth telling, e-mail We can all learn from our players in these moments of character.

#09Craze with #BallinCharacter


Introducing our #BallinCharacter award! Every month, the golden mini ball is given to “ballin” (really really good) examples of living out the monthly core value.

This month’s #BallinCharacter award goes to the #09Craze by living out teamwork, our core value for September. Read a snippit of coach Laura’s e-mail to her parents after a tournament a couple of weekends ago.

“This weekend, I hope you were able to see the way your daughters rose to the challenges. It wasn’t peachy all of the time, but that’s why I’m so impressed with these very young girls. They summoned motivation and even cheeriness in each game, when many older, more mature girls might have been deflated and grumpy. They persevered through some tough challenges of faster, older, teams who were more physical. 

Here are a couple of the many core values I saw your daughters demonstrate:

1.  Before the 3rd game the girls were asking why we were playing older teams. I explained that the tournament didn’t offer a U8 division, and that we had the choice to either play older girls (and likely face tough losses) or not go to the tournament. I asked them which one they would have preferred and with no hesitation, I heard yells of “Tournament!” and then Carys chimed in to say, “Playing in the tournament is good because it helps us to get better”  #courage

2. Bella wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of subbing into the 3rd game, but I told her that her teammates on the field needed a break and that we needed a boost in defense. I turned to her teammates on the bench (Megan and Madison) and they said “Bella, you’re really strong on defense and at goalie. You’re a GREAT player – we need you.” Hearing it from them, she was ready to sub after about 30 more seconds. #teamwork #love #courage

So I hope you saw some moments like this with your girls and feel as proud as I do. We certainly have skills to work on, but it is so heartening to see these girls growing together and displaying attitudes that will help them not only in soccer seasons to come, but in their lives in general. You’ve raised some great daughters!”

Some parents had a couple of things to say about their daughters attitudes too:

“After the last game of the tournament, coach Laura told families that practice is cancelled/optional on Monday. The parents were excited but I think every girl gave a disappointed “awe” because they still had amazing attitudes after such a long weekend of soccer.”

We can learn a lot from players displaying core values. If you see a story worth telling, e-mail And yes, that is a ninja turtle shirt in case you were wondering. 

#07Drive – They have each other’s back!

Our #BeyondTheField core value for the month of September has been teamwork. Hear what happened in the 07′ Drive huddle last week from Coach Matt Koster:

“Jacob (who is new to the club and the team this fall) volunteered to play goalie in our game yesterday and said he would do his best even though he didn’t think he was very good. As soon as he expressed his doubt, Soren spoke up and said, “don’t worry Jacob we got you. We’re a team and that means we will have your back.” After he said that, everyone joined in and said they would step up and protect Jacob in goal because he volunteered and they would be good teammates in return. We didn’t let in any goals that game and won 2-0 so they kept their word.”

Thanks 07′ Drive for teaching us a lesson on what it means to truly play as a team.

If you hear a great core value story from your player, tell your coach or e-mail me (Eric Hollis) at We can learn a lot from kids and their #BeyondTheField moments. 

The first #RevolutionRetreat

Ryan has talked non-stop about how awesome it was!” commented a Revolution mom on Facebook. “Can this be all week next time?” another player asked.


Soccer, personal goals, and camp shenanigans couldn’t have come at a better time for five out of our six Revolution teams this past weekend. With teams freshly formed and a weekend at Camp O’ Malley, the first #RevolutionRetreat contained everything we had hoped for- our mission statement of capability, character, and community.



With multiple practice sessions, all of the Revolution teams focused on building out of the back and became more familiar with their teammates style of play. Mother nature ended up crying a bit Saturday morning so there were some futsal sessions in the gym as well as tactical/strategy learning sessions via Coach Kyle’s custom screen that he brought. Sunday’s sessions concluded with a competitive 4v4 tournament mixing up all of the Revolution players.



Players were rewarded throughout the week for being team players and putting others before themselves. Coaches and chaperones handed out the prizes and players even nominated one another for them. Chip Huber, Athletic Director of Cornerstone talked about being a complete soccer player. Three seniors from Cornerstone University talked to players about setting goals, playing with class, and what it takes to play soccer at the next level.


