New Soccer Academy Opens in Swope Park

New Soccer Academy Opens in Swope Park

On November 21, Kansas City Parks & Recreation celebrated the official opening of the Ryogoku Soccer Academy in Swope Park.

Kansas City is a Soccer City
There is simply no denying it, Kansas City is a soccer city! The Kansas City metro area has been home to a successful MLS franchise in Sporting Kansas City for the better part of three decades. The newest arrival on the scene, the NWSL’s KC Current, made a championship appearance in their second season as a club. KC Current has also broken ground on a state-of-the-art stadium that will be the first in the U.S. purpose-built for a NWSL team. Not to mention, Kansas City has been chosen as a host city for the 2026 FIFA World Cup, and was recently ranked 5th overall in a survey of the Best Soccer Cities in America!

With that in mind, KC Parks is excited to announce the opening of the Ryogoku Soccer Academy (RSA) in Swope Park. The former Camp Lake of the Woods Horse Barn has been transformed into a space to provide affordable high quality, year-round technical and tactical daily training for RSA students and others.

Ryogoku Soccer Academy (RSU)
RSU is an educational institution with a unique approach to academic achievement, athletic training, and community-based learning. For Brad Leonard, the founder of Ryogoku, soccer is the hook that keeps students engaged and eager to learn. Brad has 15 years of experience in education. That includes three years overseas running an international school in Tokyo. His students arrive at 8:00 AM for their first hour and a half of soccer training before heading to the classroom for a full day of study. After classes let out, Ryogoku students have an afternoon training session that lasts until 5:00 PM.

Ryogoku’s coaching staff is composed of world class athletes with professional experience both domestic and overseas, as well as a former MLS Academy coach. Brad reports that the attendance rate for his academy is greater than 95% for two main reasons: students want to come to school every day, and they leave smiling, happy, and ready to return.

Soccer or football is the world’s most popular sport, which is why Ryogoku utilizes it to attract and retain students. However, their academic curriculum is just as impressive. Beyond compliance with state standards, Ryogoku aims to connect each lesson with one of the 17 United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. This means connecting their soccer training to “Good Health and Well-Being” or their history lessons to “Reduced Inequalities,” while incorporating the local context of Kansas City and their community in the Historic Northeast. In addition, each student is encouraged to embark on a sort of passion project with community benefit top of mind.

These projects have already made some ripples in the fabric of Kansas City’s Historic Northeast community, literally! Through a partnership with KC Parks and Ripple Glass a student named Isaac had a glass recycling container placed at the 9th and Van Brunt Athletic Fields. The students practice there during the warmer months, and Isaac noted the amount of glass litter around the fields. He took it upon himself to solve a problem that everyone else just seemed to overlook. He successfully coordinated with KC Parks and Ripple Glass to have one of their iconic purple containers located in the parking lot of the athletic fields. His next goal is to meet with the administration of Kansas City University to investigate having another Ripple Glass container placed on their campus.

The Swope Park Facility
The new Ryogoku Soccer Academy facilities are an adaptive reuse of the former Horse Barn in Swope Park located at 7331 Oakwood Dr, Kansas City, MO 64132. This creative adaptation of an existing facility came about because of the students’ dedication to community service. After contacting KC Parks Commissioner Scott Wagner about scheduling a cleanup around their normal practice fields, the students were introduced to KC Parks Director Chris Cotten. At the time, KC Parks was preparing to solicit proposals for the reuse of the Horse Barn, and a tour encouraged Ryogoku’s leadership to submit a proposal for an indoor soccer training facility.

Director Cotten is enthusiastic about access to affordable training for all, particularly as the focus on year-round technical training rises with the popularity of the sport. The partnership with RSA will allow all kids that want to train the opportunity to do so, regardless of ability to pay.

“The days of rebounding a ball off the wall and dribbling the ball in your parents’ backyard in the off season are no longer a practical means of staying in soccer shape in between seasons,” says Cotten. “As a result,  children with skill and talent who do not have the means to train at a high level are often left struggling to keep up or understand the technical requests of their coach when they are back in season.” 

The Ryogoku Soccer Academy has major benefits for the students. The brand-new turf will give students the same feel as playing outdoors year-round. This is vastly different from their current cold-weather location in the KCPD East Patrol Gymnasium. The hard floor of a basketball court is no substitute for turf. There is also the change of scenery. The facility is in the heart of Swope Park, a completely different context from the sights and sounds of the Historic Northeast. The natural setting had an immediate effect on the students during their tour. Many have limited experience exploring a wilderness environment, and the proximity to natural amenities will provide bountiful learning opportunities.

“Brad is committed to excellence and after touring RSA and seeing their dedication to the beautiful game it made sense to put this partnership together,” says Cotton. “I am looking forward to seeing this project flourish.” 

This new location will be a catalyst for Ryogoku, and an opportunity for their students to practice in top-tier facilities year-round. The facility will also be available for other soccer organizations to rent at an affordable rate.

For those interested in learning more about Ryogoku Soccer Academy or accessing the Swope Park facility, please contact Brad Leonard ([email protected]).

By Michael Jenkins