Jimmy Ball did not plan on becoming a soccer coach.
The son of the English football legend Alan Ball Jr., a member of the 1966 national team that won the World Cup on home soil, Jimmy Ball was born into the game. He spent his youth around England’s most prized sons from that World Cup winning side, and took naturally to the game as a player.
But when his own playing career finished after injuries, he was unsure where to turn.
“I kind of accidentally fell into coaching,” he said. “Once I started, I loved it.”
Ball was rehabilitating from an injury with a doctor in British Columbia when he stumbled upon a local youth game one afternoon. After taking in the standard, he noticed one youngster seemed to have far superior skill, and approached his parents about their son’s plans in the game and the possibility of training overseas.
Ball’s own club at Manchester City said to work with the young man while finishing his rehab assignment, and bring him for a tryout in England when he returned.
“Manchester City ended up signing Terry Dunfield to a contract,” Ball recalled, noting he has also since played in Major League Soccer and Canada’s Senior National team. “That’s how I started coaching.”
When Ball took over as coaching director for Issaquah Soccer Club five years ago, he knew he wanted to create a program that offered kids in the area a place to play every level from recreational to the same professional development that gave him his start in the coaching ranks.
This year, with the addition of their Gunners Premier Development League team and with Ball at the helm as head coach, the club has fulfilled that mission.
“I think it’s fantastic for this area to have those two teams,” Ball said, also including the Women’s Professional Soccer League team fielded by the Gunners and now a reserve squad for the Seattle Reign FC. The Gunners PDL squad was previously known as the North Sound SeaWolves, before coming under the ISC umbrella this year and taking on the Gunners moniker.
The addition of the professional development teams give the highest level youth players in Issaquah and Sammamish the chance to take a route similar to Sounders FC and United States Men’s National Team member DeAndre Yedlin, a Federal Way native and club player at Crossfire Premier.
But for Ball, the most important thing is translating the passion for the game from his own childhood to the next generation of Issaquah and Sammamish’s sporting youth.
“I draw upon my experiences, upon my father’s words, all the time,” he said. “I hear myself saying them to kids and have a little smile to myself and I’m sure he does too, wherever he is.”
Ball has seen the progression of soccer’s popularity on the Eastside, and the evolution of the area’s soccer parents and fans, as well.
He said he has placed an intense focus on process over results, building a brand of quality soccer and letting the individual accolades and successes follow.
“When I first came here, one of the biggest things I tried to do is change the mentality of what good soccer looks like, and what we’re trying to achieve with these kids,” he said. “I think the generation of soccer parents are starting to become a lot more educated on what good soccer looks like. They are more understanding that winning is part of development.”
The plan with the Gunners is to give top-level players from around the area a local path to the pros. The team’s current roster includes a host of University of Washington and Seattle University players, and Ball said the goal is to soon have an even deeper pool to select from.
The club’s U15 girls team has trained with the WPSL squad, something Ball said provided a firsthand look at what the future could hold for top-level players.
“We want them to get that hunger and desire,” he said. “They can get a taste of it and hopefully get enthused by it.”