This pillar we found to be the most important concept of the weekend. Teams participated in various activities together and got to let loose and get to know each other better. Friday’s Glow in the Dark Capture the Flag was both fun and competitive, water balloon dodgeball left some soaked, and farkle brought energy to every meal where 30-40 kids watched as the last person standing in the game ate a mixture of food and liquid leftovers in the cup. Of course, Derek drank half of one…just cause (check out the look on some of those boys faces.).

Every moment at camp was a possibility for shenanigans. Part of each team’s goal setting sessions had coaches and players discussing ideas for their service project to do together this year. Five girls on Steve’s team wanted to paint Eric’s nails, so for every good service project idea they had, they’d paint a nail. Courageous players had a small dance off before lunch one afternoon and one the of the parent chaperones Chris Boer did even did the worm….who knew right?

As players were packing up to leave on Sunday, Coach Jeff Merritt asked ten of them what their favorite part of the weekend was. “Glow in the dark capture the flag!” was the unanimous winner. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. This weekend created a valuable time for our older players to have fun, establish friendships, and create lasting memories for years to come. #BeyondTheField.

 What was YOUR player’s favorite memory from the #RevolutionRetreat?

From Rwanda to the River City

It started in the summer of 2015.  I was attending the youth soccer night at a Grand Rapids FC game handing out flyers promoting the club.  I left the stadium with one flyer in my hand, determined to find one last person to give it too.  On the way to my car, I spot a trio of African boys walking on the sidewalk.  I head over, introduce myself, and hand over the flyer.  The boys’ eyes lit up as they told me how much they love soccer.

The next week, the boys showed up at our summer camp with their case worker from Bethany Christian Services.  Yasiri, Kazungu, and Samuel immediately became a part of the #RascalNation family, and we plugged all 3 of them into teams for the year.  Samuel unfortunately moved to Iowa during the Fall season, but the other two were valuable members of the club year-round.

Across town, around the same time, club ambassador Steve Jones spots a young African boy juggling a ball in the street.  He approaches him and starts kicking around with the boy–recognizing the boy is very talented, he gives us a call and says we should meet the kid.  Long story short, the boy and his family did not speak English as they had recently moved to the States.  There was a disconnect in communication and we made the decision to wait.

Fast forward 10 months to June 2016.  We are getting ready to kick off our Grassroots summer program, and we decide to drive by the same house from the year before, with the boy who didn’t speak English.  Him and his brother are playing soccer in the street when we pull up.  We say hi, the boys: “Hello Coach Derek!”  They remembered me, and their English was brilliant.  We told them about Wednesday’s at MLK and Thursday’s at Garfield.  They were in, and they brought friends.

We had about 8-10 refugee boys playing with us on a weekly basis this summer.  Some came and went.  Others came to everything.  There were 5 boys that we pinpointed that we wanted to attempt to plug into our travel teams, in addition to Kazungu and Yasiri from the year before.  Tracking down the necessary paperwork for these boys was no small task.  Two years ago, US Soccer implemented an international clearance process (governed by FIFA) for players who were born outside of the States.  This process requires heaps of paperwork, even more for players who moved here after the age of ten.  3 kids passed with flying colors.  We are still working on the 2 older boys, and the season starts next week.  We’re feeling hopeful!

When our club made the decision to bring over Mark Senior from England, one of the first thoughts that popped in my head was that we needed to get these boys to those two weeks of camp to learn from this guy!  The biggest challenge we faced was transportation.  We pursued the Rapid, some local churches, and some families–but at the end of the day decided to take upon ourselves to get the kids to camp and back.  Eric, Kyle and I provided the boys with rides all week.

I pick up the 5 boys for the first day of camp, and on the way explain to them who they are going to be coached by the next two weeks.  The boys were ecstatic.  They step out onto the field with sweatpants and ratty sneakers, and are quickly recognized by Mark as being some of the most technically gifted kids at the camp.  The bond he formed with them was unmatched.  That’s when it hit me square in the face, we’ve gotta get these kids some gear!  So I called my friend at Dick’s Sporting Goods…

Dick’s jumped on the opportunity to provide these players with some gear.  We took them in, along with Kazungu and Yasiri, and suited them up with new cleats, guards, socks and a ball–all for zero cost to our club.  Not one of them had owned a pair of proper shoes before.  They showed up on the last day of camp ready to play the game thanks to our friends at Dick’s!

