SNOHOMISH — Gary White is still learning about Snohomish County, where he’s lived for two years after residing previously in the Caribbean and Australia, and before that in his native England.
But one thing White already knows for sure about this area is that soccer is big and getting bigger.
White is the technical director of the Snohomish United youth soccer organization, and on Nov. 1 he will step into the same role with Washington Youth Soccer. His new job will be to grow the game for an association that already includes some 130,000 registered players ages 5-18 and around 15,000 coaches statewide.
It’s an immense task, but also an opportunity that’s lush with potential.
Washington and certainly Snohomish County “is as soccer-crazy as anywhere else in the world,” said the 35-year-old White, who lives in Snohomish with his wife, Marsha. “With the background and the history in this area, soccer is important.
“There’s a perception that if you’re from England or from South American, that you can play the game and that you know the game better than anybody else,” he said. “But there are people in this state — American kids and American coaches — who love the game just as much as anywhere else in the world.”
White should know. He grew up in England loving the game, but had only modest talent (“Like every other kid I wanted to be a professional footballer, but I never made the grade,” he said), and that led him into coaching. He played and coached in Australia, and eventually had coaching jobs in the British Virgin Islands and the Bahamas, including seven years as head coach of the Bahaman national team.
He left the Bahamas to take the job with Snohomish United and now, two years later, he is preparing to join Washington Youth Soccer. A state organization, he said, that is among the top five in the United States in player participation.
And White wants to aim even higher.
“We’re very aggressive about being the No. 1 organization and about offering the best possible programs to every player, no matter what level they play at,” White said. “It’s a huge organization and the potential is unbelievable.
“Obviously we want to have the best ODP (Olympic Development Program) youth teams in the country, but also we want to have the best programs for those kids who just want to play, and for the referees, coaches and administrators. So we’re very aggressive about what we want to do.”
Terry Fisher, the executive director and CEO of Washington Youth Soccer, said White stood out during the interview process for “his intelligence and international experience.” The association, he added, is “making a lot of strides forward, but we need people who are willing to make bold steps outside the ordinary to make change happen. … He is the perfect coach for us at the perfect time.”
Once in his new job, White will oversee “everything that has anything to do with a soccer ball rolling forward, backward or sideways in the state of Washington,” Fisher said.
One of White’s primary goals is to improve the organization’s coaching education program. Also, he wants to steer young players away from “the win at all costs mentality that burns them out,” and instead emphasize fundamentals and other aspects of skill development.
“Kids in the country and in this state have huge opportunities,” he said. “We just have to do a better job as coaches and administrators of identifying what those kids need in different parts of their development. The state’s in a good position, and now we just need to take it to the next step.”
Aiding the process is Seattle Sounders FC of Major League Soccer, which has made a significant commitment to promoting and developing youth soccer programs in the state.
Washington Youth Soccer has “a complete connection with a professional team,” White said. “Other states have an affiliation, but we have a partnership. And that partnership is unbelievable.”
The payoff, he went on, will likely be seen in future years as increasing numbers of elite players from Washington begin showing up on college and professional rosters, and on the U.S. national team.
And someday, he predicts, the United States will realize the ultimate prize of a men’s World Cup championship.
“If there are enough people (in the U.S.) all on the same page, and if they’re persistent about it, and if they’ve got a definite plan to make it work, why not?” he said. “You’ve got the resources, you’ve got the population and you’ve got the athletes, for sure.
“And, to be fair, you’ve got a country that is used to winning. So with all those ingredients, it should be a question of when, not if.”