One could say Mark Lavelle was born to coach. At age 15, before some kids even begin playing team sports, Lavelle was already coaching neighborhood kids in Kensington as a way to keep them away from drugs and crime.
Thirty years later, he’s still at it. Lavelle coaches a number of different sports and teams in the neighborhood. He is also involved with Kensington’s Lighthouse Program, which has been in existence since 1893, found national prominence in the winning of multiple youth soccer national championships from 1938 through 1967, and was at one point deemed “the largest single soccer organization in the world,” in 1940 by Ed Farnsworth.
Along with this, Lavelle coaches his own Kensington United soccer team and MVP Rise Up, which is geared towards kids who weren’t picked to play on school or travel teams.
Does working with these programs give you a sense of pride or gratitude?
What I always say to my wife is, I’m not rich. I’m not gonna leave my kids a lot of money. My house is a regular row home in Kensington, my cars are usually beat up. But what I’m gonna leave is my legacy on coaching. We could have $20 million and be rich that way, but if we don’t have love, family, unity, neighborhood, and to be the most unselfish person you can be then that’s when you’re rich. It might sound cliche, but that’s the creed I live by. As much as I want to make them better players, I want to make them better people first.
How does your coaching and leadership impact the kids in the programs?
I coach kids of all nationalities. Coming to America is hard. A couple kids couldn’t speak English, whether being Polish or Spanish, but I break down that barrier. I have little pizza parties before the games just so they can be friends. I try to have social things for them. Don’t even worry about sports, let’s just worry about the little things. Knock on wood, I’ve never had a kid turn to drugs.
You said you’ve been coaching for 30 years. How has it changed over the years?
Believe it or not, I think the parents changed the most. The kids still stay the same way, they’re a product of their environment. I teach them like they’re my pieces of clay and I try to mold them. I tell them if they’re not doing well in school, you won’t get playing time. You have to draw the line. The parents think they’re looking for the golden ticket. Where they think their child is the All-American and should be getting more playing time. My philosophy is I’m only as good as my bench. If the kids on the bench aren’t learning, then I’m not doing my job.
You have five kids of your own. How do you balance family and your coaching?
My kids are usually with me. If you ever look through my Facebook posts you’ll see them with a shovel, you’ll see them knowing how to get rid of the puddles, you’ll see them knowing how to clean up the concession stand. I have a very understanding wife that knows my passion and fully accepts it.
Many people may not realize that being a coach includes often being the chief fundraiser as well, do you ever run into issues with this aspect?
Funding is so hard because it’s so stretched out. You can’t keep going to the same guy or the same corner store saying, “Hey can you sponsor my shirts?” It’s usually on my dime because I’ll get the scraps left over. We’ll try to have some fundraisers selling lottery tickets, or Super Bowl blocks. I tend to get in leagues where it doesn’t cost $600 to get in. My referee fees I pay for myself, the club doesn’t pay for it. I have no issues with that.
How long do you see yourself continuing to coach?
Until there’s no more air in my lungs.
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