The connections didn’t stop there.  We needed to find a sustainable way to get these kids to their team practices that would be starting in a few weeks.  I put in a call to the External Relations Coordinator at The Rapid to pursue the opportunity of providing the boys with bus passes in order to get them to Mackay-Jaycees Park every week for training.  They were in, so transportation to training was covered!  Each team will be handling transportation to games.

Some next steps for us:

  • setting up a system for communication and expectations

  • addressing the necessity of hygiene (laundry, bathing, deodorant, etc)

  • partnering with Bethany Christian Services to assist with the cultural transition for these families

  • continuing to build a sustainable model to enhance our efforts

Meet the gang (from left to right): Faustin, Faustin, Heritier (bottom), Jackson (top), Jean.

Not pictured: Francois, Kazungu

These are 5 of the 7 boys we currently have plugged into teams for the coming seasons.  If you see them around, please introduce yourself.  They love meeting new people!

– Derek Dufendach, Club Director

The secret to #Community

 “Word is traveling, fast. We hear from soccer groups all over the country recognizing how we’re giving back to the Grand Rapids community and wondering how they can get involved in their own city.” – Our Partner at Team Gazelle

“I want to take your model of soccer and use it in my community in Atlanta.” – Friend and Ministry Partner of River City FC

Various businesses, schools, soccer clubs, non-profits, and ministries have recognized something special happening here. However, there’s no secret formula to explain the momentum building in the Grand Rapids soccer community. So, what’s been the key to success? 

Ingredients: 1-1,000 people working together.

We wouldn’t be writing this article if it weren’t for the partnership and collaboration from so many grand people in Grand Rapids, contributing in whatever way they can. Every person involved has helped make soccer more accessible in Grand Rapids.

Parents simply bringing their kids out to participate has made an impact in the community by raising eyebrows and creating conversations. Conversations such as the one that Derek and Eric had last week with a friend from River City Scholars at Gordon Food Service.

He approached them as they were walking out. “Are you the guys running the soccer programs with all of those kids at MLK park? I’ve seen it all summer and would love to bring some free ice cream out, maybe a bounce house, etc. to support the cause.”  

A local family who brought a couple of their kids to MLK recognized a way they could make a difference. “In watching the kids at MLK, the water fountain seemed like it was too far of a walk. So we went out the next day, bought a water cooler, and filled it with ice water for the kids that next week.”

Not to mention the support that we received from GR Parks and Rec to use their parks this summer.  That, and some financial support from Amway’s One by One Campaign for Children, made this whole thing possible.

Noticing the kids participating in GRoots has been easy, thanks to our friends at Gazelle Sports. Can you believe they sold RCFC those sweet highlight shirts for $2.50 a piece? Gazelle Sports also showed up to some of our inner-city programs with volunteers, hydration tents, and even with the infamous freeze pops. 

We have built some solid relationships with some refugees that we met through the GRoots program and our partnership with Bethany Christian Services’ refugee placement program. Just recently, Dicks Sporting Goods let us bring a few of these kids into one of their stores to pick out soccer necessities for the upcoming season–providing them with gear that they otherwise wouldn’t have. You can see them replacing their old sneakers below.

One of our Grassroots locations, Lincoln Park, has become the host of our “Street Soccer” night. We started playing at the beginning of the summer on an old tennis court with large ruts running through it. The thought all along was to transform this space into futsal courts for the community to use. Ryan Waalkes of Bridge Street House of Prayer and WestSide Collaborative has organized clean up restoration, and has fund raised to make the repurposed futsal court a reality. Our friends on the NorthWest side have not only aided our Grassroots effort in making the game more accessible, but they’ve helped invest in their neighborhood park for years (of fun!) to come.

We hope to also invest in the community for years to come by continuing to make the game accessible for all kids in Grand Rapids, teach them core values, and promote a healthy lifestyle. But we can’t do it without YOU. Whether it’s providing transportation to refugees, bringing an ice cooler, supporting financially, or simply bringing your player for some free soccer, we can only move forward with everyone contributing what they can. 

