Northeast Philadelphia coach pays it forward through soccer

Chris McKenna, a star at North Catholic and Villanova grad, gained a lot through soccer. Now he’s having fun as a coach.

While he was growing up, sports were everything to Chris McKenna.

Now that he’s an adult, they still are.

The 1997 graduate of North Catholic High School participated in soccer and basketball during his days growing up in the neighborhood he calls “Port Fishington,” because it sits in an area where Fishtown, Port Richmond and Kensington meet.

When he got to high school and later Villanova University, he concentrated on soccer.

But he always remembered his days growing up when he played for the first coach he ever knew.

“My dad always coached me,” said McKenna, who now lives in Chalfont. “I just always remember my dad being there. We lived right near Cione Playground, so we played there. He worked the nightshift, so he would have time during the day. I remember him waking up to make our lunches to send us to school and I remember him coaching us. He taught us so much.”

Now, McKenna is paying it forward and having a blast in the process.

He and his wife, Amy, have four children — C.J., 13, Madalynn, 10, Aiden, 9, and Meghan, 6.

They are all athletes, and McKenna has a hand in helping them all.

He coaches his youngest three kids in soccer, he coaches his youngest two in basketball and he helps with Aiden’s baseball team.

He also runs the Philly Soccer Inhouse league and his one team, COPPA, like all of his soccer teams, plays out of Philly Soccer.

“No lie, I would say I am coaching, actually coaching, maybe 10 to 12 hours a week,” McKenna said. “But doing the other things, I’d say I do it off and on for three or four hours a day, I do at least 20 hours of administration stuff a week. It never stops. I am always doing something because we’re trying to be good. And I want not only my kids to have the best, but I want all the kids to have the best.

“It’s things I didn’t think of when I started coaching. Just things you need to do to run a team. Phone calls, check registrations, making sure you have everything you need for the games, uniforms. It’s a lot, but it’s not hard work, you know? It’s things you enjoy because you know what doing it means.”

He loves what he does, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges.

His biggest concern about coaching is teaching his players, and while he says he isn’t worried about wins and losses, he does look for improvement. And while he wants it to be fun, there are times when his competitive juices get flowing. During those times, he has to remember he’s coaching kids and it’s all about fun.

“I really don’t care if we win or not, I just want them to have fun and learn, not just about sports but about working hard,” McKenna said. “It’s hard, especially coaching your own kids. I expect more out of them, and sometimes I’ll be hard on them. Those times, you have to go tell them how proud of them you are.

“The kids are great. You give them a high-five, and they’re happy. They want to win, but I always tell them if they do what we teach them and lose, that’s better than not doing what we’re supposed to and winning.”

While McKenna is the coach, it’s a team effort.

His wife might not know the difference between a sweeper and a goalie, but she certainly plays a role.

“I’m glad she’s not coaching because I’m not sure what she would teach them,” McKenna said with a laugh. “But she does so much. Not the coaching stuff, but the other things. I could not do this without her. She does a lot! And she’s always running, taking the kids somewhere. Without her, this wouldn’t be possible.”

McKenna says his family is the most important thing in his life. Sports are also paramount.

Athletics have given McKenna a lot in life, and they continue to give to this day.

McKenna came from a working-class family and got an accounting degree from Villanova on the strength of his athletic prowess.

He uses that degree as the controller for the Philadelphia Union Academy, an elite school in Wayne where players ages 7 to 18 live, learn and train. The hope of the academy, the first in the U.S., is to help players achieve their goals of playing professionally. If they don’t make it, it certainly helps them when applying for colleges.

“I love working there because it’s a chance to work in sports,” McKenna said. “It’s perfect because it’s the field I studied, and I’m still in soccer.”

While crunching numbers for a franchise you love is a good gig, McKenna’s ultimate love is coaching his kids.

On second thought, his true love is his kids.

“Watching your kids do well is great, but it’s fun to watch the other kids do well, too, because I know how important coaching is,” McKenna said. “My dad was a huge influence. Guys like (Tommy) Kalup and Jerry Brindisi. They helped me so much. They taught me so much. If I can help kids like they helped me, that would be great.

“It takes a village. I know a lot of people help my kids, I want to be there to help other people. It’s how this thing works.”

But as McKenna knows only too well, it’s also about the ancillary roles, which right now includes fundraising. The COPPA team is scheduled to play in Rockford, Illinois, this summer, and the team is trying to raise money to compete.

McKenna’s son, Aiden, plays on the team.

The elite invitational tournament is a great chance for the boys to show what they can do against the best teams in the nation, but it’s an expensive trip.

“We’re all working-class guys, and the trip is going to cost a lot,” McKenna said. “We’re going to raise the money because this is a great opportunity. We’re looking forward to it.” ••

COPPA will hold a breakfast fundraiser May 28 at Applebee’s, 1063 Street Road in Southampton, and guests can pay at the door. The cost is $10. Breakfast will be served from 8 to 11 a.m. If you’re unable to make the breakfast but would like to donate money for the trip, email christophermckenna.cpa@gmail.com