At 27, Anika Johnson is the owner of two businesses: the Kalamazoo franchise of Soccer Shots, an organization that teaches kids 2 to 8 years old the basics of soccer while creating a solid foundation of confidence and teamwork, and the Great Lakes Thrift Co., a thrift/vintage clothing store in the Park Trades Center.
Johnson will be the first to tell you that her journey to becoming an owner of a Soccer Shots franchise was not linear. “I will say my journey’s kind of crazy, but not in a bad way. My path, it took a lot of turns, which is OK,” she says.
Johnson, originally from Baroda, played soccer from the time she was a toddler. She played for the former Kalamazoo travel soccer team TKO Premiere from 2007 to 2010. In 2012, she joined Swedish soccer team Mariebo, but her soccer career was cut short by a hip injury and a severe concussion. After surgery, Johnson decided to complete her bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising at Western Michigan University, eventually landing a job with Trunk Club, an online subscription clothing service. But the amount of waste in the fast-fashion industry turned her off from the job, she says, so she opened Great Lakes Thrift Co. in 2018 to find cool clothes that still have life left in them.
Still, something was missing, so she opened Soccer Shots Kalamazoo in March of this year.
What do you love about soccer?
Soccer provides an outlet to just be yourself. You can be competitive. You can be confident. You can get some energy and adrenaline out. In life, things happen and it can be hard sometimes, but soccer can be this protective bubble of fun energy, teamwork, friendship and growth.
At Soccer Shots we call our soccer field “Soccer Island,” and I think of it as that. Once you’re on Soccer Island, you’re just happy and energetic and ready to go. And we always say to the kids, to make sure they don’t run away (she laughs), “It’s safe on Soccer Island.” And it really is in my mind, not just from a safety aspect, but even a mental (and) emotional safety net. You can be sad, angry, happy, whatever, and we’re going to support you through that.
What is special about Soccer Shots?
Soccer Shots is an intro-to-soccer program that creates engaging, fun and exciting confidence building in younger kids. Our primary business model is to provide an elective enrichment program for child cares and day cares. We have 30-minute sessions where we teach soft skills and character words like teamwork, responsibility, confidence, determination. There’s always a theme, such as the zoo, so we practice running fast like a cheetah and getting our bear noises out. It’s sparking imagination while teaching the basics of soccer and about being an athlete and part of a team.
What is your personal coaching technique?
I would say energetic. That’s part of my personality, but it’s put on to hyperdrive when we’re on Soccer Island. Having a lot of energy and positivity helps make sure the players are having fun and letting go of their shyness, because we have a lot of kids who don’t want to look silly or embarrass themselves.
There can be a lot of negativity with sports. “Try harder, score more goals.” “Oh, you lost. You’re a loser.” Those are words that are never, ever on Soccer Island. Never. I say, “You’re working so hard; I love how hard you’re working” rather than “You’re the fastest soccer player.” Being a hard worker can be applied to anything, whether it’s athletics or academics, relationships, whatever.
What is the biggest challenge facing you in this job?
Being patient in expansion. I want to impact a thousand kids. I want to go, go, go, get to every school, get to every kid. That’s going to take time, to make sure we have all of our coaches trained and ready to go, location set up, equipment ready so the product we’re offering to them is consistent throughout.
Sometimes I get anxious for growth and expansion and have to tone it down a little bit, saying, “Let’s just bring these 100 kids that we have right now the best experience, then grow that with time.”
Would you say that also applies to the Great Lakes Thrift Co.?
Oh, 100 percent, because I would love to have this huge warehouse with all the clothes and tons of music and a fun environment, but in reality you’ve got to take baby steps. I’d really love to be downtown — on the mall would be awesome.
What’s the connection between the two businesses for you?
I worked in the corporate fashion world (at Trunk Club) and realized how wasteful it was. I thrifted and found all these awesome things, and I just wanted to share that. So that’s how the thrift shop/vintage shop evolved.
I like to bring joy and confidence to people, whether it’s 2-year-olds with the soccer ball or 22-year-olds with some awesome denim (she laughs).
— Interview by Jordan Bradley and edited for clarity and length