Anyone involved in East Haven soccer likely knows John Gildersleeve and how influential he's been in growing the popularity of the sport around town. John is currently the coaching coordinator of East Haven Youth Soccer, an organization he's been involved in since moving to town in 1990.
"I have lots of roles. I'm primarily a coach as I coach many different age groups," says John. "I'm also the coaching coordinator so one of my jobs is to find coaches and make sure they're all doing to same things that we want them to do."
John says that finding coaches is easy as several people volunteer. Others he knows from his years of experience and some are brought in the same way his coaching career began in 1986, when he was living in West Haven.
"I had just come from college and my niece was playing. She was five or six years old. She was playing and I was on the sideline and I started talking to one of the young kids who was playing goalkeeper and the coach saw me and asked if I wanted to help him," says John. "That's how I got into it, which is exactly the way I get a lot of coaches into it."
It's the coaching-by-committee strategy that John employs so he can interact with players from every age group.
"Now in East Haven, we're starting the kids at age two, so a lot of these kids are starting a lot earlier than I did," says John, who at age five began his soccer career, which is still going on today. "I try to teach them the main thing is the love of the game. That's the main thing we're trying to instill upon them so they enjoy the game itself so that they keep playing."
John had an immense impact on many soccer players over the years as he is known to do a lot for kids in terms of getting them exposed to greater competition and potential college and pro suitors.
"For all the kids in our program, I actually go out and find them other teams to play on so many of our kids play on Premier teams," says John. "Since I know a lot of coaches everywhere, I get the kids personal tryouts, I give them recommendations and, when it comes to finding colleges to play in, I try to help them."
One player he's helped since she began playing soccer is Mercy Baldino, who currently plays for the semi-pro team the CFC Passion. Baldino says that John could be a successful coach at any level he chooses.
"He was huge in my development. He helped me how to think the game technically and tactically. Never did he go away from the basics. He always kept those as a fundamental part of the game so that, as I developed, I was able to take those with me and I was always able to play higher because of that," says Baldino. "He could've gone on to be a high level coach because he's a really great coach, but he has always stayed with East Haven and helped them develop their soccer. Otherwise, I don't see how East Haven could have soccer at all if he was never involved."