Volume 17 • Issue 26 | Nov. 19 - 25, 2004

Where his heart is

Battery Park resident and former soccer pro passing on life lessons to downtown kids

By Angela Benfield

Chances are, that if you have a child enrolled in the Downtown Soccer League this fall, you’ve seen him around the field. Chances also are, that whether he’s coaching for your child’s team or not, he’s influenced your player.

His name is Eddie Collins, a handsome 37-year-old Battery Park City resident who once played for the French professional soccer team, “Creteil.”

Something that distinguishes Collins from most Downtown Soccer coaches (aside from having played pro, that is) is that he doesn’t have any kids in the league. He doesn’t have kids at all, in fact. But that hasn’t stopped him from volunteering many hours a week to the cause. His role as omnipresent soccer coach happened after he decided to make a change.

“You get caught in the New York lifestyle where you’re just working, and you get away from your roots,” said Collins, who lives with his wife Ally and dog Bronte in the north end of Battery Park, across the street from the fields. Collins said he had gotten away from the sport that meant so much to him growing up and resolved to change that.

That resolution came at just the right time, as parents who heard through the grapevine about his soccer experience, asked him to help with their children’s teams.

“When I went to Eddie to ask for help with my team, he didn’t hesitate one minute,” said Claudia Deckker, manager of Motherwell, one of four teams Collins helps coach. “He has really made the kids learn and advance in their soccer practice. We’ve been very lucky to have him,” she said.

The most important thing to Collins is improving kids’ confidence and teaching how they can be better not only at soccer, but at life.

“I want them to progress as a group,” said Collins. “I have a special place in my heart for those that are struggling and feel they’re not good enough.” Sometimes that means having the most competent players sit out to give others a turn. “Everybody gets a go,” he said.

A key reason Collins is interested in helping kids develop, is that he didn’t have much help in this area himself. He grew up in Australia and at age 5, he and his fraternal twin brother were sent to live in an orphanage. After being abandoned by her husband, their mother could not cope with the stress of raising the boys on her own. Collins and his brother lived in eight different orphanages; twelve foster homes, and attended sixteen schools. His childhood files are as thick as the New York City phonebook.

“I was bouncing around to so many schools, and I was never really settled,” said Collins. He feels it was soccer that saved him and pushed him to become a good at something in his turbulent life.

“I used my sport as way to shelter myself from the storm that was around me. I was happy and at a place where nobody could touch me,” said Collins. “When I had that ball, nothing else mattered.”

He became so good at it that he started playing semi-professional soccer (the equivalent of college football) in his homeland at the age of 16. While competing at an international tournament in Sydney, a coach of Creteil, the French professional team, spotted him. Impressed, he asked Collins to join them in Paris.

“It was the opportunity I had always dreamed of,” said Collins.

Through it all he learned that sports are not about winning, he said. And it’s not just about the cliché of how you play the game either.

“Coaching is really about seeing them become good at something when they didn’t think they could be,” It’s about learning to excel at something even when the odds are stacked against you, he said.

“He’s tough with the kids about working the best they can, but he’s not hard on them about losing,” said Caroline Kimmel, mother of 8-year-old Duncan and 11-year-old Owen who play on two of the teams he coaches. “He wants them to do their best, and the kids like that,” she said.

While playing in France, the 6’1” Collins also did some modeling. It was during some of those shoots that he became interested in photography, and decided to leave soccer to pursue it as a career. Since then, he has photographed for Issey Miyake, Ann Taylor, and Fila to name a few.

Collins said that sometimes parents misunderstand his strategies – such as when he asks competent players to sit on the sidelines, to give others a chance to play. He also said that because many parents did not grow up playing soccer, they are unfamiliar with the rules.

“They tend to get upset about things that are legal in soccer,” said Collins.

Nevertheless, he finds that most parents in the Downtown Soccer League are very supportive of their children.

“They really do encourage them,” he said.

Whether the kids go on to become soccer players later in life or not, Collins feels that soccer is a good teaching aid that could help young players become great in whatever they chose to do, and hopefully, to become great individuals. That’s where his heart is.

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