Coach Spotlight: JJ Zekpa
A lot of people always ask me what my name “JJ” stands for. JJ stands for Jean-Jacques. I was born and raised in Togo, West Africa. I have 2 sisters, one older and younger, making me the middle child. I also enjoy being an uncle to my four-year old niece, Zada, my nephew, Zane, who is almost 5 months old now. Growing up in Togo, I played a lot of soccer. I played mainly small-sided games in the streets with neighborhood friends. I was out of the house playing every chance that I got, whether it was with cleats, tennis shoes, or even barefoot. We all just had this love for the game from such a young age. My family and I moved to the states when I was 11. Before moving to the states I didn’t speak English. I spoke French and Mina which is an African dialect. Adapting to a new culture and not really knowing anybody or how to speak decent English was tough for the first few years in the states. We lived in Chicago for one year before moving to Omaha. I attended and graduated from Millard South High where I was a 3-year varsity soccer player and all state player my senior year. I went on to play soccer at the University of Nebraska, Omaha (UNO) in 2011 when the program started, and graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in business management. I now work at Wells Fargo, coach in the Sporting Omaha FC Academy program, and run individual and group training sessions with soccer players. Side note: If anybody wants to polish their game… don’t hesitate to reach out! I also do a lot of volunteering community work with the Pace League and Abide, is an inner city, non-profit organization with a dream, that one day, Omaha, Nebraska would have no inner city
How I got into coaching:
In June of 2017 while playing soccer, I ruptured my right Achilles, and couldn’t put any weight on my right foot. After determining I had a 75-80% tear, surgery wasn’t required, but I had to wear a boot and do physical therapy. I never realized how heavy those walking boots where until I was in one. In January 2018, six months into my recovery where I was 85-90 % healed, I ruptured my left Achilles during a game. After my 2nd rupture, I had to start my recovery all over again which was dreadful. It was during this time where, my sisters, friends, co workers would reinforce their message of telling me for years that maybe coaching was my calling and that I should stop playing. Coaching was something I always wanted to do, but I didn’t really know where to start. So, mid-2018 after recovering, I volunteer coached here and there, worked with family friends’ kids and some high school players. I focused on individual training and I started with three players. From there it grew to 10+ players in less than a year. I knew coaching was really going to be a part of my future.
In January of 2019, I met Ryan Kruse who was my instructor for one of my coaching courses. A few months later, I was training at OSC where I ran into James Dean. I then jokingly asked him when he was going to put me on to team coaching. He brought me over to me to Ryan, who remembered me right away from the coaching course. Ryan and I spoke the next day, and he explained how SOFC ran their program and brief details about the expectations. Over the summer Ryan would invite me out to watch his training sessions and shadow him until his team went to regionals. During the upcoming season Ryan and James gave me an opportunity to coach in the academy for the upcoming 19-20 season and here I am.
Why Do I Coach:
I coach because I love the game; I’m passionate about it even after two Achilles ruptures lol. I love the growth it provides in the lives of the players I come across and, in my life, as well. Coaching allows me to share my soccer experience with young players. Spending hours working with a player to master their craft and overcoming challenges and knowing that I helped them improve in some way, brings me joy. Having an impact on the players and being a role model for so many kids is a blessing and a lifetime chance. I truly just love being around the game, helping players develop their skills and seeing them grow into better individuals.
I have quite a few roles models, but my parents are at top of the list. They left everything behind in Togo to move our family to the United States when they could have easily just sent us kids here by ourselves. The older I’ve gotten the more I have appreciated what my parents have done for us and how much they sacrifice. Another role model is one of my cousins who recently graduated from medical school. He has put in so much work to get to where his now. Seeing him overcome all his failures encourages me to keep striving. As far as other role models, it is anybody that I can learn from. Someone who is striving to be better everyday and working toward his or her goals regardless of their failures is a role model for me. Words can warn but only life can teach.