A Soccer Journey: from Naperville Youth Soccer to High School Player of the Year

Wednesday, July 20, 2022

Alex Barger, who recently was named Gatorade Illinois High School Boys Soccer Player of the Year, began his soccer journey in kindergarten. His first soccer experience was on a team in Naperville Park District's Naperville Youth Soccer (NYS) program, with his dad as assistant coach. Recalling that time, Alex said that what stands out in his mind is being with friends and having great coaches, including his father. Some of the friendships he made on that team have lasted through high school.

Alex Barger on the Naperville North High School boys' varsity soccer team

On July 14, the Park District Board of Commissioners recognized Alex's accomplishments at a board meeting. Afterwards, Alex and his parents graciously took time to talk with me outside on the patio at Fort Hill Activity Center to reflect on his soccer experience and what it has meant for him and their family.

Lisa, Alex and Bryan Barger following the Park Board recognition, July 14 at Fort Hill Activity Center

Exploring sports and other interests in grade school

Alex spent two years in the NYS soccer league. His father, Bryan, was assistant coach the first year then head coach the second year. Bryan resonated with the NYS purpose of teaching the fundamentals of soccer and emphasizing teamwork. He explained that it wasn't about winning, but really learning all aspects of the game.

"Every player was able to play each position and get an opportunity to try different roles at a young age," said Bryan. "Later, as other coaches (in Premiere and Club) helped to really develop the players' skillsets, the core soccer fundamentals and teamwork learned in NYS were critical and helped show the kids that winning, although fun, was not the key takeaway from the game."

Alex on the NYS team

After two years in NYS, Alex joined a team in the Park District's Premier Soccer League (NPSL), a program designed for teams seeking a competitive environment without the time or cost commitment of a travel league. Alex's mother, Lisa, commented that the Premier League, in which teams are comprised of players from different schools and neighborhoods, both expanded Alex's network of friends and also reunited him with some of his soccer friends from his earliest team in NYS.

Alex (on right) playing in the Naperville Premier Soccer League (NPSL)

During his elementary school years, as Alex continued soccer in NPSL, he also tried several other sports, took piano lessons, and explored other interests. He and his parents agreed that it was important for him to have the opportunity to try different activities during this time.

"You meet different people, have different experiences and even develop different muscle groups as you try various sports and activities," said Lisa.

Focusing in on Soccer

During his years at Jefferson Junior High, Alex was ready to narrow down his sports to soccer. He joined the Challengers soccer club, which is now Evolution Soccer, and still plays with this club winter, spring and summer, with high school soccer in the fall.

Alex is 4th from left, second row.

Alex with Evolution Soccer

"He was always driven to soccer," said Lisa. "He would ask, 'when's the next game?'" Alex explained that soccer fit his strengths and most importantly, he enjoyed being with his friends and playing a team sport, where you are always collaborating with your teammates.

Alex with Evolution Soccer in high school

Alex on the NNHS Huskies boys' soccer team

High School and Beyond

Going into his senior year at Naperville North High School, Alex Barger looks forward to another season of high school soccer with the NNHS Huskies. He has accepted a scholarship to Indiana University beginning in 2023 to play Division One soccer on the Hoosiers team, which has won 8 national championships. To see Alex in action on the Huskies team, view this video story by NCTV.

Benefits of Playing Soccer

Reflecting on Alex's experience growing up with soccer, Lisa and Bryan realized that many of Alex's friends and their family friends have a common denominator: Naperville Youth Soccer. The friendships formed in the early years on NYS and Premier soccer teams have continued through high school. And players who attended different junior high schools are reunited in high school, or see each other in club soccer.

As parents, Lisa and Bryan see that soccer is confidence-building. It releases kids' energy, as the game involves a lot of running. Being on a soccer team provides structure and teaches responsibility. Players learn that when a team player is missing, it affects everyone. And as a sport, soccer is affordable, especially when participating in Park District programs.

Park District Youth Athletics

Soccer remains the most popular sport in the Naperville Park District's youth athletics programs. Soccer programs now include the Pre-Kademy for kids ages 2 1/2 -3, Naperville Youth Soccer League for PreK through 6th grade, Naperville Premier Soccer League University for grade 1, Naperville Premier Soccer League for grades 2-8, and Naperville Indoor Soccer (both Premier for grades 2-6 and recreational for grades Pre-K -high school).

Kids can try a variety of sports at the Park District, including archery, badminton, baseball, basketball, cheer and pom, dodgeball, fencing, field hockey, flag football, flags, golf, gymnastics, ice skating, lacrosse, martial arts, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, UltimateĀ® Frisbee and volleyball. Learn more and in the seasonal Program Guide.