Fri, Feb

FUTURE LOOKS BRIGHT: Coach Dennis Cox, second from right, with a few of his charges at the Beach Camp, Palo Seco, including national players Levi Garcia, left, and Judah Garcia, right, both of whom came up through the youth ranks at Cox’s academy.

The term “give up” doesn’t exist in the vocabulary of Dennis Cox.

Throughout Trinidad and Tobago, Coach Cox (as he is endearingly referred to) is now a legend and a brand associated with local and international youth football. His academy continues to produce footballers, soldiering on in a climate of economic uncertainty in the 868.

The Cox Coaching School and Football Academy has been nurturing young football talent for decades from their Palo Seco base. The coaching school, with its close ties to the oilfield community, utilises the Beach Camp, Palo Seco, as its main hub of operations. They continue to push on in spite of the closure of the state company Petrotrin, and from the looks of it, will continue pushing ahead against the backdrop of the current Covid-19 crisis which has ravaged so many globally.

The pandemic may have all but stopped sports in the country, but it hasn’t slowed the Cox Coaching School and Football Academy in their quest to make an impact in the community through football.

“Undaunted by the closure of Petrotrin, which for many signalled the death of the oilfield community after over 100 years, Coach Cox remained steadfast in his promotion among the youth, of the values of a strong oilfield community and great nation,” explained Michele Celestine, an attorney at law, and the chairperson for the Beach Camp School where coach Cox is the physical education teacher.

“He instills in the children of the oilfield community, the national watchwords of Discipline, Tolerance and Production. His results on and off the football pitch speak for themselves. This country needs more people like Coach Cox,” she added. The Beach Camp School made history in 2019 by winning the Under-15 and Under-12 Atlantic National Football Primary Schools Championships.

The school, which has made a habit of churning out talent at the youth level, had an eventful 2019, and in spite of the doom and gloom outlook this year, added another reason to celebrate and feel proud of their achievements when Cox — founder and head coach at the academy — won Coach of the Year at the Atlantic Yes Awards in September.

The latest piece of silverware for the club may not have come on the pitch as members of the academy may be accustomed, but it symbolises the work that Cox put into his charges, which not only includes helping them win on the field, but to win in life as well.

“He had a big role to play in my development as a young player to where I am now,” Judah Garcia said of the coach in 2019. “I stayed with him for a very long period…I still come back to play for him because I want to be around the club that I came from.”

Garcia is the younger brother of Levi Garcia — who recently signed to play with Greek club AEK Athens — and was also called up to Dennis Lawrence’s provisional squad last year. The former SSFL star was a league winner with Shiva Boys’ Hindu College and has been with the coaching academy since he was five, and even travelled on a few occasions with them.

“Mr Cox is a very serious, dedicated person who is known for bringing in the discipline in every aspect of the game, and he was the man to teach me those things. So, I just took it on and carried on. I went to Mississippi twice with him…I would say that Mr Cox has a very good programme,” stated the younger Garcia.

School not all about trophies and medals

The coaching school isn’t all about awards, trophies, and medals either with constant emphasis being put on developing the character of the youngsters involved with the programme. In a lot of ways, it’s an extension of the oilfield community which Cox comes from, having worked at Petrotrin for decades, which helped shape his desire to not only give back to his community but in a manner that instills the values he learnt while at the company.

“The Academy offers more than a rigorous training in the sport of football; it offers the children a launching pad for becoming model citizens,” explained Cox. “I place great emphasis on academic performance at school, as a criterion for being a member of my academy as well as good manners and the social graces that go beyond teamwork on the field and discipline in training.

“The children here are taught to understand that they are representatives of their family, their community, the academy and ultimately youth ambassadors for Trinidad and Tobago.” And representing the 868 they have on a number of occasions.

Last year, the team travelled to Barcelona, after winning the local leg of Milo U-12 League Cup, where they finished second in the knockout competition in Spain. That was a portion of an eventful year as four players; Jeremiah Kesar, Jabari Graham, Shivaughn Best and Vincent Clement, were sent to Mississippi University for try-outs which proved fruitful.

Brazilian Coach Cesar Lemos arrived on our shores twice at the invitation of the Cox Coaching School and Football Academy, first to lend his expertise to local youth coaches, and on his second visit, to interact directly with the youngsters who were able to get exposure to an elite foreign coach.

After the first visit he was impressed with the natural ability of the youngsters. “I see a Trinidadian player with the ball, it reminds me of a Brazilian player. He just wants to have fun, he just wants to have his own moment,” Lemos had said.

Martin James, a businessman, could not stop praising the impact the school has had on his ten-year-old son, Sebastian. James said that at every opportunity he speaks to this country’s decision makers, be them politicians or other business people, “I tell them we have to invest in this programme since it is having a positive effect on over 200 children”.

James recognises that duplication may be difficult because there is only one Coach Cox, but he feels the programme needs to get serious recognition, funding, and the attention it deserves, beyond just awards, since its role in positive nation-building should not be underestimated.

With no schools’ football on the horizon for the foreseeable future, and with athletes in general having to wait out the duration of the most uncertain period of their respective careers, and as well the current impasse between the TTFA and the FIFA, one would be forgiven for thinking that football has taken a prolonged intermission.

Regardless of the goings-on as a result of the “new normal”, the community of Palo Seco, their Beach Camp, and football in general in T&T can at least count on Coach Cox continuing his mission — the development of the sport of football at the grassroots level.