soccer-fieldCoach Rafael has had a sense of service for as long as he can remember.

Growing up in Phoenix, Arizona, Rafael Padilla was most interested by artistic and creative pursuits. He was an avid writer and performed in a variety of theatre performances. Though he grew up in what he referred to as a “tough neighborhood,” he had positive creative outlets and strong adult role models that didn’t allow him to stray from his goals.

One of his goals, for as long as he could remember, was to join the United States military. Not only did he want to serve, he was adamant about serving on the front lines as an Army Ranger, the elite unit of the Army.

When he was 17, before he had even graduated high school, Rafael signed up for the Delayed Enlistment Program with the Army, setting him on the path to fulfill his internal call to service as soon as he graduated from high school. After clearing an initial medical hurdle that nearly derailed his plans, Rafael was sent to Fort Benning in Georgia to begin months of grueling training to become a U.S. Army Ranger.

After undergoing the physically challenging and mentally exhaustive training, Rafael was among about 30 individuals out of a class of 170 to successfully complete the program. He was deployed overseas four times during his time in the Army, once to Iraq and three times to Afghanistan. Rafael recounted his deployments, “it was pretty intense. We would go out every other night and they were very high impact missions, going out in the middle of the night to capture Taliban or Al Qaeda commanders.”  

After four and a half years, Rafael left the Army knowing that he had plans outside of the battlefield. Though he left the Army, Rafael felt like he never fully transitioned from the mindset that he had while enlisted. This is because before enlisting and throughout his years in the military, Rafael has had an undeniable dedication to service. While the army gave him a mission, now that he was once again a civilian he needed to find a new mission. “I realized getting out of the military, I had cultivated this mentality where I don’t want to do anything unless it has some sort of goals or purpose,” he said.

In search of this purpose, he briefly returned to Arizona, attending a local community college before moving to Los Angeles to further pursue his education and pinpoint his next professional challenge. He attended Santa Monica College before earning his degree, in creative writing, from Cal State Northridge. Shortly before graduating he learned about the Up2Us Sports Operation Coach program and recognized how strong a fit it was. “I immediately clicked with what the mission is for Operation Coach,” he said. “I realized that if I have a job or if I am going to be doing anything, I really want to do something where I am doing some sort of good and I am impacting something that makes me feel better and is helping out society.”

He found what he was looking for in Operation Coach and in August 2016, began coaching at Brotherhood Crusade, a Los Angeles based non-profit organization that attempts to improve the quality of life of individuals through a range of programs that include focuses on education, mentorship, and sports.

As a soccer coach, Rafael has tapped into his vast leadership knowledge and experience. While he was still in the army, Rafael and his unit were put through seven months of training between deployments. In addition to the physical and mental rigor of training, Rafael underwent intense leadership training that helped him take abstract ideas about leadership and turn them into the practical skills and confidence to lead. He has now supplemented this unique and invaluable leadership experience with the Up2Us Sports Coach Training. This training provides 35 hours of intensive training in positive youth development and trauma-sensitive tactics that coaches can use to develop trust-based relationships with their youth. In describing the training, Rafael spoke about the relationships he made and how the strategies he learned have helped him as a coach, “it equipped me with a wider set of tools to deal with kids if they are upset or angry.”

With so many tools at his disposal, Rafael works passionately everyday to improve the lives of the kids he works with and be the positive role model that was so important to his growth. “I expect myself to give the kids the hand that they need to succeed, as opposed to putting unnecessary pressure on people I go in there and try to be one among them, somebody they can lean on who will push them forward,” he said.

Rafael will continue to serve as a coach, mentor, and role model with Up2Us Sports through August 2017. All the while gaining experience working with kids as he prepares for his next challenge – becoming a teacher.