Passion for the game and helping kids achieve their goals are what kept one soccer coach around for 34 years.
Leon Louis-Jeune, 66, started playing soccer when he was a kid in the Bahamas. He said his parents could not afford to give him and his friends a soccer ball to play with, so they would play with oranges.
His passion for the game came with him to the United States in 1978. He played for his high school team and started coaching in 1993.
“I decided to coach because I love the game, I feel like I can give something to the community,” Jeune said.
Ten years ago, Jeune started coaching in this area, first in Skyway, then in the Renton Highlands. The last team he coached before recently retiring was the Greater Renton Tukwila Youth Soccer Association, or Tukwila-Skyway Soccer Club (TUSK).
Jeune isn’t like most other coaches though. He takes soccer players that other coaches may not want.
Once when he was coaching for a select team, at tryouts around 40 to 50 kids came and all the other coaches were looking for the good players and sending the other players away, which Jeune said broke his heart.
He took the kids under his wing and made sure they had a place to play.
“I have them touch the ball, kick the ball around, which makes them feel good, and that makes me feel good,” he said. “My favorite aspect of the game is to make sure everyone plays on team; doesn’t matter if you’re good or bad, no matter what everybody plays.”
Jeune and his wife would also buy uniforms, cleats and would even sometimes pay for children to play, if the they could not afford it.
He said no matter what, he never turns a kid down. Good, bad, broke or troubled, Jeune helps them learn how to play soccer.
“I get kids who are in trouble and bring them to the soccer team and turn them around,” he said. “It gives me lots of comfort, it makes me feel so good. It makes me feel like I’m doing something.”
Win or lose, that didn’t matter to Jeune. As long as his team was having fun and getting the knowledge of the game down, he said he was happy.
He respects his players and expects them to respect him. He said he will never bench someone just because they aren’t as good as one of the other players.
“I don’t like to put kids on the bench because we are losing the game,” Juene said. “I treat all my players the same and fairly.”
He said sometimes it is hard for parents of the players to understand this.
“(The) hardest thing is to make the parents understand I don’t coach to win, I coach to teach,” Jeune said. “(Some) parents don’t understand what the goal is, (they) don’t like the team to be losing.”
In his last season coaching TUSK, his team went undefeated.
“To go out with an undefeated season with that group of kids, it wasn’t easy,” Jeune said.
He said even though it could be a struggle sometimes, he always had confidence in them and never gave up on them.
All this confidence and hard work paid off at the end of the season when he and his team won the state cup.
Jeune enjoyed watching his team play, but it was stressful because the game was tied until the very last few seconds of the game.
“The last part of the game was awesome, I still can’t sleep. I was so excited I ran to the field and I almost got thrown out of the game though because they still had two or three seconds left in the game. I just couldn’t believe it,” Jeune said. “To win the state cup, that’s a big deal. That’s a big deal for the kids.”
After such a big game, and ending on a high note, Jeune is retiring from coaching and his current job, because he and his wife want to be closer to their kids and grandkids who live in New York.
“I believe I’m done with it, but we’ll see,” he said.
His grandkids are around 3 and 5 years old he said, so when they get older he said he might want to teach them the game, like he did for his kids when they were growing up.
No matter where he goes, Jeune said he always finds someone he knows.
He said he and his family went on a trip to Hawaii in the 90s for vacation and found a player he had coached when the player was much younger.
“Suddenly this guy in a Navy uniform starts yelling ‘coach Leon, coach Leon!’ And I thought ‘Who is what?’ And then he ran and came and hugged me. It was one of my soccer players,” Jeune said.
Although he said he sees someone everywhere he goes, it’s going to be hard for him not to coach anymore.
“I think I’m going to miss not being there to teach the game and see the players,” Jeune said.
Jeune said anyone can play soccer, you just have to put your all into it and never give up.
‘Soccer is a universal game, no matter what country you’re from, he said. “I keep telling them it’s what you put in the game, you get out of it.”