MARINE CORPS AIR STATION YUMA, Ariz. --
In a time when video games in air-conditioned surroundings seem to be the most preferred pastime for kids instead of organized sports and traditional outside activities, one station Marine is doing his part to get local children breaking a sweat again.
Sgt. Rodolfo Ayala, Combat Logistics Company 16 utility chief, is the head coach for the Yuma Dragons soccer team, which includes several children of Marines from the station, one of which is Ayala’s own son.
Although it is early in their season, the boys have been tearing up the turf in their competition, amassing a 5-1 record with Ayala as their skipper.
“A lot of these kids have never played soccer before, but they’re improving day by day,” said Ayala, 27-year-old native of El Centro, Calif.
At this point in the season last year, the team had lost its first four games. This year, with Ayala making the jump from assistant to head coach, the Dragons are not just beating their opponents regularly, they’re steamrolling them. The team is leading the league in number of goals scored with 24, with the team below not yet breaching the double digits.
Ayala attributes the success so far to an improvement in the boys’ practices.
“They’re now hitting that age where the game really starts to make sense. I can teach them something and they pick it up much faster than last year, and they retain it better too. Three weeks from now they are still doing what they learned,” said Ayala.
Though the boys’ maturity in the game can explain some of their success, Ayala’s contributions can’t be ignored.
“He’s got good knowledge about soccer basics and knows how to set up practices and take advantage of their strengths and improve their weaknesses,” said Alec Bailey, Dragons assistant coach.
Ayala has a wealth of soccer knowledge to draw from in his instruction of the boys. He began playing the game at the age of six and has earned a spot on the All-Marine men’s soccer roster two consecutive years, making him one of the Corps’ best between the nets.
And while this is his first time coaching soccer in Yuma, he has coached young athletes before.
“When I was in North Carolina, I put my son in a soccer league and the coach deployed within the first two weeks. So I took over,” said Ayala.
For Ayala, the time he’s investing in the boys’ lives goes beyond just hoping to see them improve on the soccer field.
“Even if they don’t play another season of soccer in their life, I hope that they take a lesson in successful teamwork with them from this experience. Because knowing how to be a member of a team can be applied to everything they’ll do in life, not just soccer,” said Ayala.