Colin Cowherd said that the structure of the game needs to change in America.  Well guess what? Grand Rapids is changing it- thanks to you and everyone involved. Let’s continue to change it together. 

Every gift counts. Make the game more accessible today!

Selflessness. Now more than ever.

I think we can all agree that this was a disheartening week for our country. Murders, racial disparity, and conflict. Tensions are understandably high all around.

As #BeyondTheField Director, I promote our 10 core values that we teach throughout the year. They’re all relatively simple, but as one seeks to understand how the values can be lived out daily, they are deep as ever. Last week’s core value was selflessness, and after meditating on it a bit, the following thought came to mind. “Let us be quick to listen and slow to speak. Rich in love and slow to anger.” Here’s a pretty amazing example of that.

Now more than ever, it’s important for us to live out selflessness through relationships, not through Facebook. It’s much easier to sit at a computer or say an opinion or thought in a comment thread. It’s a lot harder to actively, humbly, and empathetically listen to someone else, especially if his or her background or thoughts vary even slightly from ours.

As I’ve been able to volunteer in the Grassroots Initiative, the free clinics RCFC offers from 6-7pm around different areas in Grand Rapids, I’ve surrounded myself with people of all ages who are different than myself. It gives me the opportunity to get out of my typical circle of white friends and embrace the beautiful diversity that is Grand Rapids through relationship and soccer. Relationships are what allow us to empathize in order to counter indifference.

I’ve been proud to be part of a soccer club that seeks to unite Grand Rapids through the game of soccer by making it accessible to all ages, genders, ethnicities, incomes, races, and any other sort of differences that could divide humans. There’s something to be said about how the game of soccer can bring communities together. Take the World Cup for example- when the world freezes for a bit in unity through the game of soccer.

I believe the RCFC community has a role to play in the present day of fear and it’s essential to our Three C’s of Capability, Character, and Community. We all play an important role in educating the next generation of united peacemakers through core values and learning lessons in all aspects of life. I also hope that our community can see the value in our Grassroots Initiative and that it allows our players, coaches, and parents to be stretched in working towards an inclusive, diverse, community in Grand Rapids.  

I also hope that #RascalNation can be a force for unity and community through diversity in Grand Rapids, because it’s needed.

Yes, many articles have stated that Grand Rapids is one of the best places to raise a family. That is, if you’re in the right neighborhood. Many studies have also established Grand Rapids as one of the worst cities in the country for African Americans to live.

And while articles, stats and new stories are all insightful, they also have the potential to distract us from the simple fact that we need to be in relationship with people different than us and simply love our neighbor. Last week, I was moved more towards apathy than action through reading long-winded opinions on social media. But later in the day, I was privileged to meet a hilarious 7 year African American boy named Rain at Garfield park as part our Grassroots Initiative, offering free soccer clinics throughout various Grand Rapids parks. In that moment, I forgot all about what I read and could simply just relate to him through the game of soccer.

It’s beautiful when you can crack jokes with someone who’s “different” than you. It’s beautiful when we can simply practice being familiar around people who are “different” than us so we can see people and not color. And it’s beautiful when you can compete with or against people who are different than you. Soccer is a tool to bring together. And guess what? It’s the most popular and diverse of all sports around the world! So how can we do that in Grand Rapids?

It’s not easy being selfless and thinking outside of ourselves and our own comforts, but it’s much needed…now more than ever. So what does selflessness require of YOU and US to be a light in this darkness?

I think for us as individuals, we’re called to actively listen and empathize, strategically think about what our sphere of influence is in society, and to act and do something, whether that’s sitting down for five minutes to read an article of engaging in conversation with your Rascal.

And for us, let’s continue to dream of a future where our club can be a light amidst dark times such as these. Where we can proactively address the structural problems in Grand Rapids by uniting all races, ethnicities, genders, and incomes through the game of soccer.

Up until August 18, we’ll be at four Grand Rapids parks from 6-7pm:

  • Mondays @ Manhattan Park

  • Tuesdays @ Lincoln Park

  • Wednesday @ Martin Luther King Park

  • Thursday @ Garfield Park

We’d love to see you and your player there.  For more information on the Grassroots Initiative and how to get involvedclick here.

