Flint Style Soccer giving young people techniques and life lessons from local legends

FLINT, Michigan -- Flint native Steve Wolbert knows that dreams often die because of lack of resources. As the Founder and CEO of SIPI (Social Impact Philanthropy Investment), Wolbert frequently works with people to help make their dreams come true, ensuring passionate leaders have access to make their great ideas become a reality. 

Just as this mission has been successful for many local entrepreneurs and businesses, Wolbert and Enrique Vargas have also used this goal of creating change and impacting the future to their latest endeavor. And what better way to shape the future than work with today’s young people?

With the goal of leveling the playing field, the duo co-founded Flint Style Soccer to introduce Flint youth to the game. Providing education and support to kids who wouldn’t always be exposed to soccer can also create confidence by teaching lifelong lessons both on and off the field. 

Flint Style Soccer is hosting a two-day camp on Tuesday, July 13, and Thursday, July 15, from 6-8 p.m. at Berston Field House.

“Flint Style Soccer actually started about five years ago with a group of friends and I,” Wolbert said. “We all played Flint Olympian Games soccer growing up, and had some amazing mentors that we met through that process that we’re still in touch with today. We were thinking why don’t we try to do something like this for kids in Flint again today, so we started a camp at Berston Field House, and now we’ve reignited it.

“The goal is pretty simple, to introduce Flint kids to the game of soccer. Soccer is the largest sport in the world because it only takes a ball and a couple of cones.”

While the goal is a fairly basic one, the disparity and barrier of accessibility is a bit more complicated. Lack of resources is often what stops youth from participating in sports, which are shown to greatly impact young people’s lives positively. Students can gain valuable skills like teamwork, sportsmanship, socialization, physical activity, self-discipline, and more. Sports can also build self-esteem and confidence, something Wolbert has witnessed with previous soccer camps.

Part of Flint Style Soccer’s goal is to offer the camps for no charge, to help level the playing field. 

“In the United States, it’s about this ‘pay-for-play’ model, where to get good training and to be on a club, you have to pay thousands of dollars for travel soccer,” Wolbert said. “Beyond that, too, what we found is that kids in Flint versus kids in more affluent suburbs -- by the time they’re a senior in high school, they have had $250,000 worth of experiences that a kid in Flint doesn’t necessarily have. Soccer is one example of it, but lacrosse, hockey and travel sports in general, along with family vacations and other things our kids don’t have the ability to experience. We want to rethink that, and we’re starting with a camp to introduce kids to the game, and do drop-in soccer and see where it goes.”

In contrast to the typical ‘beginner’ style camp, the instructors behind the education and technique portion bring years of expertise to the young athletes. Wolbert said the elite coaches who donate their time are what make the soccer camp a really special opportunity. Coaches include Tom Saxton, a former Michigan State women’s soccer coach who just retired April 2021. Saxton’s career highlights include 30 years as the longest-tenured women’s soccer coach in the Big Ten Conference, a two-time Big Ten Conference Coach of the Year, and MSU’s first-ever NCAA Tournament win in 2006.

Wolbert said Saxton’s moving on from MSU was a catalyst for Flint Style Soccer to really amp up again. 

“Tom’s retirement was a big push to us restarting things, so we went through a rebrand and are relaunching after COVID, and to have his support is the coolest and most game-changing thing,” Wolbert said of Saxton, who now works as a Flint Style Soccer sporting director consultant working with players and coaches.

Other coaches are local Flint mentors of Wolbert’s and soccer legends, including Dave Korhonen or “Coach K,” Rick Bridgett, and Tony Rowe, who have decades of experience coaching locally at high schools, leading hundreds of athletes to state championships.

As for the camp itself, students will learn teamwork, passing, dribbling, footwork, ball control, agility, shooting, and more. Campers will have 90 minutes of training at the various stations, followed by a soccer game, and food. Each youth participant will receive bottled water, food, and a free camp t-shirt. Pre-registration is available online, or walk-up registration is available the day of the event. 

Wolbert, who declares himself ‘a pretty big soccer fan,’ said coaching soccer 12 years ago shaped him into the person he is today, and inspired him. 

“We played a team from LakeVille and we lost 13-0,” he said. “And 60 days later, we took the gold medal game to the shootouts and had a chance to win. I’ve never forgotten that experience, and how kids who have never played the game before and didn’t know many of the rules were able to come together and improve that much. We were versus a team from LakeVille that had been practicing and traveling together for years. It was like ‘if we could just give the kids in Flint an opportunity, they can shine.’”

So rather than trying to recreate what Wolbert and many soccer kids had in various settings and different eras, Flint Style Soccer aims to meet kids where they are today, and give them opportunities to feel good about themselves.

Wolbert said many of his adult friends were positively impacted and shaped by youth sports. 

“There are a lot of my very good friends who will tell you that if it weren’t for soccer, they wouldn’t be where they are today,” he said. “That is very cool, but it’s not anything that’s crazy that these kids today shouldn’t have the same opportunities.”

To pre-register for the youth soccer summer camp, you can visit the Flint Style Soccer website. In addition to the camp, Flint Style Soccer is offering drop-in soccer at Berston on July 22 and 29, August 5, 12, and 19 at 6 p.m.
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Read more articles by Sarah Spohn.