Eight months of COVID-19 restrictions have forced coaches and athletes to find alternative ways to teach and learn. Soccer athletes at Downey High are among the fortunate ones, because their coach, Marvin Mires, has stepped up to use technology and old-fashioned pain-in-the-butt lectures to keep them moving forward in a time of uncertainty.
Mires has a 3.0 grade-point average academic requirement to play for Downey, because that’s what you need to get into the Cal State university system. Through video teleconferences, he prepares his players for the most important reason they are in high school — to get ready for a college education.
“I think these kids have bought into a culture,” Mires said as a dozen players looked on via their computers during a video conference in which the coach interviewed his five seniors about college plans. “I push them. I’m demanding. There’s probably times I’m annoying. I don’t mind being the mean guy once in a while in order for these guys to get a lesson.”
These days, coaches seem more worried about falling behind in on-the-field lessons because workouts have been disrupted by social distancing and safety requirements. But Mires has maintained a laser-like focus on making sure his players have the grades and the preparation to attend college, going far beyond what coaches are expected to do.
“I’m so thankful to be in this program,” said senior Ziggy Leiva, who left a USA Soccer Academy League program to join Downey’s soccer team this season. “It’s a crazy experience. I don’t think I would have found this information anywhere. Tons of adults are focused only on this season and the soccer side. The Downey program is preparing us for the next chapter in life.”
During a video call, Mires brought on a Downey alumnus and Cal Poly Pomona student, Cesar Ruvalcaba, who offered insights and recommendations to the current high school students.
“Time management boys,” Ruvalcaba said. “Don’t leave things to the last minute. The quality of work starts going down because it’s rushed.”
Senior captain Warner Serrano, sitting in his bedroom with a Soccer Ave. sign visible on his wall, talked about what he learned from a school counselor on how to write an effective essay to impress college admission directors.
“Those essays are very important,” he said. “It’s about life experiences. All the struggles in your life. It could be the smallest thing, from losing a friend to doing bad in school the first year to not having a good economic state.”
Mires told his players, “There’s a thing called book smarts and street smarts, and I want you to have both. Life is about having a plan.”
His five seniors had to fill out a college worksheet trying to help them gain admittance to a UC school. Four are working with a specialist in UC essays and others did SAT prep.
On the call, the seniors offered what possible classes they would take in college in their majors and what careers they want to pursue, from microbiologist to chiropractor, and how much money they would need to make house or car payments. These are real-life lessons that a coach is devoting time to pursue because it is a priority beyond what’s happening on the field.
“It is my passion to help these kids succeed in life,” Mires said. “As always, the question remains if schools want to sacrifice the time to make success happen.”
In 2017, during Downey graduation ceremonies, 13 members of the boys’ soccer team received their diplomas and headed off to four-year colleges. That’s more important to Mires than winning a CIF title. And the players are hearing the message.
“COVID hasn’t been a setback but a motivation to get to our path where we want to be,” Leiva said. “It’s given us a lot of time to reflect on how we carry on as people. It’s made us more hungry. He pushes us to be better every single day. He’s always giving us these golden pieces of information.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.