Interview with Ethan Sonis
Fitness Pro Ethan Sonis is a Fitness Trainer in Florida. His lifetime focus on excelling in the sport of soccer makes him a great asset to our PocketSuite Pro community. Ethan talks to CEO, Chinwe Onyeagoro and Managing Editor, Sean Litteljohn about his relentless mentality and experience playing soccer in the states and internationally.
What do you do? How are things going for you right now?
So I played soccer professionally. I’ve played soccer since I was three years old. I had an opportunity to go play professionally. At 15, I left my home to play in Dallas with the number one youth program in the United States right now. Then I played in Germany, overseas. I was part of the U.S. National Youth Team. Then this [company] sort of started off as a hobby. You train in the mornings and you have the whole afternoon off. So it just became something like, “What more can I do with myself?”
I always felt the need to give back to kids and help guide them better in the sport. Like that, it started from one kid to two kids, two kids to three kids. Before you know it, we had 200 to 300 kids. Then I kept in very close contact with a lot of the US National Team players that represent our country. They had been seeing the work and so they started calling me. I said, “Look, why don’t you just come out?” So, again, one Pro turned into two Pros, two Pros to three. Before you know it, we had 50, 60, 70 professional players getting flown out to the different cities where we work. It’s been an amazing experience.
Has Covid changed things for better or worse?
I know during COVID a lot of people are struggling, but for us we’ve been very grateful and fortunate that we found different solutions. At the time of this craziness for us, it was the best time, because a lot of these pros weren’t training and they needed to train. We had a private location on a private field. So we got lucky. We had the field to use with the players and we were able to do it. Ever since then, everything momentum-wise, social media-wise, there’s constant endorsement deals coming our way and sponsorships and newspapers. I mean, everyone’s asking for us. We’re flying out here, flying out there. It’s nonstop.
Congratulations, it sounds like things have really taken off for you!
So I’m very grateful for the journey. It’s been a journey, though. It wasn’t like this. I’ve taken a lot of time. I’ve been hacking at this for a long time. We’ve really grown it to where it’s not just me. I have my other guy. He’s my right hand man. We work together. We deal with the Pros. Then we have seven other coaches that deal with all of the kids. Then we have two guys that do all administration. They deal fully with PocketSuite. They’re the guys that handle PocketSuite for all the parents and bookings. I asked him to be on the call, but he’s working. So he has another job, but he’s full-time. He handles everything with you guys.
But it’s been a long road. It’s been two, three years really hacking at it, being consistent with it, and staying true to the brand, staying true to what we do, what makes us different than anyone else. It’s just been patience and I felt like a time like COVID, it was an opportunity to be seized. I went after it.
I looked and researched you guys, trying to find the best solution for us. You know how it is. In this type of business, it’s all cash. I don’t trust anyone holding cash, because you don’t know what he said, she said. They said they’d give you $50. You look. You have $40. So using your software and platform, it’s been a game changer for us. For instance, we’re in San Jose now, but our coaches are down in Miami. We had I think 50 to 60 kids come in today in Miami and all of them registered through PocketSuite.
What type of clients do you work with?
Yeah. So, I mean, as you can see on social media and the website, we have a very, very strong clientele. We are very, very professional, everything that we do. So in terms of the Pros, they’re very, very high profile Pros who work with us. In terms of the kids, there’s a department that handles the little, little kids, but the majority of the kids who we’ll work with are kids ages 13 and 14 who are at the top. They’re the top kids in their division. They’re on the youth national teams. For instance, yesterday, right before we flew out, we had the number one 15-year-old kid come. He’s already playing professional in the third division and he’s a 15-year-old.
So it’s that type of client who we’ve been able to attract. They know that to get the top of the line training – the best quality, it’s going to be with us. It’s not to sound cocky, but it’s confidence. I think we know we’re doing a really good job at what we do.
How do you convince Americans that soccer or European football is cool?
Yeah. I think that the timing is good. Right now, there’s a lot of youth, American national team players, who are doing very well on the big stage in Europe. They’re doing extremely well, so that intrigues a lot of the kids. Yes, I’ve worked with a few of them who are now playing in the top flights in Europe. It sort of motivates these kids to be like, “Okay, I don’t have to go and play football. I can really make it here in soccer and really take it to another level.”
Just having kids that grew up here and now they’re playing in the top flights in Europe and they’re playing at the highest level, making the top dollars, as a kid, it motivates you. It really motivates you to be like, “Okay, there’s more. I can really make it,” because before, it was just like American kids stayed in America and they played. The league here is not as strong. But over the years, the league, MLS, Major League Soccer, has had a huge increase in following across Europe. So a lot of European scouts will come here now to pick guys up and take them to Europe.
So it’s a great time in terms of youth soccer. After they didn’t make the World Cup, I think a lot of things started changing. They really started working with the youth and trying to just make it a little bit more enticing in different ways. Now you have a lot of these guys coming from a young age in the States going to play in Europe. I think it’s been a huge help for all these kids.
What’s the best part of your week?
