Coach Chris P Article in the Pilot

Coach Chris P Article in the Pilot

They call it football back home, but soccer teaches the same lessons everywhere, says local coach from England

By Kathy Van Mullekom

Chris Panayiotou’s love of children, the outdoors and sports are the foundation of his lifelong career – coaching. Now 44, he started coaching at age 17, volunteering at a local high school while attending college in England.

From there, he worked with sports activity camps in England, and taught physical education at his old high school. He’s coached it all – cricket, track and field, badminton, rugby, field hockey, floor hockey, gymnastics, swimming and even dance. All that hard work earned him the England Football Association’s Preliminary Coaching Award.

Now, he’s in Virginia Beach, coaching the Virginia Rush Soccer Club and earning more honors – recently, the Double-Goal Coach Award presented by TeamSnap for his positive impact on youth athletes. He is one of 50 national recipients.

In mid-April, he and three local boys – Sam Wiggins and Zach Meadows of Virginia Beach and Panayiotou’s son, Anthony – were in Italy as part of a USA team playing against European counterparts. The USA team won several games, and Anthony was named player of the tournament, Panayiotou said.

Soccer was a sport he learned early in life from a real pro – his dad, Georgios, who played semi-professionally on their heritage island, Cyprus.

“I was fortunate enough to play on a good team in college, where we won four equivalent state championships, three regional championships and a national championship between 1989 and 1993,” he said.

Since moving here three years ago, he’s watching the local soccer club grow and thrive. This spring season, the club is working with 2,500 developmental-age children, he said, in programs that include athletes with disabilities, recreational soccer for ages 4-12, advanced soccer for ages 9-19 and competitive/travel soccer for ages 10-19.

“The most important thing to me as a coach is to develop the person,” he said.

“Developing a better person in turn develops better players. We try and teach being good teammates and that to fail means the ‘first attempt is learning.’ We try to instill in our players to have a growth mindset.

“And, we get children outside playing.”

What is Rush Soccer? Virginia Rush is an affiliate of Rush Soccer, which started in Colorado and now consists of 57 North American and 24 international clubs, with about 50,000 players worldwide. Virginia Rush came on board about 13 years ago, and was a merger of several area clubs.

Do you see children learning real-life lessons? Yes, every single day. In the club, we have a child who has not been able to play due to a rare disease, so the children of the club made a video and a banner, signing it to help raise Daniel’s spirits. The children of our club are taught and try to live their lives according to the club’s 11 core values — we are continually helping the players to think “we, not me.”

What does coaching teach you? It teaches me that children have not really changed; it has taught me that at times we expect less from children when we should expect more — children are brilliant and resilient. Working with children has truly taught me it is not about me, it’s all about the children.

What makes a good soccer player? A player who does the simple things consistently well, has a great attitude, works to be a good teammate and plays with passion and tenacity.

Your challenges? Being patient as we try to change things and grow better. Building relationships where parents trust us to do what is best for their children in a soccer sense and explaining that winning becomes important at 16 and is not as important as keeping children engaged and having fun. The drop-out rate of youngsters in all sports is a major challenge and concern.

Your favorite famous soccer player? Leo Messi – he is exciting to watch, and I watch soccer every Saturday and Sunday on NBC Sports.