The process of youth sport development in the 21st century often ends up being a very interesting path that can lead to numerous stops and starts participating for multiple teams in different cities. We wanted to get the story first hand from Bolivian U17 international soccer player Paolo Alcocer about his process and thoughts on his personal youth sports journey. The rest of this post is the journey of Paolo Alcocer written by Paolo…
In 2000, I was born in Germany while my Dad was working for the US Government. Since my father is from Bolivia and my mother is from the US, I was lucky to have different nationalities represented that would give me options later in life.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be a professional fútbol player, coming from a family with so much fútbol tradition I had no choice. My father played at different levels in the US and Bolivia, and my grandfather was a National hero in Bolivia having won the Copa America with Bolivia’s national soccer team in 1963 in a memorable final against Brazil. I still vaguely remember kicking my 2002 World Cup ball outside my house in the South Side of Savannah, Georgia.
My earliest memories of playing fútbol around that time was playing for a local team called Coastal Georgia Soccer Association (CGSA). I ended up playing there for roughly 5 years under Coach Gary Wright, gradually learning the basics of the game. It was a fantastic experience and built my passion for participation
After my spell with CGSA was over, I moved onto Savannah Storm. With Storm and Coaches Jeremy Aven and Brad Nein, I found the technical and tactical aspect of my game improved so much compared to where I was at before. Having to do more than 200+ juggles every day for 5 days a week, and constantly doing drills purely centered around passing, receiving passes, movement off the ball, and ball control was something that I needed to make myself a better player. At this point, I was also fortunate enough to meet many people I’ve made friendships with to this day.
Shortly after making the Georgia ODP team, my time with Storm came to an end due to joining a Development Academy team called Jacksonville FC at 13 years old. Joining the Development Academy did a lot for me without even realizing it at the time. It taught me how to be more of a leader on and off the pitch, how it is playing with players 3, 4 or even 5 years older than I was and it got me connections with people I wouldn’t have been able to contact if I had stayed at the local club.
After a year of playing for Jacksonville, I went to play with the Charleston Battery. Living in Savannah, this would mean a 250 mile round trip commute for practice and games three days a week. The two years I spent with Charleston Battery were amazing in every sense of the way. While being trained by ex-Premier League players and expert trainers such as Coach Palmer and Coach Rusty, during this time, I was called-in to the Bolivian U15 national team for the first time.
Representing Bolivia’s National Team is still the greatest honor I had in my short career and feel so fortunate to be a part of. Playing internationally representing your country is priceless. During my first call in during 2015 I spent two months overseas, having the opportunity to represent Bolivia in the South American championships in Montería, Colombia. Playing in a packed stadium was a unique experience for me as a 14 year old and I loved it!!!
During my second year with the Charleston Battery, Orlando City’s academy came up to play us. I must have done very well because after the game, their coach got in contact with me and said that he wanted us to drive down to Orlando and try-out for the team. We drove to Orlando, I practiced with the team and earned my place for the following season. The first day at Orlando’s facilities was quite surreal. I managed to meet Kaká, Cyle Larin, and Brek Shea. Furthermore, I managed to have a tour of the fields, the gym and cafeteria. After the tour was done, I began practicing with my new team ahead of the season. Although, I was excited at the new challenge, playing in Orlando would demand a huge commitment simply because of the 250 miles distance between Savannah and Orlando four days a week for training. In my first year at Orlando, I was lucky enough to participate in the Adidas Generation Cup and Atletico Paranaense tournament in Curitiba, Brazil. In January 2017, I was called back again to represent Bolivia in the U17 South American Championship in Rancagua, Chile. Unfortunately, I rolled my ankle and tore a ligament in the tournaments opening game against the host Chile and was told that I’d be out for three to four months. I was actually sidelined for around 2 months thanks to the local (Savannah, GA) physical therapists at Fife Therapy. This was only one of my many injuries I’ve had to bounce back from. I came back just in time to play the last couple games of the season with Orlando.
In the summer of 2017 I was invited to train with Copa Libertadores team Wilstermann for a month in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Getting to train in that type of scrappy and passionate environment is one of a kind. Having the opportunity to practice with experienced Argentinian and Brazilian players was very educational. After my month was up, the next important step in my progression was to report to the Bolivia U17 National Team Camp in preparation for Los Bolivarianos games in Santa Marta, Colombia with two months of 14 sessions a week waiting for me. Los Bolivarianos games is the equivalent to the Olympics, but for South American countries. Luckily for me, I did well in both the tournaments in Chile and Colombia, so before I came back to the US in December 2017, agents got in contact with me. I am now currently awaiting trials for teams in Europe and South America.
My life has been full of sacrifices but they have been my choice. I have gone to school online, since I was 14 years old and I have spent more time in training, traveling, camps and playing than most kids my age. With this in mind, I have a limited social life. I live in Savannah which is a small city in Southeast Georgia. It is a geographical challenge for any fútbol player that aspires to be a professional. With a minimum 2 hour drive one way to any big city it makes it nearly impossible for any kid to make it to higher quality teams.
Nonetheless, my achievements would not have been possible without the constant support of my family, friends, old coaches, but most of all my Dad. Without my dad, I wouldn’t be where I’m at today. I wouldn’t have been able to go to the places that I have visited. He’s been my motivation and my motivator since day one. We’d always practice at the Jennifer Ross Soccer Complex in Savannah or somewhere that had grass fields. It didn’t matter if it was in the blazing heat or the bitter cold. We’d be the first ones to arrive at the complex or the last people off it. If we weren’t t there, we’d be at the gym. He’s driven me to Jacksonville, to Charleston, and to Orlando for practice 4 times a week (1000 miles a week). He’s been to every one of my games in the past 12 years, even the games that have been overseas.He’s always been there. Constantly telling me what I need to work on and giving praise when earned. I greatly appreciate everything he’s done for me to help further my career.
Paolo – Good Luck in all your future endeavors and thanks for sharing your story.
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