Book for a Booming Sport : ‘Socc-It’ Takes Aim at Young Soccer Lovers

Times Staff Writer

As a boy growing up in England in the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, Ian Stevenson played soccer. Of course, he was not alone.

Indeed, as Stevenson says, soccer in England “is a cultural thing. Every kid in England starts playing in the gutters and roads as soon as he can function as a motor unit.”

Stevenson recalls kicking tennis balls, Ping-Pong balls, rolled-up rags, pieces of coal, tin cans and “just anything that you can kick. Instead of picking it up and throwing it, you kicked it. And you didn’t need to be organized: Put a couple of jackets down for a goal and you’re away.”

Soccer may not be “the cultural thing” to American children as it is to their British counterparts, but that has begun to change in recent years as the sport that is considered the world’s most popular finds a growing niche in American life.


Stevenson, who is head soccer coach at Trabuco Hills High School in Mission Viejo, says soccer is “probably the fastest-growing sport in the United States,” with 3 to 4 million registered players in various youth soccer organizations, one of the most prominent of which is the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO). In Orange County alone, Stevenson says, there are between 20,000 and 30,000 registered players.

And it is for the growing ranks of young soccer players--and their parents--that Stevenson has written a “kick-by-kick training guide of moves, maneuvers and skills.”

It’s called “Socc-It Presents the Play and Strategy of Modern Soccer.” (Socc-It Publications, Mission Viejo, $10.50).

Socc-It is a whimsical character--an all-wise walking and talking soccer ball--who provides instructions, practices and tips on how to play better soccer.


Socc-It--the book and the character--are the creations of Stevenson, Mission Viejo illustrator Tom Howell and James Barrett, owner of a Newport Beach advertising agency.

Stevenson, however, is the only true soccerphile among the trio.

From his street-playing soccer days to playing on school teams, Stevenson went on to play on the soccer team at the University of Oregon, where he earned a master’s degree in physical education in 1965.

Since then, he has spent 20 years coaching soccer, mostly in England, where he coached at the high school level and ran clinics in the community for soccer coaches.


As Stevenson likes to joke, “the book took 20 years to think about and six weeks to write.”

“Ever since I’ve been coaching I felt there was a need for a way of communicating that was both creative and yet had the basics there,” he said.

The evolution from idea to book began last April when Stevenson met Barrett.

Humorous, Educational


Barrett was immediately taken with Stevenson’s dream of writing “something that was meaningful to coaches and players and had a humorous, educational note to it.”

Ron Deano, an Irvine certified public accountant who Stevenson said “believed in the project,” provided the money to get the first edition published.

Stevenson noted that one of the favorite phrases of soccer coaches is: “Let the ball do the work.” In other words, he said, “in soccer, it’s very much a passing game.”

With that in mind, Stevenson came up with the idea of having the ball do the coaching in the book; and it was Barrett’s idea that the ball be an actual character.


But the talking-ball character didn’t really come to life until Barrett contacted Howell, an illustrator friend of his who, Barrett said, “had the right touch for this.”

Howell, who helped develop TV’s “Captain Kangaroo” show and whose art experience includes being an animator for Walt Disney Studios, created the wide-eyed Socc-It character and the team of cartoon soccer players who ask him questions and demonstrate the various skills throughout the book.

Aimed at Children

Stevenson said the easy-to-read, 102-page book is aimed at children 5 to 12 years old.


“I felt I could reach many different minds in their stages of development,” he said. “You can color the pictures and use it as a coloring book at a very young age.

“The age (group) learning the skills of the game can use it as a developmental practice book and coaches can use it because the information in there is about the acquisition of skills and the interplay of strategy within a game context.”

The book features tips on such basic skills as ball control, passing, driving the ball, tackling, shooting, goalkeeping and kickoffs. It also discusses strategies such as corner kicks and direct and indirect free kicks.

“It’s the kind of book you don’t read from cover to cover,” noted Barrett. “You read it every day, and you work with the book chapter by chapter.”


In the chapter called “Using Your Head,” for example, Socc-It advises readers to remember to “be ready when I hit your forehead; keep your eyes open, watch me as I approach your head; keep your mouth closed so you don’t bite your tongue; use your neck muscles like a pecking chicken; and get into position early. Stay on your toes.”

Book Fills Void

There are, Stevenson acknowledges, other instructional soccer books on the market, many of them written by professional players and coaches but, he said, they don’t focus on communication. “Socc-It,” he feels, fills the void.

Stevenson and Barrett say the response from Orange County soccer coaches who have read the book has been positive; one AYSO coach calls the book “a unique and attention-getting way to teach everyone, from beginners to experts, the how-to’s of soccer.”


“This is a book for everyone because it helps the kids in attaining skills and practicing those skills,” said Stevenson. “It helps coaches to bring out the skills of their players through practices that are fun, and it helps the parents understand what the kids are going through in their progression in practices and while they’re watching their kids in a game.”

Stevenson and Barrett, in fact, already are planning a series of books to be written by Stevenson on such sports as golf, baseball and track and featuring a character of a ball or other sports equipment doing the coaching.

“Socc-it Presents the Play and Strategy of Modern Soccer” is currently available in soccer specialty shops and will be available soon in bookstores. In addition, Stevenson and Barrett say soccer organizations have expressed an interest in using the book as a coaching aid.

High Expectations


But Stevenson and Barrett have even higher expectations for Socc-It.

They have merchandising plans for putting the Socc-It character on T-shirts, soccer balls and other items, and they are talking about using Socc-It in a video on soccer.

Stevenson said they’re also going to promote a Socc-It incentive system for soccer players--much like Boy Scout and Girl Scout badges--in which players who gain certain skills such as dribbling or passing would be awarded Socc-It patches for their shirts.

“We’re in the initial stages of really getting things under way,” said Stevenson. “But I see the communicative system between the sport and the people who play and the spectators as very important, and anything that increases the communication of information and understanding of skills within the sport, I think, will enhance it.


Further information about the book is available by calling Socc-It Publications at (714) 476-0917.