SUNSET PARK — Four friends in Sunset Park, one the son of a former pro soccer player, are preparing to launch a soccer-training co-op this spring.
The co-op, called Kickin' It, will offer private, group and full-team training, with sessions led by its four founders: Pablo Alvaredo and Gary Vergara, both 17, Jonathan Torres, 18, and Karen Campos, 22.
"We were thinking it would help the community, help the kids. We want to take them off the street, away from computers, teach them something," said Campos, who goes by the nickname "KC."
"We get to be our own bosses and our own employees, too."
KC, the oldest of the group, was also its first ringleader. A garden specialist at the Center for Family Life, part of the nonprofit SCO Family Services, which has programs across Sunset Park, she learned last year that the center's co-op development program would be opening to minors.
"I told [the others] about it, and they said, 'Yeah, let's do it,'" KC recounted.
KC, Alvaredo, Vergara and Torres met once a week for seven weeks, learning business strategy, developing a plan, and crafting a logo and tagline: "To respect, to unite, and strike."
"They went through very strategic branding sessions with an expert," said Vanessa Bransburg, the Center for Family Life's director of co-op development. "As young people, kids can look up to them and relate, and it's an income generator in the city."
All four founders played competitive soccer growing up — KC as a goalie, Torres as a midfielder, and Vergara and Alvaredo as defenders.
"Everything I learned, he taught me," Alvaredo said, pointing to his father, Pablo Sr., a former defender for Futbol Mexicano.
"I've been playing for 32 years," Pablo Sr. said, pulling a folded, yellowed scrap of paper from his wallet — his first ID card as a professional soccer player, from the 1988-'89 season.
Now a server at an Italian restaurant in Midtown, Pablo Sr. plays in a recreational adult league with his son on Friday nights ("He's better," Pablo Sr. said. "I'm old, I can't run anymore."), and runs a recreational soccer league Saturday mornings. Founded by Pablo Sr. just five years ago, the league boasts 30 teams with players from Sunset Park, Bay Ridge and Park Slope.
"On weekends, kids didn't have anything to do. I want to see the kids run around and play friendly — it's like a family," Pablo Sr. said. He's taking the experience from starting the league and coaching teams and passing it onto Pablo Jr. and his son's co-op co-founders, he said.
Each member of the group is taking a slightly different, yet complementary approach to training, shaded by his or her own experience playing youth soccer.
Vergara, for example, once a "shy, quiet kid" who sometimes struggled to cope with the game's competitive pressure, aims to "help these kids get out of their shells" and "teach kids there's no need for all this violent competition. Just have fun."
Torres, by contrast, said he only became a skilled soccer player once classmates helped him develop confidence. "Friends helped me get better with respect," he said.
Vergara, Torres and Alvaredo, all seniors at Fort Hamilton High School, plan to attend college next year. Campos works full-time at CFL. All four will run the co-op between classes or work.
"It gives us a chance to make a difference in the community," KC said, "and we get to do what we love."