Philip Stephenson is a highly-energetic person, and his son Drew follows in those fast-paced footsteps. So when Stephenson was looking for a sport to hold Drew's attention, he turned to a childhood favorite, soccer.
"It's a great sport for that because kids are constantly moving. He tried baseball and basketball...but soccer is a great sport for highly active and energetic kids," Stephenson said.
More and more children are turning to soccer in Covington and have the opportunity to do so, because of the efforts of dedicated volunteers like Stephenson, who coaches three Covington Y Galaxy soccer teams.
Galaxy soccer is the Y's more advanced league, which has been building up over the past six years, said Jason Williams, sports director for the Covington Y.
"Philip is a very passionate guy. He not only coaches the under-13 boys (team), but he also coaches under-9 and under-10 girls academy teams. He does more than is asked and is willing to exert himself beyond most," Williams said. "He also works full time. He's purely a volunteer but is on the field four days a week (conducting practices)."
Stephenson's willingness to go above and beyond was evident during a recent tournament. His boys team made it to the finals of the Nike Cup in Norcross, but due to a scheduling mishap the opposing team didn't show up and the Covington team won the championship by default.
Stephenson called the other team to let them know what had taken place. The players of both teams really wanted to play to see which team was the best, so Stephenson worked with the other team to set up a separate game today at 6:30 p.m. at the Y's Stone Road soccer fields.
"That's the kind of sportsmanship I love," Williams said. "He was so concerned about the kids getting to play that he took the time to schedule the field, re-line the field, schedule the referees, coordinate the lights...it was all on him. He had the trophy, but he felt the other team deserved the opportunity to play the final game, and he felt his team deserved to play the final...I thought that was really cool as a volunteer."
Stephenson didn't plan to begin coaching eight years ago, but his son's team had no other option. When the Drew's team arrived for a game at Porterdale Elementary School, it had no coach and no one with coaching experience. However, it did have Stephenson, who had played soccer in elementary and middle school.
"I've been hooked on it ever since," he said. "It's been incredible to watch, not only relearning the sport, but having more of a lifestyle with the sport."
He's gotten back into watching the sport, including the English Premier League, Italy's Serie A and Spain's La Liga. When Stephenson grew up, there were only a few players with worldwide fame, like the famous Pele, but now he's been able to watch his son and daughter Dallas get into the sport and find their own favorite teams and players. For his 40th birthday this year, Stephenson received tickets to see a U.S. World Cup qualifier game in Tampa, Fla., courtesy of his wife and children.
"It becomes not just a sport, but part of the family," he said, and, even more importantly, all of the families involved in youth soccer become one big family.
However, at its heart, coaching is about teaching young men and women to be responsible adults.
"Learning to play soccer is something, but our role as coaches is (more than that). We have to be realistic and honest; less than 5 percent of kids get a scholarship, but as a long as we can keep them active in sports and help them learn about the decision-making process (we're doing our job). Soccer is great sport for that, because there are so many things they can do when they get the ball and a lot of decisions to make when they don't have the ball," Stephenson said.
"We get kids to learn why they made a bad decision and what they should have done. Also in life we make good and bad decisions, and we need to learn from the bad ones and the good ones. We want them to become a productive part of a society, that comes first. If they become great soccer players, so be it."
Another reason why Stephenson coaches is so that he can spend quality time with his own children. Drew plays on the under-13 team and Dallas plays on the under-10 team.
"I have brought in a lot of coaches. I just tell them it's an opportunity. We're social creatures, and we obviously live in a country where we have the opportunity to have a lot of blessings and an opportunity to give something back," he said.
Stephenson was born in Rockdale County and moved with his wife Christy (Woods) Stephenson to Covington in 1995. He is currently the director of quality for Hill Phoenix and headed up the company's recent decision-making process to expand operations in Conyers and Covington.
As for his own sports career, he played soccer up until high school, when he switched over to pursue semi-professional skateboarding. However, he severely injured his left foot and it never healed to the point he could pursue the sport further. His left foot still gives him trouble when he strikes a ball, but he couldn't be happier.