Feel free to add to the comment section below or e-mail me at with any questions, comments, concerns…or better yet, ideas 😉  

To conclude, below is a benediction that I found relevant and moving this past week. Let us not become desensitized amidst all of the news headlines and continue to be drawn to selfless empathy for those afflicted.

May God bless you with discomfort

At easy answers, half-truths, and superficial relationships,

So that He may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger

At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,

So that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears

To shed for those who suffer pain, rejection, hunger and war,

So that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain to joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness

To believe that you can make a difference in this world,

So that you can do what others claim cannot be done,

To bring justice and kindness to all our children and the poor.

– A Franciscan Benediction

The Grassroots Initiative

Two years ago, Executive Director Derek Dufendach crafted some signs in sharpie reading, “Free soccer camp at Martin Luther King Park Monday-Friday 6-8pm.” He stuck them at the corners of the busy intersections near MLK and wasn’t sure exactly what would come of it. Derek and Eric Hollis, the Beyond The Field Director of RCFC, remember showing up on that Monday at 6pm and 0 kids being at the field. “We looked at each other, said a quick prayer, and hoped for the best,” said Derek.

About thirty seconds later, kids and their parents flocked in mass exodus from all angles of MLK as if it was out of a movie. There were about 50-60 kids who came that first day – and the numbers only increased exponentially from kids telling their friends to come play.

In the summer of 2015, signs got a little more legit (picture above^) and there were around 100-140 campers. On the final day, RCFC bought some pizza and the MLK pool staff graciously kept their pool open a couple of extra hours for the campers…..and coaches of course ;). Two refugees ended up joining RCFC programs as a result of the camp and they still participate in programs thanks to generous donations to the scholarship fund.

This summer, RCFC is even more excited to launch a whole summer of free drop in clinics at four parks strategically located throughout Grand Rapids. The clinics are open to all ages. Even parents formed some teams and kicked around last year!

The goal is to make the game of soccer more accessible to the youth of Grand Rapids – implementing the community pillar in the mission statement of capability, character, and community. MLK park has a ton of green space, so why isn’t it being utilized with one of the simplest games – soccer?

“Soccer is a connecting point. You drop a ball and within a half hour you’ll have a ton of kids around you — a captive audience that’s willing to listen to your coaching in soccer and eventually life. This Grassroots Initiative is a great combination of both the community and character pillars of our mission statement,” adds Eric.

“We started with the one week soccer camp in the evenings and thought, can we do something more long-term? Launching these extended drop-in clinics is exactly that. To make it even more long-term, we’re engaging in conversations with various organizations such as Bethany Christian Services and Friends of Grand Rapids Parks regarding long-term partnership and getting goals put up and maintained,” says Derek.

The grassroots initiative has been born! The initiative can be seen through a couple of different programs. One is the drop in clinics this summer and RCFC’s after-school soccer programs throughout Grand Rapids, such as Boys and Girls clubs. This movement and introduction to the game of soccer for youth in Grand Rapids will feed RCFC’s Grassroots programs in the Fall, where players are coached by RCFC staff and play games on the weekend. The Grassroots Programs are at a lower cost and commitment level than a typical RCFC travel team.

The grassroots initiative is beyond RCFC- it’s part of a community movement to introduce the game to more youth, implement a fun and healthy lifestyle, and connect the community of Grand Rapids.

Drop in trainings start Monday, June 27th and end Thursday, August 15th. They start at 6 and end when people stop playing. Here’s the schedule:

Mondays- Manhattan Park- East Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Tuesdays- Lincoln Park, Grand Rapids, MI 49504

Wednesdays- Martin Luther King Park- 900 Fuller Ave SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49506

Thursdays- Garfield Park, Grand Rapids, MI 49507

So whether you’re a player, a partner, a parent, or a volunteer, we’ll see you out there!

Every gift counts. Be a part of the #community movement.

Contact for interests in volunteering

Summer calendar of events and camps. 

Choosing Courage

The U7 Rave faced their toughest competition yet at the Cherry Capital Cup. They lost to AC Milan Detroit 5-2 in their second game of the tournament . They had never faced a team that physical before, the boys felt like they were getting pushed around and found it unfair. There was a bit of confusion, tears, and some disagreement when the refferee wasn’t calling the fouls. It was a tough loss. However, the Rave continued to play hard in their other games and found themselves in the championship against AC Milan the next day.

