ISC Gunners staff, parents discuss importance of Players First

Editor’s Note: US Club Soccer continues to showcase the growing community of Players First-licensed clubs. Issaquah Soccer Club was one of the first clubs to get licensed, and club directors and staff continue to take advantage of Players First offerings to the fullest.


Question: Why does your club feel the need to focus on the long-term interests of each individual player?

Eddie Henderson, Technical Director: Sometimes it takes a village to raise a child. At ISC Gunners, we are one big family, and we have over 1,000 players that are all different! On and off the field, we want to teach our players that everyone is different and not everyone learns the same way. Some players want to play at higher levels, while others play for different reasons, but at the end of the day, they all they love to play soccer. 

Our jobs is help them have the best experiences possible as individuals and as members of a team. We want every player, regardless of their ability, to walk away with a love for the game and the greatest experiences. We want them to want to continue to support the game long after they stop playing, and in doing so, we have done our part in the continued growth of the sport! If soccer people won’t support soccer, who will?

Question: How does the Players First philosophy relate to your club’s mission? 

Henderson: Part of our mission is to help as many players as possible get into college through soccer and academics. We are committed to becoming recognized across the Pacific Northwest as a club that is consistently successful in fostering an environment that provides athletic and personal growth opportunities to our players. 

We believe that the personal growth of our players is just as important, if not more important, than their soccer development. We recognize that soccer is just the platform use to teach valuable life lessons. There is life after soccer and part of our job is to prepare our players for that life!

Question: If you could “shout out” one member of your club (could be a player, coach, or parent) for representing Players First in the best way possible, who would it be and why? 

Henderson: This is a tough question, because we have so many exceptional people in our club including staff, coaches, players and parents. However, one example does come to mind. During a summer tournament, our B10 boys team was losing a game by one goal with not much time left. A player on the opposing team was approaching the sideline to throw in the ball, when he tripped on his untied shoelace. Without hesitation, Mark Timko, our executive director, helped the player up and proceeded to tie the player’s shoe.

For Mark, it did not matter that the player was on the opposing team or that our team was running out of time to tie the score. All that mattered was that we put the “player first.” That is ISC Gunners!


Question:  What does Players First mean to you? Why is it important for your child to play soccer with a club that has met the standards of a Players First club? 

Keely Strohl: Players First means developing the whole child, on and off the field. Having my children (two girls, an ’08 and ’09) play for a club where coaching doesn’t stop once they walk off the field is extremely important to me. Many relationships and friendships develop while they are socializing and bonding off the field, learning valuable life lessons.

Question: Players First clubs are committed to placing the long-term interests of each player at the heart of every decision in structuring, operating and managing the club. How do you see this in your child’s experience?

Strohl: Two years ago, while the girls were players in the club, my husband, Sloan, passed away from cancer 63 days after his diagnosis. To be honest, if it wasn’t for the entire club – coaches, players and parents – I am not sure how we would have made it. Everyone rallied around us and supported us in any way they could. This included bringing us food, carpooling, providing emotional support, financial assistance and so much more. One family even paid for us to have a housekeeper while Sloan was sick, and for an entire year after he passed.

The most important thing was how the club helped the girls. All the coaches, not just their direct coaches, supported them. They became counselors, psychologists, friends, uncles, aunts and did anything they could possible imagine to make sure that my girls were doing okay. My girls got what they needed in order to help them grieve. 

My girls suffered, and the coaches knew they wouldn’t be on top of their game, but they knew that showing support is what they needed most, not scoring goals or breaking juggling records. My girls’ emotional needs were taken care of first. 

The coaches and staff took the time to connect with my girls, and made sure they knew they were loved and that they were there for them on and off the field, just as a family should!

Question: What aspects of your child’s soccer experience are most important to you, and why?

Strohl: The first word that comes to mind is family! My kids love soccer and they want to play in college, but honestly that won’t happen if there isn’t a family that supports them. ISC Gunners is that family. To everyone. I truly believe in the saying “Gunners Family.” I owe more to them then they will ever know!


Question: How do you feel your club best exemplifies a Players First club?

Joel Mthombeni: Our club is the ultimate Players First club. Ever since I began my journey with ISC Gunners in May 2019, it has been clear that this club was unlike any other. All of our players are of equal importance and are given undivided individual attention. As coaches, we are taught that we are not just coaches, but we are also role models. We treat players the same regardless of the team they are on, or their physical abilities.

We also communicate with our parents to forge the necessary coach, parent and player bonds. I have never been a part of an organization in the soccer landscape that prides itself on open communication as much as ISC Gunners. We are more than just another pay to play soccer club, we are a family that wants to ensure every player feels equally important and valued. 

Question: Why do you believe teaching your players lessons that will help them both on and off the field is important?

Mthombeni: Teaching life lessons on and off the field is vital. Based on statistics, we know that very few youth soccer players in the U.S. will go on to play at the professional level, most players are lucky to reach the collegiate level. As a youth coach, it behooves me to teach young players lessons that will help them in the real world. I always want to explain to our players the lesson behind any exercise we do in training, or in games we play. 

Soccer builds character, but most players don’t know that unless, as a coach, you highlight it. I would be doing a disservice to our players if all I focused on was formations and tactics. Soccer is a small part of a majority of these players’ lives. As a coach, it is critical that I teach them values and skills they will use in life after soccer.

Question: How do you best teach these types of lessons at practice? Feel free to share a story or give an example.

Mthombeni: Having had two teams that struggled this year, I have been able to teach them the value of hard work and perseverance. Our players and parents have commended me for the effort I put into every practice. I make sure that our players prepare and work hard every day, whether we won or lost the day before.

I want to teach perseverance. I tell them all the time that in life you are going to go through adversity and hardships, but you cannot give up because of it. You need to put you best foot forward every single day, regardless of how hard the previous day may have been. 

Even though we may have lost several games, the parents always applaud our effort and hard work. The is a value I believe theses two teams will take with them into their everyday lives that will help them excel and pursue their dreams.