10-year-old Kieran Robson says his family owns at least 40 soccer balls.
Forty? “More like 100,” says his 13-year-old sister, Joey. Her twin, Jessie, agrees — although nobody’s really counted. Speaking over each other, the four Robson kids talk about all the balls in bags throughout the house, the balls in the garage, the balls stuffed in the soccer closet. (Yes, they have a closet reserved strictly for soccer gear.) With four kids playing in clubs, dad coaching all three teams, and mom in the role of team manager, the Robsons live and breathe for the field — so, naturally, the equipment piles up.
This passion for the sport began a generation earlier, in Phoenix, Ariz., where mom and dad, Tony and Lori, grew up. Tony was eight when he joined club soccer. The youngest of 10, he wasn’t allowed to play football on account of the injuries and medical bills his three oldest brothers had already racked up, so he chose soccer.
His dribbles, kicks and passes served him well: He travelled throughout much of Europe with the U.S. Youth Soccer Olympic Development Program before soccer scholarships earned him a degree from Yavapai College in Arizona, and an education in communications from Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois Springfield). Back then, there wasn’t much opportunity for an American to go pro without relocating to Europe, so today Tony is a salesman for a resin manufacturer. Oh, and he also coaches soccer for Henderson’s Heat FC (Football Club.)
While Tony and Lori would love to see the sport do as much for their own kids, they realize that full-ride scholarships are much rarer today. But there are plenty of other rewards. “The ultimate goal is to help them challenge themselves, physically, mentally, and to learn the game,” says Tony. “Then, preferably go to college, or at least let that (soccer) help them get where they want to go.”
Eleven-year-old Annie has a different ambition: “It would be cool to do a header in the goal,” she says, like Abby Wambach.
“Just keeping them involved in something positive, and watching the group that they’re with, and having them active is important,” adds Lori.
Active is an understatement. Each of the three teams has two or three two-hour practices a week, plus weekend games, totaling four coaching hours a night for Tony — except Fridays, which the family has off. (Phew!) During tournaments, the Robsons can play as many as 10 games in a weekend. Plus, Tony himself plays recreationally in two adult leagues.
“We have to, as a family, constantly ask, ‘Are we making the right decisions?’ Because it’s a huge, huge commitment,” says Tony. “Every three months, we’re like, ‘Are we doing this for the right reasons? And are we up for it?’” Time and again, the answer is yes.
When the Robsons aren’t playing soccer or preparing to play soccer — Tony has game plans to configure, Lori has player fees to collect and team schedules to update, not to mention the dirty laundry that so many sweaty players create — the Robsons like to gather in their living room to root on their favorite team: Barcelona. At their feet lie the family dogs: Messi (for Barcelona’s Lionel Messi) and Mia (as in Mia Hamm.)
So, yes, the Robsons have a lot of soccer balls but, as with many large families, socks are a problem.
“There are never enough soccer socks!” says Lori.