Coach Kyle Vela had to miss the first half of the championship game, and when he arrived he found Liam afraid. He was only playing defense and kicking the ball away every time the ball came to his feet. Kyle told Liam that he needed him to make a difference in the game. That’s all Liam needed to hear. He then made an immediate impact by dribbling, passing, scoring, and making the toughest tackles he ever has. 

“I’ve never seen somebody go from mentally defeated, to dominant so quickly,” said Kyle. “In his mind, he understands it by saying that he stepped up.”

Liam made a tremendous impact in the game when he decided to be courageous- it helped his team win the championship with a score of 3-1. The U7 Rave battled through the pushes and shoves and left everything on the field. They all possessed incredible courage and everyone watching was proud of how hard they played- they were sprinting all over the place!

Even though he’s a young U7 player, we can all learn from Liam about choosing courage and “stepping up” whenever difficulties come. Courage extends #BeyondTheField and soccer is an amazing tool to learn these great life lessons.


For his courageous performance, Liam Jansen has received the #BeyondTheField Core Value Award for the month of May. Congrats Liam.

Liam is one of many players in our club that have been courageous and shown leadership. How have YOU seen players choose courage this spring?

Different club. Similar culture.


A boyish excitement overcame me when I booked my first plane ticket to England this past month. I’ve supported Liverpool FC for 10 years, and have dreamed of visiting their home grounds. Anfield, is much more than the name of the stadium. It’s a historic ground, that has arguably hosted the most committed and passionate fan following in all of sports. The stands host fans that work together to show off flags that span an entire section, and coordinate chants of support for our team, our players, and to dishearten the opposition.

I couldn’t wait to be surrounded by others that had the same passion for LFC as myself. I expected to be given a hard time for my alliances by those that had grown up supporting rival clubs. In short, I was expecting a polarized environment with deep alliances for their own, and disdain for those that have chosen other sides. I had heard about the pub culture, and how fans would flood in before and after matches. I expected to see passionate fans pushed beyond rationality by “liquid courage” being served to guests two pints at a time.

What I experienced, was much different than all of my expectations… I met loads of people that either “hated” or “didn’t care” about soccer, and rarely interacted with passionate supporters. People seemed surprised that I was American, and loved a team from Liverpool so much. I had conversations with people that supported opposing clubs, and found more in common than we found reasons to quarrel. The culture of the pub was quite the opposite of my expectation as well. There were no seats “at the bar”, as people were expected to come, and drink, in community. The beer that was being served was usually such a low alcohol percentage, usually no more than 5%, that it would take a real effort to cross the line into drunkenness.

I saw a rational people. I saw a caring people. I saw people that lived their lives with other people, not to impress other people. My thoughts and expectations of the fan groups were shifting quickly. The community of people that know each other, and care about each other, is the same community that pushes their own to be the best they can be.

I see so many similarities in the way that #RascalNation supports what we do. I love how our community gets behind a culture of love, self-improvement, teamwork, and perspective. When we step on field, fight for every ball, and push for every goal then proceed to shake hands and share a joke with the opposition, we increase everybody’s love for “the beautiful game”. This investment into our kids, and the the soccer community in general, is something that can continue to grow. Our desire to win games, pales in comparison to our desire to see improvement and confidence grow in our kids. In short, I saw that the community in England knew deep down the same thing we know to be true. Soccer is a great game, but it’s just a game.

Why futsal? Embracing innovation.


“Why futsal?” This was a common question for parents this past November….which is understandable. After all, the transition to futsal from indoor soccer was a big change for our Winter programming. Futsal is a variation of soccer, played on a hard court with a heavier soccer ball. In the transition to futsal, some parents remember feeling, “apprehensive, skeptical,” or just wondering, “what the heck is this?”

However, amidst the nervous feelings that come along with change, we’re thankful that you trusted us this past winter. We’ve witnessed players developing confidence and skills like never before! There were numerous players, along with parents, who had a blast embracing the switch to futsal.

But rather than us explaining futsal and its long-term benefits for players, let’s hear from some parents regarding their first winter season of futsal.

