West Sound Soccer provides club sport for girls

By age 14, girls drop out of sports at twice the rate of boys due to lack of access, positive role models, safety, quality of experience and social stigma.

The West Sound Soccer Academy is looking to break those barriers by becoming the first women-led, girls-only soccer program in Kitsap County.

Currently, the county has a few soccer clubs with boys and girls teams but none that only promote girls soccer.

“We want girls to keep playing soccer and not just to participate, but to thrive in their lives,” coach Rachel Samuelian said. “When girls see themselves and strong female athletic role models represented in the coaching staff and leadership, they are more likely to keep playing soccer and to reap the benefits that come with it.”

West Sound Soccer Academy is based on Bainbridge Island and will field teams for girls born in 2009-2016 through the Junior and High School Academy. In addition, the program provides training, educational opportunities and mentorship to their women coaches.

West Sound Soccer had its first founders meeting in November. The five co-founders include Katie and Mark Drovdahl, Lexi Crowell, Amy Smith and Samuelian. “We wanted to create the academy because we wanted a soccer experience that was built specifically to center the experience and needs of girl soccer players and women coaches,” Samuelian said.

When the co-founders left the first meeting, they were confident they are “uniquely positioned to honor, celebrate and champion girls in their development, on and off the field,” Samuelian said.

The academy stands out from other programs for a handful of reasons, including the focus on a holistic approach to develop girls and women coaches. Their approach has started with two weekly practices at ̌xalilc (Halilts) Elementary and The Island School to draw players from BI, Poulsbo and Suquamish. “We did this intentionally because the Halilts location has a really large, covered – but outdoor – wall space,” Samuelian said. “We were at The Island School once per week because the program was run in the winter so it was nice to have an indoor space once a week to keep us warm.”

In addition, West Sound Soccer Academy partnered with Allison Spiceland, a licensed mental health counselor, to deliver a mindfulness curriculum and Bainbridge Yoga House to offer players classes two Sundays a month to develop the mind and body. “With this kind of depth in our co-founders, board of directors, sponsors and additional advisors, we’re able to create the kind of experience many of us wished for as younger athletes, but didn’t have,” Samuelian said.

Lastly, Samuelian and her co-founders have built a community “supporting each other and being connected to each other as we all grow. We’ve had several really successful community events already and have more on the calendar and in the works that we’re excited about,” she said.

Recently, 46 players were involved in on-field experiences at the Seattle Reign season opener, including holding the hands of the 22 starting professional players and being ball-kids during the game.

“It was such a big moment for all of our young players and board of directors,” Sameulian said. “For a lot of the younger girls, they’d never seen a professional women’s soccer match before, and they left dreaming of becoming professional soccer players themselves.”

Although West Sound Soccer Academy has yet to play a match, they are excited for summer tournaments and fall competitive leagues. They have been accepted by the US Club Soccer and Washington Premier League while awaiting acceptance into the Northwest Sound Youth Soccer Association.

“We have been lucky that our mission is attracting a lot of incredible people, or as we like to say, unicorns, to the organization,” Samuelian said.