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Spiritual Soccer

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: Now, a profile of a devout man of apparently boundless energy who teaches children how to play soccer — and a lot more. He is Spencer Rockman, director of the Rovers International Soccer Camp in New Jersey. The story was produced by Dena Seidel, an independent filmmaker who also teaches at Rutgers University. Coach Rockman tells his story.

Coach SPENCER ROCKMAN (Rovers International Soccer Camp, New Jersey): I’m Spencer Rockman of Edison, New Jersey.

I am a soccer coach. I am also an observant Jew. It was God’s plan for me to be a soccer coach.

Soccer becomes a vehicle for all the values that we stand for in all other aspects of our life.

(speaking to kids): What are the attributes from above? Do we have giving?

“Our mission is unity through soccer”

CHILDREN (responding): Yes.

Coach ROCKMAN: Do we have a lot of kindness?

CHILDREN (responding): Yes.

Coach ROCKMAN: So if that is given to us, therefore do you think we should do the same thing and give to one another and be kind?

CHILDREN (responding): Yes.

Coach ROCKMAN (speaking to kids): If we take those values and we incorporate them not only into our soccer, but into everything that we do . . .

I have directed Rovers International Soccer Camps for more than 30 years, and I’ve worked with more than 10,000 children, youth, and adults.

The Rovers philosophy transcends all races and all cultures. Our mission is “unity through soccer.” And we live in one of the most diverse areas of the country. Every segment of society is here in Central Jersey, and when we do our camps in this area, you just see the unity of mankind.

When I look at the children, I see that spark of divinity in each one. Everyone is made in God’s image, which means we are all united by one soul. That is what I keep trying to do, to bring people together through the game of soccer.

Coach ROCKMAN (speaking to kids): We all woke up in the beautiful, beautiful world which is God’s garden. If we put our trash on the ground, what is that saying?

ARIANNA: If you don’t pick up after yourself and throw everything away, you don’t respect the land.

Coach ROCKMAN: You don’t respect the land. Beautiful. Yes, Arianna.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: We’re not respecting God.

Coach ROCKMAN: We don’t respect God. Wow.

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER #1: He teaches great values. Having a child come to camp for fun and get that as a bonus is amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED MOTHER #2: I think it’s very important that a kid knows values when learning a game, because I think it is very important when you learn a sport. My daughter is nine years old, and this is the first year she is attending the camp, but she loves it a lot. Spencer makes the kids feel very special and very important.

Coach Spencer Rockman

Mr. ROCKMAN (speaking to kids): Did anyone have breakfast this morning? If you had breakfast, raise your hand. Many of our peers had a rough time finding breakfast. Each of your coaches will have one of the boxes for our brothers and sisters who don’t get their breakfast or lunch or dinner that easily.

UNIDENTIFIED FATHER: While they’re learning about sports they are also learning about growing as people, and Spencer brings the enthusiasm of soccer into life in general — charity, making them feel empowered to help out in those situations.

Coach ROCKMAN: Judaism is my path. Other people have their own paths to God. I know I’ve been selected for a mission, and my existential angst is based on my feeling and knowledge and inability to see all of our oneness as it sources with our creator. I pray three times a day: “Lord, may the health, wealth, and strength you have provided me serve as a platform in order to fulfill the mission that you have assigned me.”

Audrey Rockman

AUDREY ROCKMAN: My name is Audrey Rockman, and my husband and I love working with children. Since our own daughter was little, we’ve had 16 foster children come and live with us. It’s very sad to think of a child having to ask for a family. Most of the foster children come from DYFS, the New Jersey Department of Youth and Family Services.

Coach ROCKMAN: A little boy by the name of Joseph, we called him Yosef, came to us at 11:00 at night. He came down in the morning with a soccer shirt.

Ms. ROCKMAN: He’s holding this shirt and saying, “Look Mom, look what I found in my drawer.”

Coach ROCKMAN: He had bonded that quickly, and when he left, we all cried.

Ms. ROCKMAN: We’ve had a few children that we thought might have been available for adoption but it just hasn’t worked. But we remain open to the possibility.

Coach ROCKMAN: In July of 2007, we had the blessing of bringing the Rovers philosophy to Israel. We felt called by God to work with the underserved populations, particularly our Ethiopian brothers and sisters. Whether it made sense or it didn’t make sense, the Lord sent me there to do these clinics. And then, people are people, kids are kids. But you realize there are societal factors. That’s something that’s not always in our control.

How can we improve our program or Web site?

CHILDREN (holding hands and chanting): Two, four, six, eight, who do we appreciate? Rovers, Rovers, yeah Rovers!

Coach ROCKMAN: Our basic essence is one of unity. There is no physical separation for anyone. It doesn’t matter what religion you are. We’re really from one source. We really are unified souls. But it gets fragmented in our daily lives because everybody’s, like, fighting for their little piece of this, their little piece of that. What has to happen is that we develop that cooperation amongst our fellow beings so that we truly become who we really are — unified souls. I’m humbled and hope that I can be worthy of the mission that God has given me.

(chanting with kids): Unity! Unity! Unity! Unity!

  • Mukhabat Azadova (Maggie)

    One of a kind, a Very talented coach, teacher…
    Back in the Soviet Unionm my husband was a coach and the Director of one of the wonderful sport schools for kids and youth. He used to instruct his coaches to become a spiritual teacher for growing kids, teaching not only techniques of this or other sport but also setting an example of living with morals, respect and dignity.
    That I found in what Coach Rockman does in his dedicated work! Thank you for sharing this info. I look forward to bring my grandson and tell to my friends about this wonderful man!
    Maggie, Edison, NJ