“I was skeptical at first having my kids play futsal. I wasn’t sure if it would help their regular soccer skills or game.  Boy, was I wrong!  My kids have grown so much in their skill and confidence levels in just one winter season of playing . I would say futsal is a definite win and my kids loved it!”- Marcie Shoham, mom of 3 players.

“Answers to my skeptical questions of futsal came swiftly after just watching the first game. Futsal taught the boys how to operate in a small space and protect the ball. Kids at this age have this initial instinct to just kick the ball rather than controlling it or making a move. Futsal has shown me that the natural ability of being fast or having the strongest leg isn’t that important, what’s important is that individuals and teams can protect the ball and operate in space. Watching the boys skills develop over this past season has been especially meaningful now that we are in Spring 7v7. We would definitely play futsal in the off-season and recommend it to all young soccer players who aspire to be a great individual and team player!” -Matt Riley, dad of 2 players

“We were a little apprehensive going into futsal. Our boy wasn’t really excited for the first few weeks. We felt like we were having to talk him in going. At first the only thing he was excited about was getting a new futsal ball.  As the weeks went on it seemed to get easier and he seemed to be getting the hang of it. He started to have more fun out there and his skills were improving. Towards the end of the futsal season it was fun as a parent to see the improvement not only in him, but his team. I think now that we have transitioned outside he is a totally different player, his confidence in using his skills has changed dramatically. His passing is more accurate and he is all around more engaged with the game. We didn’t realize how much futsal had improved his game until we transitioned outside. His whole team has really improved as well. Our view about futsal has changed completely. The benefits we have seen are the foot skills, passing, playing at a faster pace, and confidence are directly tied to futsal.  We are so glad the club made the decision to embark on futsal.”- Shawn and Melissa White, parents of 2 players

RCFC believes in consistent innovation. Not innovation in the sense of changing all the time, but the constant discussion of, “what is best for players in the long run?” We found futsal to be the best option for player’s long-term development, it’s provided them with skills and confidence to take their game to the next level.

#RascalNation exists as a one of a kind community based in relationships like any other. We want to hear parent’s voice when innovation occurs and are here to serve the desires of our community. Yet at the same time, we also ask for your trust…even if in the short-term if feels a bit odd and different. Our promise is that your player’s holistic, long-term development is always first in our decision making.

To conclude, here’s a funny story from one of our dads, Matt Riley, describing his son’s first experience playing futsal against the Lobos, a soccer club in Wyoming:

“I remember Reid’s first game against the Lobos team. After the game was over, we were in the car and I asked Reid if he had fun. He didn’t say yes or no, rather he asked; “dad do the Lobos start playing when they are babies?” We both laughed agreed they are pretty good with their foot skills.”

Watch this video on futsal and why Brazil is encouraging countless other countries to embrace it.

A #BeyondTheField Community

Heard a story this morning about a man named Charles, living in Uganda, who wanted to have a greater impact on the kids and families in his community.  He kept telling himself that if he only had access to more resources, he could achieve anything that he could dream.  That was, until he picked up his Bible and read the text in John 6, when Jesus fed 5,000 with five small barley loaves and two small fish that a boy willingly gave up.  At that moment, Charles realized that he needed to rely on the resources he had right in front of him–a strong community of motivated families who wanted to make a difference.

I feel like our community here in Grand Rapids, MI is very similar to that of Charles.  We too have a strong group of motivated families who want to make a difference.  We have recognized that the sport of soccer is simply a vessle for us to grow children into living-giving adults, and to cater to those in need.  We have a rich assortment of resources right in front of us.  Let’s put them to use and be a powerful force for GOOD.

As our club has growing needs, we often find ourselves saying, “I wish we knew if somebody in our community does that!”  I’m sure there is likely a resource right under our noses that we often don’t know about.  With that in mind, our club president, Jeff Hunt, took the initiative and recently sent out a survey for parents to let us know their professions, hobbies, skills, etc.  Share your response with us here.  Just another step to having a powerful community that can accomplish more together!

AN UPDATE FROM UGANDA: 3 years later, Charles has started his own business of using solar energy to power cell phones.  He has provided jobs for many of the young families in his community, and is helping them become successful business men and women to provide for their families, as he learned to do for his.  They have started to put solar panels on roofs of houses in order to provide light for families at night, which has never existed until now.  Crime in his area has taken a dramatic downfall from the lighted communities that are springing up around the region.  How’s that for impact?!

