EL DORADO HILLS — It was Shakespeare’s Juliet who so famously asked, “What’s in a name?”
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Joe Champion, Oak Ridge’s new head soccer coach, said his last name has been a lot to live up to over his lifetime. Yet the name also helped him stand out as a young soccer player while growing up in England.
Last week it was announced that Champion, 30, beat out multiple candidates for the head soccer coach position, filling the cleats of former coach Henry Reis, who coached the past eight seasons.
The middle of three children, Champion was born and raised in London, playing soccer (aka football) for as long as he can remember.
“Before the sun came up until after it went down, playing football with my mates is all we all used to do,” he said. “In London, soccer is huge.”
He played on professional academies throughout his youth, but when it was time to decide whether he’d take the sports or college track his parents encouraged him to do the latter.
“You’ll always have soccer,” he recalled them saying. “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” He would repeat the same advice to kids today.
Before traveling to the United States seven years ago, Champion earned a college degree in Exercise and Sports Science from the University of Exeter. There, he was the captain of his varsity soccer team. After college Champion coached soccer in New York before colleagues connected him to people in El Dorado County.
Champion made the move west and has coached in youth soccer clubs ever since. He is the founder of Joe Champion Soccer and was recently named the Director of Coaching for the El Dorado Hills Soccer Club.
Two years ago Champion became the head soccer coach at El Dorado High School. While he loved his time there, Champion said the drive back and forth between Placerville and his coaching jobs in El Dorado Hills began to take a toll.
“I told people the only other school head coaching job I’d take would be if it was at Oak Ridge,” he said. “So it’s incredible that it’s actually happened.”
Oak Ridge Athletic Director Steve White feels just as fortunate, saying of his new hire, “Joe is a highly respected coach around here. We were impressed with how he structures practice and how he wants to develop the whole person.”
Champion’s lifelong love of soccer has magnified since he began coaching.
“I love soccer even more now, if that’s possible. The positive influence coaches can have over kids is very satisfying,” he explained.
Champion goes beyond drills to inspire and lead young people. If he’s not actively coaching, he’s reading about it, or watching a video about it, or attending a soccer lecture.
“I’ve remembered every soccer coach I’ve ever had,” he said. “I know how important that role can be. I’m always thinking, ‘What would I like as a player?’”
Champion has his United States Soccer Federation ‘B class’ coaching license, which means he’s mastered the concepts toward coaching players aged 16 through the collegiate level. He plans to complete courses for the ‘A class’ license within the year, something he said would be a great personal achievement for him.
Champion is more than ready for the job, and he’s already thinking about the future of Oak Ridge’s soccer organization, explaining that he wants to build community ties and foster relationships with all the local soccer clubs.
“I’d like to see feeder programs set up so it will be transparent to young kids what values the soccer program at Oak Ridge stands for,” he said. “I want young kids to be excited about playing for Oak Ridge someday.”