Marin FC staff, parents discuss importance of Players First

Editor’s Note: US Club Soccer continues to showcase the growing community of Players First-licensed clubs. Marin FC 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?

Evan Cross, President / Josh Kalkstein, Technical Director: Players learn and grow, but it would be foolish to think they do this either on our command or for our purposes. To understand the longer arc of a developing player is to uncap their individual potential and channel it towards the mutual goals of the player, their team, the coach, and only distantly, the club.

If you want to go fast, go alone … we want to go far, so we go together.

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

Cross/Kalkstein: Marin FC’s mission boils down to four words: “Inspire and Advance Players.” This places an inescapable focus on everything we do: what inspires and advances each player? Identifying these two puzzle pieces for each player becomes a force-multiplier for team and club. Players First embodies the same focus, albeit from a wider perspective.

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? 

Cross/Kalkstein: In keeping with the Players First philosophy and Marin FC’s mission statement, we would like to highlight two players (pictured above). They are quite different, with one towering over 6-feet-3-inches and the other just over 5 feet, but each has an emblematic player development path. 

Imogen Jenkyn, Girls 2004 Blue (2005 birth year playing up), embodies, in her compact, yet powerful frame, our desire to inspire players. She could play anywhere and chooses Marin FC for the various opportunities our club can afford her including: playing up for challenge, Olympic Development teams, state cup champion teams, Surf Cup champion teams, ECNL league and showcases, and as an ECNL regional team selection.

By comparison and contrast, Casey Walls, Boys 2001 Blue (2003 birth year playing up), exemplifies our mission’s second component, which is advancing players. After years of development and inspiration with Marin FC, Casey’s path was leading further. He needed to advance and is now, at the age of 17, playing professionally with the San Jose Earthquakes… “Inspire and Advance Each Player.”


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? 

Beth Jenkyn, mother of Imogen Jenkyn: A Players First mentality places the growth and development of each player, and of the collective team, above statistics. The Players First approach results in youth reaching their full individual potential on and off the pitch.

Physical and emotional development – whether it’s a dedication to a strong and healthy body, or learning to celebrate a team’s effort and growth above wins – instills habits and skills that enable our youth to become happy, healthy and successful adults.

When clubs like Marin FC put their players first, statistics inevitably improve because shared goals align the team, and individuals play their best soccer for something larger than themselves.

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?

Jenkyn: Marin FC helps each player achieve her/his personal soccer goal whether it is having fun with friends while keeping fit, or securing a coveted roster spot on a D1 college or national team. Not every player wants or needs the same thing, and Marin FC coaches are adept at setting up each player for success and ensuring that every player’s contribution to the team is valued.

My daughter is one of the Marin FC players who dreams of going “all the way” in soccer. Her MFC coaches, and the Division and ENCL directors do everything they can to help her realize this dream by providing supplemental training opportunities, advocating for high-level experiences outside of the club and accommodating those experiences in her club schedule.

The coaches’ and club’s support for my daughter is sincere and personal. That support helps give my daughter the confidence she needs to put herself out there, to try out for the most competitive soccer opportunities available to her and then give it her all on the field when she earns a spot. We are grateful for the club’s encouragement and support.

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

Jenkyn: I want my daughter to enjoy playing soccer and being a member of her team. If she is not having fun then it wouldn’t be worth the family sacrifice (time, money, etc). But, Marin FC, by creating an environment where they put their players first and celebrate both individual and team goals and success, fosters a supportive environment that brings out the best in the youth. 

The girls and the boys have fun while working hard and becoming the best soccer players they can be. It’s more than worth it.


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

Phil Billeci-Gard, Director of Coaching and Player Development, Younger Boys U13-U15, Coaching Boys 2008 Blue (first team) and Boys 2007 Red (second team): The Players First approach shines through with our staff, including myself, as we all take an individualized approach towards developing each player. That approach is what makes Marin FC special.  Soccer is simply the vehicle we use to develop the young men and women of the club.  

Marin FC fosters development in attributes such as conflict resolution, problem solving, goal identification, and personal achievements.  Character is simultaneously developed in areas such as respect, humility, and integrity. I layer these parallel lessons into each training, knowing they will carry forward for a lifetime.  

Personally, I feel every chance I have to step onto a soccer field with my teams is an opportunity to develop not only soccer specific skill sets, but also an opportunity to develop the person. While doing so, I know I am doing my job as coach which is to prepare young adults for life beyond the soccer field.

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

Billeci-Gard: I feel teaching lessons that carry beyond the soccer field is what coaching is all about. At some point in a young person’s life, the cleats will be put away and traded in for job interview attire. All the lessons from the soccer field should shine through in these ‘other’ moments.  

A competent, confident and decent person, with or without cleats, is most important. Less than one percent of the players who come through our club will play for a professional club, or national team. Knowing this clarifies that we as coaches, have a greater responsibility to our players than to just teach soccer solutions.  

We owe it to our players to prepare them for the future and to teach them solutions to what life may bring their way.

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

Billeci-Gard: Every player starts training with a handshake and a formal greeting. Failure to do so will result in training being delayed. This sets the tone for the training session, demonstrates a sign of mutual respect and teaches the life long lesson of greeting people when you meet them. This action is also repeated at the end of training and, again, this action will carry forward as it provides the life long lesson of showing respect and acknowledgment of completion.  

My main coaching technique that pulls out lessons in training is asking the players guided questions versus giving them direct solutions to their soccer problems.  Sometimes I simply ask them to answer the “why?” When players are asked to solve problems without the direct solutions they must communicate, think on their own and take risks. If their solution doesn’t work, I only offer brief moments of correction, then encourage them to keep trying new solutions in an effort to repeat the growth and learning process.  

Allowing players to think on their own, to take their own risks and to fail and learn what worked and didn’t work are the lessons and skill sets that will carry well beyond the lines of the soccer field.


A National Association member of the U.S. Soccer Federation, US Club Soccer fosters the growth and development of soccer clubs in order to create the best possible environment for players of all ages.

Anchored by Players First and its five pillars of Club Development, Coaching Development, Player Development, Parent Engagement & Education and Player Health & Safety, US Club Soccer offers registration, league- and cup-based competition platforms, player identification and a variety of other programming, resources and services.

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