L.A. Soccer Star Cobi Jones Shares His Insight on Family Values, Life and Youth Sports
By Karen Ronney

L.A. Soccer Star Shines on PBS Children’s Show

What happens when an American soccer star meets a family of animated Irish pigs? Well, Jakers! ‘tis an adventure with family values, life lessons and sports vignettes all wrapped up in an Emmy Award-winning television series on PBS KIDS. It’s also an opportunity to teach children and their parents how to get the best out of a youth sports experience and avoid the pitfalls of unrealistic expectations.

Los Angeles Galaxy soccer star Cobi Jones and a young Irish pig named Piggley join together to teach morals to young children in Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks. Thanks to Piggley’s mischievous ways, minor dilemmas often pop up to spark the Irish expression, “Jakers,” which means something akin to an American, “Oh Golly!” Jones wraps up each episode with a three-minute sports segment of “Jakers! Live and Learn,” where he shares educational anecdotes with children from diverse cultures.

“I can relate to Jakers! because I have faced a lot of the same issues,” says Jones, a member of the 1998 U.S. World Cup Team. “The show teaches kids about dealing with friends and getting all of the information before you pass judgment on someone. But it’s not just for children, it’s for their parents too.”

Jones was selected to host Jakers! by producer Mike Young, who is a veteran youth soccer coach from the West Valley Soccer League. Young watched Jones develop outstanding soccer skills in the ’80s while competing in San Fernando Valley recreational soccer programs. Through effort, persistence and determination, Jones’ skill propelled him to become an All American from UCLA, a U.S. National Team legend and a five-time Major League Soccer All-Star.

“Cobi has stood the test of time and he is a tremendous role model,” Young says. “We were impressed with his honesty and freshness. He is proud to stand out in a crowd because he is an individual.”

Jones admits people don’t know what to think about him based on first impressions. “I’ve got dreadlocks and I look different, but I’m just like everyone else,” he explains. “I work hard at my sport and I like to joke with my buddies. I am a big video game freak, and I love to read. I make it a point to try different things, and have new experiences.”

The soccer star is very comfortable with groups of kids and tells them it takes hard work to be a success at sports and school. During the filming of “Jakers! Live and Learn,” 9-year-old cast member Nicholas DeNuccio of Costa Mesa took Jones’ message to heart because filming the television show was difficult.

“We made a lot of mistakes and we had to do it over and over again,” says Nicholas, who plays soccer for the Advanced Player Participation program. “Cobi didn’t mind. He just smiled and made me want to try harder. Then he played soccer with me and taught me how to zigzag between other players.”

Jones often conveys the message to youngsters that being a professional athlete is a full-time commitment. In addition to regular team training, Jones has weight training, fitness sessions and personal practice time. He can’t eat everything he desires and he often goes to bed early to get enough sleep. 

Parents had the Right Values 

10 things to keep in mind when you're parenting a superstar!
The all-star athlete was born in
Detroit and raised in Southern California in the ’80s when American soccer was often perceived as strictly a European sport. At the time, many Americans believed the only sports worth playing were football, basketball or baseball.

 “Cobi was always kicking a ball around and he was determined to play soccer,” says Jones’ father, Dr. Freeman Jones, a research scientist. “I told him to pick up something else because soccer wasn’t a sport. He disagreed, and he was right.”  
Much of Jones’ success can be traced back to his parents, who gave him sound fundamental values and the proper perspective on sports. His father set Cobi on the right track with the idea that having a good education should be the top priority.

“I told Cobi to never give up on his dreams because it’s important to believe in yourself no matter what happens,” Dr. Jones says. “But I also told him to continue to educate himself throughout his life. He needs to think about what he will do at the end of his soccer career.”

Jones’ parents are proud of their son’s international success but they still believe children should play sports for pure enjoyment. If kids take sport to the high school, college or professional ranks, that’s a bonus.

“The best thing you can do is tell your children they are special and unique,” says his father. “They are so important. There is nothing they could and should compare themselves to, just strive hard and never give up.”

The other influence in Jones’ life is his mother, Mada Jones, a former high school teacher who believes it is important help a child gracefully handle winning and losing. She says one cannot be appreciated without the other. She also helps her son to maintain his priorities.

