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15 Minutes With: Alvaro Garcia-Velez


July 2018

Milwaukee Kickers Soccer Club was born in the late 1960s with four youth teams, one adult team and a total of 78 players. Since then, the organization has grown to more than 8,500 members between ages 3 and 18 representing 15 regions in southeastern Wisconsin. It is now the largest club in the state. Executive Director Alvaro Garcia-Velez talks with MKE Lifestyle about the organization, his inspiration and more.

Tell us about the origins of Milwaukee Kickers?

In the late 1960s, organized soccer was virtually unknown in most areas of the country. However, the soccer phenomenon swept the Milwaukee area in 1968 when the Milwaukee Kickers Soccer Club (MKSC) began formal operations. MKSCís 12 founders had a vision: attract, develop and retain soccer players of all ages and abilities without regard to gender, race, national origin, religion or socioeconomic status. To do this, MKSC created a cost-effective and financially stable organization with quality coaches, referees and administrators. While American youth soccer did exist before 1968 through ethnic clubs, the sport was not widely accepted.

How did you become involved?

I have always been a soccer player, albeit, average at best. I began coaching around 20 years ago and stuck with it. Iíve coached a variety of ages and levels over the years. I have also been able to coach all four of my kids at some point in time. My wife also coached for a number of years as well. 11 years ago, I was approached by a member of the MKSC board asking if I would be interested in applying for the executive director position. Itís been a great fit and I celebrated 10 years as ED in February 2018.

How does it work to help the community?

For many itís the first opportunity they have to play an organized sport, in many cases with friends. Itís our goal and that of many youth organizations, Iím sure, that these are the first steps to teaching kids valuable lessons like teamwork, leadership and confidence that help build character that ultimately turn them into future leaders in their communities.

What appeals to you about the mission?

Iím driven to ensure that we provide programming to anyone who wants to play soccer or be involved in the sport. That was the original mission of our founders and (I) feel weíve done our best to adhere to that. I am also very vested in our outreach programs. I think itís very important that we continue to provide soccer and positive outlets to kids who otherwise would not have them.

What inspires you?

Iím inspired by the work of others, like my wife who has dedicated her entire career to the service of others. Sheís a public school principal that deals with societyís good and bad and truly cares for her kids and parents and does everything she can to ensure their success. Iím inspired by the hard work of our clubís outreach staff, watching them develop and grow programs that promote soccer and healthy lifestyles in the central city.  Our own park staff, working long hours making sure our tournaments and events are enjoyable for all that attend. I get inspired by the simple random acts of kindness that you see every day, peopleís kindness and willingness to help strangers. I love watching our U6-U7-U8 rec kids play soccer on Saturday mornings during the season. Watching them play for the sheer joy of it, no pressure, no ďcollege scholarshipsĒ on the line, just having fun.

Whatís an important lesson youíve learned through Milwaukee Kickers?

Every day is a learning experience for me. I learn from our staff, parents, volunteers and coaches. Iíve learned that parents want whatís best for their kids; unfortunately they donít always articulate it in the most productive fashion and itís our job to help them frame exactly what they want. Iíve also learned, as (author) Ian Maclaren said: ďBe kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.Ē I think itís important that we remember everyone has a story, some good, some bad. And those of us that work with the public need to remember that there are many things that can make your day good or bad. Remember to give people the benefit of the doubt; donít judge too quickly.

My FIVE Favorite Things!

1  Family. Iíve been married for 26 years to my wife, Mary. I have four kids: Margot, Sofi, Andy and Cecilia. We also have a Lab/shepherd mix named Oso.

2  I own a couple of bikes and love spending time taking long rides, and during warmer weather I try to ride to work as much as possible.

3  I enjoy all that Milwaukee has to offer, from the lakefront to festivals to farmers markets, getting outside as much as possible.

4  One of my guilty pleasures is the Grateful Dead. Iím a huge fan.

5  I enjoy reading. I usually have two books going at a time, one for pleasure and one for professional  development.


This story ran in the July 2018 issue of: