In part one of this two-part profile, we meet Minnesota’s own Ben Sippola, who went from Northfield to Butler University to the Columbus Crew to New Zealand. There, he runs and coordinates the Ole Soccer Academy. Later, we will learn how his experiences supporting youth development reflect what he went through in Minnesota and what he hopes to see for both Kiwi and American players in the future.
Ben Sippola is a long way from where he started.
“It really was this appetite to get the best training environment possible.”
For someone whose hometown is known for colleges, cows, and contentment, it would have been easy to stay put. It would have been easy to play a little bit with his friends at the local high school. It would have been easy to play some pick up games at one of the local colleges. As a youth league coach, the same sound of the Cannon Falls could fill the space between cheers. The same whiff of Malt-O-Meal could linger in the air.
Ben Sippola did not do things the easy way.
“It really was this appetite to get the best training environment possible. So, somewhere where there’s professional trainers with good experience, but also where there’s a nice core group of players.” That somewhere was Shattuck-St. Mary’s, a proving ground for elite local talent. Recruited at the age of 15, Sippola had his family’s full support to follow his dream.
“A lot of that was my family making the decision to invest in my football by going somewhere, where I could take part in best practice methods. [Methods] that were seen around the world in other football academies.”
After graduation, Sippola selected Butler University for the next stage of his career. He became a First-Team All American alongside future stars Zac MacMath and Darlington Nagbe. While Sippola enjoyed his time in Indianapolis (and his time studying English Literature) he acknowledges that there’s a fundamental flaw in the collegiate system. “I’ll be the first to say my University experience was incredible, and there were facets of development that took place. But if I was looking to become the best player that I could, the University system is not set up to develop players. It is more set up as a competition.”
Still, Sippola grew into a talented competitor. So talented, the Columbus Crew selected him in the 2011 Supplemental Draft. However, after one season he left the Crew and faced a difficult decision. “When I came out of the Columbus Crew, that was a very difficult year in my career. A lot of players when they have a difficult first season, maybe in MLS, they’re sort of written off, or it’s very difficult to find opportunities.” Going from Northfield to the heights of collegiate soccer and the training fields of the USA’s top league would be enough for many.
But Ben Sippola didn’t settle after his struggle.
With the help of Tim Carter, he got an opportunity to continue playing with Torslanda IK in Sweden’s fourth division and helped them earn promotion. But that was just a taste of a greater trip to come.
“I was quite lucky, Nate [Winkel] another Minnesotan [and Thunder player] who was CEO [of Ole Academy] at that time had heard of me through a mutual connection, and they brought me out.” Suddenly, everything seemed to click, “I didn’t expect to arrive in a Football academy with a technical director in [former New Zealand international] Declan Edge who was so far advanced in football. And I made a deliberate decision to go into coaching and give back to the next generation of players.”
Ben Sippola had trained in a setting with elite practice methods, earned awards at the national level, and played the game abroad. Deciding to give back to others seemed natural given how far he has come.
But how he has given back and what he hopes to create in New Zealand, that offers a glimpse of how far he still feels he has to go.