Photo © Jessica Stone Hendricks Photography
Some folks stand out in a crowd of people. Lots of times it’s because of the person’s height or a distinctive fashion statement. However, Richmond Kickers midfielder Fred Owusu Sekyere stands out because of the bright, beaming smile that demonstrates how much joy he finds in his life.
For Owusu, as he’s commonly called by his friends and teammates alike, that joy starts with the humble beginnings in his hometown of Kumasi, Ghana. Kids in America usually have their parents in the stands for every game, most of the time even practice. On the other hand, Owusu’s dad has only seen him play one soccer game.
“Even then it was because my younger brother had to convince my dad to come to watch me,” Owusu said. “Mostly it was him getting a report from people telling him, your son is doing that, your son is doing this.
“For me in my situation, my dad was working out of town. He would come home on weekends and on weekends it’s more about meeting the family needs. He didn’t have the time to come and watch me. He wasn’t intentionally doing it, but it’s just the time frame of how things worked out.”
Owusu’s father was a soccer legend in the West African nation, playing for Kumasi Asante Kotoko SC, the most successful soccer team in the history of the Ghana Premier League. Owusu would travel with his father to practices, and he started to fall in love with soccer because of the emphasis that the nation puts on the sport.
“Soccer is the main thing for Ghanaians in terms of sports,” Owusu said. “Everywhere you go throughout the whole year soccer is going on. Basically every day after school you just go out and play.”
In 2006, Owusu left his homeland and made the journey to the United States so he could play soccer at the Virginia Commonwealth University. As one can imagine, it was tough for Owusu to leave behind his family, a place of comfort, and enter a country where he was an outsider.
“It was hard for my family in terms of my mom and my younger brother,” Owusu said. “It was really hard of them. It was really a tough decision to leave them behind and come out here. At the same time, it was worth it. For you to make it in soccer, you have to play outside the country. In terms of future life financially and being successful in life, you have to leave the country to play.”
Owusu enjoyed a successful run at VCU, collecting 12 goals and 15 assists over his four year career. In 2015, the Kickers signed the Ghanaian and he has been a staple on the team ever since, amassing over 3,800 minutes in Richmond. His biggest contribution to the club may in fact come off the field, however. Owusu coaches three teams (U13 Boys and Girls Elite and U11 Ukrop South) in the Kickers youth program.
It’s in this realm as a coach where Owusu has thrived in connecting with the kids. The passion can be seen on his face as he talks about the delight he finds in coaching these kids not just about the game of soccer, but about life in general.
“I enjoy coaching,” Owusu said. “I’m always telling my friends that even though coaching may seem like a job, I just love to go out there and do it.
“I try to let them [his players] understand that soccer is not the only thing that will make you succeed in life. There are other aspects of it. You have to take care of yourself. You have to eat right. All those kinds of things. You have to respect your teammate. You have to respect your coach. You have to be on time. You can’t be missing practices. It might be practice, but outside of that it might be school. You have to take care of your homework. You have to study for your tests just like you have to practice for games. I let them understand that there’s more in life.”
Coaching kids is a challenge in and of itself, but it’s also an opportunity to learn from them. Owusu thought he was going to be the one teaching his teams, but in turn they’ve given him a fresh perspective on life over the years.
“I’ve learned a lot from these kids,” Owusu said. “One thing that I’ve really learned is being patient in all situations. There will be days when I’ll be teaching them some things, they’re not getting it, and I have to understand that they are kids who are learning so I need to be patient. That has really affected my life outside of soccer in terms of me personally being patient and finding the right time in that. Whatever it is, when the right time comes you will get it.”
The midfielder is adored by those in the Kickers’ youth organization. Everyone knows Owusu because of that grin from ear to ear and the personality that just radiates joy into those around him. He’s more than just a professional soccer player, as there’s a bigger “why” in his life. He’s a role model for these kids, carrying on the legacy of his late friend, former Kickers pro player and youth coach Kofi Nti.
“He [Nti] taught me to enjoy everything that you do,” Owusu said. “No matter what the situation is, make sure you smile and enjoy what you’re doing. Even if the person above you is not treating you right, remember that it’s always about the kids. If you always think about the kids and do things the right way, then it goes a long way. That’s one thing where it [his smile] comes from.
“Helping these kids out is a joy to me. Just from seeing you smile, it can make their day. Just from you giving them a high five or talking to them, it makes a whole big change in their life. I’ve realized how much of an impact I can make. I can make or break these kids, so I realized that being positive, having a smile on your face, and talking to them is really huge for them. It comes from me thinking it’s all about these kids. It’s not about me, it’s about these kids. No matter what my issues are, what my problems are, it’s about them first.”
So Owusu and his 5-foot-6, 150 pound frame surely won’t stand out in a crowd anytime soon. Instead, it’s his simple smile and the infectious joy for life that he’s passing on to so many kids that separates Owusu from the pack.