How Giraldo Elite Futbol is churning out top soccer talent in the Coastal Bend
By: Stephanie Kusy
Photos by: David Olds
Strength. Speed. Agility. Endurance. Discipline. Perseverance. Character. Attitude. Top soccer players tend to all possess these qualities. They must go above and beyond while making sacrifices to join the ranks of the elite. Brothers Sammy and Sebastian Giraldo believe many Corpus Christi soccer players possess the talent to make it happen, yet lack the professional coaching and environment.
They founded Giraldo Elite Futbol four years ago with the goal to expose South Texas players to top-of-the-line, professional training. Just last year, they opened an indoor soccer facility off Corona, the GEF Indoor Zone, across the street from the YWCA, so players can train safely and soccer aficionados can play pick-up games for $5.
Sammy and Sebastian Giraldo have a dream: to give players the chance to play at the highest level of the game. These coaches live, eat and breathe soccer. After all, they are Colombian. “I grew up with a soccer ball at my feet every single day of my life,” Sammy said. “We were immersed in it.”
The brothers moved with their parents to the United States as children and went to high school in Corpus Christi. Their love for the sport grew, and both played soccer in college. Their paths diverged as adults, though, when Sebastian went on to get his Ph.D. in sport management with a focus on elite athlete development and Sammy was accepted to medical school. While waiting for school to begin, Sammy came home to Corpus Christi and started giving private soccer lessons to make a little extra cash. He quickly realized the opportunity to expand the soccer development business to the Coastal Bend.
“Soccer has been in the dark ages for a long, long time,” Sammy said. “Corpus is a weird mid-size city where it lacks professionals like us to train players. The talent has always been here. There just hasn’t been professional trainers and programs to help develop them over the long term.”
Sammy decided to scratch medical school and convinced his brother to move home. One soccer team turned to many, and four years later, they have grown their business to train 300 to 500 students from 5 to 18 years old.
“We develop players to try and play at the highest level of the games available here in the U.S.,” Sebastian said. “Whether that’s professional academy, college or professional soccer, those are our objectives for our players, which I would say is much different than what most clubs and soccer organizations do.”
Seven players made the U.S. Olympic Development Program soccer regional team this year – the most Corpus Christi has ever seen. In the soccer world, this is a big deal. “We are focused on professional soccer development,” Sammy said. “What that means is that we use modern research training philosophies that come from research backgrounds from academies and universities, and apply it to our training model. They’re age-specific training models. What that means is that at each age, you’re using different techniques to get the most out of the kids and their development environment.”
Giraldo Elite Futbol provides private and team training for youth. Private training is a very elite environment. They vet players and parents before they’re accepted. Team training is through the Great Western club for which they are the directors of coaching. As the popularity of soccer grows throughout the country, the best players must develop a solid foundation at a young age so they can fine-tune their skills as teenagers in order to play at that next level.
“What happens when they go through puberty is the determining line,” Sebastian said. “If they didn’t get taught the game right, they don’t have the right skills; they didn’t get taught the right discipline, tactics of the game, they won’t be able to hang when they’re 16.” Dropping out of the sport is a major issue in the United States because of this.
The coaches also take a different perspective when it comes to winning: It isn’t everything. “Losing is part of good development,” Sammy said. “You should lose because you learn to play the game making lots of mistakes. We need to accept that losing and winning has nothing to do with proper development early on.”
Sebastian quickly agreed. “We’re competitors and would love to win every game, but we’re not here to win championships,” he said. “We’re here to get players to the highest level of the game. You’re not going to take your team, or your parents or your friends to college or to the next level. You really have to create a culture to know that what you’re willing to put in – that sacrifice – that’s what’s going to reap the rewards in the long run.”
These coaches radiate intensity. They dedicate 12 to 14 hours per day, seven days a week, nine months out of the year to train and travel with their teams. Clearly, they expect their players to rise to the occasion. “Soccer is our passion,” Sebastian said. “I would say our jobs are probably more enjoyable than most people. We get to play with our players whenever we want. I’d play soccer every day if I could. In the end, watching our players get those opportunities is the payoff. If we can continue to do that, we are happy.”
The coaches realize few players will make it to play Division I soccer and even fewer will go pro. That won’t stop them from working with players who have the potential. They have the experience, they have the knowledge and they even work for U.S. soccer as Olympic development program senior staff in Texas. If a player has the talent and skill set, they know how to develop that player’s potential.
Besides soccer, the brothers savor their spare time with family and food. Both somehow manage to intertwine with their busy schedules. Their father, a mathematics professor at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi, helps train at their facility. Playfully nicknamed “El Maestro,” he brings his vast experience and analytical nature to the game. Whether traveling around Texas or across the country, the family manages to always find gourmet restaurants to chow down. “I think that’s what keeps us relaxed on the road,” Sebastian joked.
As the teams begin to travel more, the coaches spend a good deal of time with their players. Conversations tend to center on – you guessed it – soccer. But the coaches will say it’s much more than that. Discussing nutrition, academics and just life in general helps players develop to the best of their ability – as soccer players and as people. “Their success is our success,” Sammy said. “We’re here for the players. If we don’t do a good job for them, we’re doing nothing for ourselves.”
Giraldo Elite Futbol is located at 4630 Corona across the street from the YWCA. For more information, visit them online at www.giraldoelitefutbol.com.