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Ernesto Alcantara Redefines What Successful Coaching Is
Much like with the business, art, and professional worlds, when it comes to soccer, Wichita, Kansas, is often looked at as the dysfunctional younger sibling to the Kansas City Metropolitan Area. Where the Kansas City area boasts a handful of professional teams, a population of over two million, and more families capable of exploiting the youth soccer system, outsiders often view Wichita as the opposite. A less populated city of about 400,000 boasting more 'Road work ahead' signs than high school soccer state championships. "Why go to Wichita when you could recruit in Kansas City?" is a question many of the best prospects from the area face and must overcome.
Yet, despite this, Ernesto Alcantara has used Wichita, KS, to produce some of the best players the Midwest region has seen in the last decade.
Coaching, especially in youth sports, can be a lot more subjective than one would think. What quantifies a good coach? Is it winning the most trophies, or is it about more than that?
Ernesto Alcantara is one of those rare people who redefine and surpass what it means to be a 'successful' coach.
Ernesto Alcantara is one of the few that prioritizes individual development above all in America's money-hungry youth sports system. The most important factor to him is that his players are improving day in and day out. That way, they'll excel not just for him but when they move on to the next level. It is a system where players feel valued, improve daily, and understand their role within a team.
This type of development-first orientation can often mean results take a backseat as players make the mistakes that come with challenging their weaknesses and turning into complete players. And the truth is, at times, some families would rather win a U-10 soccer league in a system that sees their child stagnate than lose more games in a system where the players improve and grow more confident under a coach that prioritizes technical development.
This fallacy is an obstacle course Alcantara is familiar with. He's lost families and players who found other clubs that offered the immediate gratification of winning rather than the patience player development requires. In sports, scoreboards and trophies are more tangible, whereas player development is more of an art, an art that requires a boatload of patience.
"Having the patience to develop players in the technical aspect. Willing to lose games, so paying that price ... sometimes the family correlates development with winning, and they end up leaving. The patience in just knowing that you develop the players individually and it's going to create a good experience for them later down the road, no matter what team they go to."
It can be a controversial philosophy to some, but it is hard to argue with the results.
His track record speaks for itself. There is a common denominator in most of the best soccer players to have come out of Wichita, KS, in the last decade. That common denominator is Ernesto Alcantara, a man who started coaching before he even knew what it was.
- There's Maycee Bell. A 20-year-old Wichita native who won the 2016 Kansas Girls Gatorade Player of the Year as a freshman in high school, the first out of Wichita in 15 years and second ever, every other winner is from the KC metropolitan area. She has played games for the U.S. Women's Youth National Team and was the ACC Freshman of the year at North Carolina.
- There's Ally Henderson-Ashkinos. She has started and played in 74 straight games for Baylor University, a prestigious Division 1 program in the BIG12.
- There's Jordan Eickekman. Who starred at Missouri State, helping the program to their first Conference Tournament Trophy in 17 years in 2017, and second ever.
- There's also Brookelynn Entz. She was recently selected in the NWSL draft by Kansas City and will leave K-State as a trailblazer with more records than she can count.
- Those are just a few among many from club soccer. And not to mention the likes of Cindy Benitez and Katy Rodriguez, who were All-American collegiate players out of Butler CC.
The last part of that prior paragraph, mentioning how Alcantara was a coach before he knew what it was, speaks to his calling in life. If you ask him, his first coaching job came in the backyard of his parent's home as a young teen in Garden City, KS.
"I started coaching in my backyard in Garden City. I was coaching my brothers and sister, I didn't know that was coaching, but I was ... Not very good, but it's not that I wanted to coach, just trying to organize some backyard soccer."
The fact that Alcantara mentions his backyard as a teen as his first experience in coaching says a lot about a man who views coaching as more than just the prestige of winning trophies and prioritizing results above all.
Not that he doesn't have the results to go along with his excellent track record in player development.
He has won more league trophies than he can count, won state and regional soccer championships, reached the final four of the National Youth Futsal tournament on multiple occasions, and been on the staff of nationally-ranked teams among a long list of accomplishments. He has also been awarded the Presidential Exemplary Service Award by the KS Youth Soccer Association, coached for the U.S. ODP Developmental programs, and has received recognition as one of the best teachers in the Wichita Schooling community.
He is only getting started too. Not yet in his 40s, Alcantara is constantly seeking avenues to improve.
As Alcantara sees it, there is always something to be learned to help him become a better coach, a methodical approach to improvement. Alcantara gave a comparison that stood out. In the same way, you would feel much better if a surgeon operating on a loved one had a degree and education in the field. Coaches should also seek coaching education and expertise in handling someone else's loved one and the impact coaching can have on a youth's life.
Back to the original question of what makes a good coach. When asked about some of the trophies he had won as a coach, Alcantara replied, "Ahh, you know what, I didn't start keeping track of this or thinking about this until I had to build resumes."
That resume includes successful stops at all levels and different places as both a head coach and assistant coach. It includes middle school, high school, JUCO, NCAA, ODP, and club soccer. Alcantara has put together the template that has helped him change the landscape of Wichita soccer. And right now, that means as a coach and one of the directors at Kansas Rush Wichita.
Born in La Loma, a city in the mountains of Mexico with a population of just a few thousand, Alcantara, grew up in Garden City, a town of 25 thousand in western Kansas. He is well accustomed to the unique lessons and perspectives towns like these offer. A population that small makes the city feel more like one large community than a collection of different people. Small towns like this are building grounds for forging and molding the character that allows their citizens to excel anywhere they go, as Alcantara has.
In small cities like La Loma and Garden City, each individual is of value to the community, and the lessons they learn will allow them to succeed if and when they choose to go to a bigger city.
Perhaps it was growing up in a place like this that painted some of Alcantara's feverish commitment to ensuring that each and every single one of his players improves as individuals so that when they leave his teams, they can excel anywhere as people and as players. Fortunately for Wichita, KS, Ernesto Alcantara has brought those lessons, and there's no telling what kind of athletes and people he'll help develop next.
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