“Family always comes first,” says his mother, a Westlake Village resident. “Character is second and a child’s sport or passion is third. As a parent you have to be focused and supportive, but it’s important to remember to look around and see the joy in life. Raising kids to play sports is like tending to a flower garden. It takes a lot of love, a lot of sunshine, a lot of work and a lot of patience. Each child will bloom in his own time so keep a sense of beauty and balance in all things.”

The Darker Side of Sports

Balance in today’s cultural sports climate is difficult to attain. Despite many parents’ best intentions, youth sports can turn ugly because of the potential financial benefits of a college scholarship or a professional sports career. Some of the behaviors parents display includes pressuring youngsters, harassing officials, poor sportsmanship, expecting perfection and stressing winning at all costs. The element of child’s play has turned youth sports into a business opportunity for kids.

The trend in youth baseball has turned a summertime passion into a year-round venture. Athletes take very little time off before joining the next league, training session or travel team. For the past 35 years, Little League baseball coach Herb McNeely of Los Angeles has seen too many kids burn out before they reach high school. He says parents have difficulty distinguishing the difference between supporting a child’s interests and pushing them to perform.

“Make sure the passion for the sport is there,” McNeely says. “Doing something year-round can be overwhelming. Kids need to understand they don’t have to be superstars. It’s not necessary to hit a game-winning home run for a parent to be proud. Tell them to have fun and give it their best.”

The battle for all-star status in many sports is another trap into which parents often fall. Player selection for post-season tournament play can be a political game and many youngsters are victims of the process.

“The world comes to an end for some kids who get overlooked and it’s not their fault,” McNeely says. “Too much importance is placed on being an all-star and it’s not a valid measuring stick. Parents start playing the ‘blame game’ and emotions run high. If (children) are not selected for all-stars, encourage them to work harder for the next year.”

Dave Close, American Youth Soccer coaching coordinator of Los Angeles, strives to remind parents and coaches that the goal of sports is to make a positive difference in the life of a child. The idea is to develop fundamental skills, leadership opportunities and the concept of teamwork. Close has simple advice for sports parents. “I coach, kids play, you cheer,” he says. “Just sit back and enjoy the game.”

Head tennis professional Ron Hightower from Porter Valley Country Club says he wishes sports parents would be required to go to a “parent school” to learn that kids really play for fun rather than for rankings. “Kids by nature do not care if they win or lose,” he says. “Parents teach them all about that and it’s the wrong message. The truth is you are a winner if you compete, rather than competing to win.”

Good sports parents will continue to emphasize the element of fun in all phases of fundamental skill development. However, at some point a dedicated competitive athlete will get very serious about a sports commitment. Then, the parental role shifts to encouragement, support and guidance.

Cobi Jones advises parents to learn to let go and gradually allow an athlete to make key decisions. “My parents gave me the opportunity to learn my own lessons. They did not try to control me and direct every aspect of my life. I was given the strength to believe in myself, and the freedom to become a good adult.”  



• The Little Book of Coaching Motivating People to Be Winners, by Ken Blanchard and Don Shula, HarperBusiness, New York, 2001.

• Positive Coaching: Build Character and Self-Esteem Through Sports, by Jim Thompson, Warde Publishers, Inc., 1995.

• Sports Medicine For Parents & Coaches, by Daniel J. Boyle MD., Georgetown University Press, Washington D.C., 1999.

• It’s Just a Game! Youth, Sports and Self-Esteem: A Guide For Parents, by Dr. Darrell Burnett, Authors Choice Press, Nebraska, 2001.


• The Amateur Athletic Foundation of Los Angeles, 323-730-4600; Offers information on amateur youth sports programs in L.A.

• Positive Coaching Alliance, 866-723-0024; or . Provides workshops for parents, coaches and leaders about placing good sportsmanship before winning.

For more on kids and sports, visit ur
Sports Resource Center for Parents
you'll find:

  • Is Sportsmanship Dead? -- Parents' behavior on the sidelines
  • What Makes a Great Coach?
  • Playing It Safe -- Keeping your young athlete injury-free

  • Karen Ronney is a professional coaching consultant, tennis instructor and sportswriter. She is also the mother of three young athletes, and she has put this parenting advice into action.

    Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks, designed for ages
    3 to 6, teaches the value of respecting diverse cultures through adventures set in rural 1950s Ireland. Enjoy comic legend Mel Brooks as the voice of Wiley the Sheep. In L.A., Jakers airs on KCET at 8am Sundays and on KOCE at 6am Saturdays.