#RascalNation, my charge is for us to set our hearts on what matters the most: the kids and families living here in Grand Rapids.  Let’s live out our mission and vision in order to truly make a difference in our community.

Watch the video below to see another incredible story of how a group of kids accomplished the unthinkable with limited resources.  Just another testimony of how nothing can stop us if we set our whole hearts and minds on a powerful mission!

Football. Faith. Future. (& Friends)

If you attended training sessions a couple of Tuesdays ago, you might’ve noticed two tall, European “lads,” dressed in scarves, and rocking some great accents. David Oakley and Stef Van Meerveld were hard to miss.

Derek and Eric originally met David in November at a life coaching conference down in Orlando, Florida. David leads training and Stef manages operations at a soccer outreach ministry called Ambassadors Football. Ambassadors FC is a premier youth soccer club on the outskirts of Cleveland. Ambassadors Football is a global organization started in 1990 that uses the game of soccer to promote sustainable change in player’s lives and communities. With such a similar mission to River City FC, it was only natural that Derek and Eric hit it off with David right away in Orlando.

Stef and David’s visit to Grand Rapids was busy and productive. In fact, they were in-and-out of Grand Rapids in less than 24 hours. In their visits, Stef and David met with coaches (pictured right), joined Directors and Board Members for vision casting and strategic planning. In their time, Stef and David shared about Ambassadors, while we shared about River City FC. What stuck out to our staff in extended discussions with them was both the inclusiveness and effectiveness of Ambassadors throughout the world.

Ambassadors declares as a Christian organization but accepts everyone. Within their Cleveland club, about 80% of the soccer club players do not regularly attend church. Globally, Ambassadors Football works in many countries and communities around the world where the Christian faith is the minority belief. Even so, there is an acceptance from other majority faiths because of the high quality soccer coaching and programs offered. For example, 78% of participants in their London inner city programs are Muslim.

It’s important to clarify that River City FC does not declare as a Christian non-profit or organization. While many of our coaches and directors are Christian, we want to be as inclusive as possible within the context of Grand Rapids. We don’t believe we need the stamp of Christianity on our name in order to do meaningful work.

We’re not biased Christians, but rather motivated Christians. We seek to aggressively live out our faith, and sport is an amazing and powerful outlet to do that. Sport is a tool to produce “doers” of our core values and life-giving adults for years to come.

The effectiveness of Ambassadors FC stems from dynamic, state of the art training of coaches, practical faith application, and investment in the future of participants through biblical-based character curriculum.

Ambassadors has clubs and teams all around the world. Abroad, the stats of their outreach “football, faith, future” programs are jaw dropping. Juvenile offense rates in a South African prison have plummeted from 85% to 15% for youth participating in the Ambassadors soccer academy. In an Ambassadors inner city program in London, all 45 ethnic minority participants stayed in education after they graduated from school.

Within the Cleveland Ambassadors club, players are drawn from over 50 cities and communities in northeast Ohio to play on the team. Stef and David believe that the recruitment of top talent is of the utmost importance. “We had one dad say he could careless about the Christian input just as long as his son was on the top team.”

And while that may seem like a harsh comment, isn’t that exactly what we want- top talent? It draws people in from all different perspectives to be a part of our club and learn our core values. It’s about progress, not perfection. And when we can be inclusive to everyone, we get an amazingly diverse community growing in character together.

And in order to improve RCFC’s inclusiveness and effectiveness, we want you to know that our staff is working to maximize capability through improving our technical curriculum, developing a system to measuring success for our character curriculum, and planting seeds for community outreach and partnership in Grand Rapids.

Through visits from well-established clubs such as Ambassadors FC, we are able to seek advice and  dream of River City FC’s future; a future similar to Ambassadors’, yet incredibly distinct. A future within the niche that we serve here in Grand Rapids, and beyond.

We can’t do any of it without YOU, #RascalNation. You’ve been flexible, supportive, and you continue to inspire us. Let’s keep “aggressively” living out greatness together.

For more information on Ambassadors FC go to