GAME CHANGER WITH KRISTEN WALKER
BY DON LOWE | PHOTOS BY MARK STRICKLAND PHOTOS
Kristen Walker has accomplished many great things in her life. Born in Oklahoma, she soon moved to Joplin, Missouri where she played youth sports including soccer. Kristen has always relied on faith, family and friends to help guide her choices.
Kristen fell in love with the game of soccer at the age of seven and moved to Fayetteville as a teenager. She immediately noticed the lack of organized soccer programs in the area. Through a grassroots effort and the help of others, Kristen helped organize a youth soccer program in Prairie Grove after she moved there from Fayetteville with her husband and three children.
She is currently coaching the boys soccer team at Prairie Grove High School. Kristen gave us some insight recently on building the youth soccer program and soccer at the high school level in Prairie Grove.
How special has it been to be able to coach your children through the years?
Coaching all three of my kids through the years gave me the opportunity to spend more time with them doing something we all loved. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know their friends and build relationships with them and their parents. When I coached my daughter her senior year, I was able to do mental training with her and several other senior friends, who in turn, taught the team. Those are very special memories and bonding times. My sons were normal teenage boys not wanting to hug or hang out with their mom, but when it came to soccer, they respected me and loved having me as a coach. My 18-year-old son recently invited me to play on his co-ed rec team, which kind of surprised me but made me happy.
How has the community of Prairie Grove helped you with building the soccer program?
My husband grew up in Prairie Grove, but we had just moved to PG about a year before we started a recreational soccer club. A couple of families we met asked me about starting a soccer program in PG. That got the ball rolling. From there, so many people in the community who didn’t know much about soccer helped in various ways from being board members so we could have a club, to Athletic Director Mike Green and the school letting us use school grounds for practice and games, to people donating time and money for equipment, coaching, directing, administrating, encouraging, and so many other tasks to make it happen. Our AD, allowed us to begin an intramural team at the high school, and the following year he helped us add soccer as a sport for girls and boys at Prairie Grove High School.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in youth soccer over the last 20 years?
When I moved to Arkansas as a teenager almost 30 years ago, there was no opportunity for me to play soccer at any level. I had been playing in another state since I was very young. There also were no school soccer programs for boys or girls at the high school level. Soccer in Arkansas has grown and continues to grow. I am excited for the opportunity for girls and boys of all ages to have the opportunity to play. I think over the last 20 years, there has been a huge increase in girls playing after our U.S. Women’s Soccer Team’s success and media coverage. I think there is more TV coverage of the World Cup and worldwide soccer leagues and tournaments, so that the popularity of soccer is growing in the U.S. Another big change I have seen in youth soccer is coaching education and U.S. soccer embracing more international methods in training.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your coaching career?
Coaching has been an area in my life that has given me the opportunity to grow out of my comfort zone in so many ways. I have had to face a lot of fears, lies, doubts and pride. I have had to grow personally in using the mental training that I want my student athletes to learn. There are probably daily opportunities in the life of coaching to apply those in my life. So, it’s the constant need for reflection and humbling myself to be able to do those things so I can grow and be effective in these young men’s and women’s lives. So I guess my biggest challenge is myself. Recently I became the head coach for the boys, and as a woman, that was a challenge for me. But again, I think it was mostly just a challenge in my own mind that I had to process in order to embrace where I need to be at this moment and love and train these players.
Do you have a person or an athlete who has inspired you in your coaching career?
Joe Ehrmann, former NFL player and author of “InSideOut Coaching” has influenced and inspired me. His work educating coaches to be transformational coaches vs. transactional coaches has helped guide me in how to coach young people to become who they were created to be with respect for themselves and others. I’m currently following Luke Gromer’s “The Cutting Edge Coaching Podcast” which has been tremendously helpful in helping me navigate the daily challenges of coaching and mentoring our team.
What are some things you enjoy doing in your spare time?
I enjoy hanging out with my husband, and we like to spend time with our adult children when we can get together to eat, hang out and play games. I also enjoy my dogs, reading and working puzzles.
What is your advice to someone who may be thinking about becoming a coach?
I think it is important to always be growing as an individual. It is important to understand who you are, and the ways you need to continue growing, and find ways to grow those areas. I think it is equally valuable to know why you want to coach and continue to line up how you coach with that purpose.
How would you describe your coaching philosophy?
I think sports offer an environment where student-athletes may find a safe place to belong, where they are challenged physically, mentally, and emotionally to compete at their highest level as an individual and as a team, as well as grow in valuing themselves and others with respect. So, as a coach, I want to equip our players to compete with excellence and also apply the mental, physical and emotional lessons in their lives outside of sport.