The best part of our week, I’d say is getting to work with these athletes. Each day, there’s a different story. There’s a different case. There’s different things that you have to address. For instance, an example, a pure example was two days ago, we watched an Inter Miami game against Atlanta. One of our guys, he’s the captain of the US National team, Wil Trapp, he’s very, very big in U.S. soccer. He didn’t get to start that game. So I knew he was going to be upset because I’ve worked with him a bunch of times. He’s very passionate, very intense. So he texted me at midnight, and he’s like, “Dude, I’m coming in tomorrow. I’m pissed. I’m coming.”
So for me, it motivates me because as a specialist, myself and my other guy that we work with, we both take it very seriously. These types of calls, whether it’s at 2 a.m. in the morning or late at night, we already had dissected a bunch of video from the game. We already had the notes that we wanted to work on. So as he got to the field, we sat there with him, and he was frustrated. He’s like, “Dude, I’m mad. I can’t get minutes. I’m a guy who needs to be playing all the time.” I think that the best part of my week is each player is different and every day is a different day. There’s no cookie cutter with us.
What was the hardest part about getting to where you are today?
Yeah, so I’m 24. I’m a hustler. I played the game. There’s some unfortunate events that happened, and I was able to turn that into a positive. I think after seeing so many athletes and all these different ways of how you can really make it in the sport, for me, the one word after seeing Jordan’s documentary [The Last Dance], obviously, relentless. Relentless, to me, is what I’m all about.
But it’s been a long road. It’s been two, three years really hacking at it, being consistent with it, and staying true to the brand, staying true to what we do, what makes us different than anyone else. It’s just been patience and I felt like a time like COVID, it was an opportunity to be seized. I went after it. I went after it really, really hard after a lot of barriers. They shut down the facility that we were mainly in and I was like, “There’s no stopping me.” I was determined. I knew it was my moment. I knew it was the time that I had to be ready. I was able to take advantage.
Those three, four months of peak COVID, it was like every day there was one player, one player, one player on a clock. On the clock, they were just coming in. The club was shocked. I mean, from a team of Pro soccer players, which you carry 24, we’ve worked with that team in Inter Miami, just because I’m in Miami. We had 15 guys come in out of the 23, 24, work with us.
Did you move into coaching because you got injured? Is that one of the reasons?
No, no. The thing is, being brutally honest, for me, I played professionally in Europe. I was in Germany. I lived in Germany for two and a half years on my own, playing there in the Bundesliga. I learned to speak German. I learned the culture. I played everywhere and what ends up happening in soccer is one day you’re in, one day you’re out, I think in any sport, it’s one day you’re in, one day you’re out. Some unlucky coaching switches really killed the momentum I had. So in soccer, you’re big on momentum and confidence. So you’re playing while you’re playing. Then they fire the coach. A new coach comes and he can move everyone in one second. It takes literally one day to the next, he can just change up the whole team, and you can’t say anything about it. You’re just like a piece of meat. You’re next. That’s it.
So that started happening. I had a lot of free time on my hands. I just started thinking. I was like, “Man!” Nobody really guided me the right way and was real with me. A lot of times in this sport, at least in soccer, everyone really beats around the bush a lot. So for me, I was like, “If I’m going to do this, I’m going to get the top kids. I’m going to work with the top players, the top kids, and I’m going to be honest. I’m going to be straight-up with them,” because I’m working with guys who are 32 years old. Are they going to listen to a 24-year-old who doesn’t have as many games as these guys?
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What’s the vision as you look ahead?
For me, right now, there’s a lot of talk with different companies that are looking to buy us out or to put us into different facilities. But for me, I want to be known, my company, my brand to be known as the number one specialist trainers out there in the industry for the sport of soccer. I want to be globally known, not just locally, not in the US. I want everyone in the world to know what we bring to the table and that we have that extra touch.
Do you think that soccer is a good way to unite people all across all cultures?
Of course, through soccer, you learn so much about life, but you also make amazing friends. I had great friends in Germany who were from Greece, Slovenia, and Ghana. As you move around in teams, you meet different people. You experience different cultures and it’s about adjusting. It’s about adjusting. It’s about understanding different cultures, different ways people live.
For instance, Miami is a big melting pot. So looking at our coaches, we have a Greek coach. We have a Haitian coach. We’ve got a Portuguese coach. We’ve got a Brazilian. It’s a melting pot just because it’s Miami. Miami has a lot of diversity in the city. You get a lot of different types of kids and what’s great about us is the coaches. They all have their own style – their own flow. Obviously, following the curriculum, but their own flow. It’s nice to see the different cultures, because they add their little touch. Their own touch that I don’t push them to do. It’s all them.
What advice would you give anyone trying to build an elite trainer business like yours?
Make sure you find something that’s unique – your secret sauce. I call it the secret sauce. We have our secret sauce that I’ve developed and I’ve perfected. Now, the secret sauce doesn’t come overnight. You have to work at it. But I think you need to have a secret sauce, because that’s what, at the end of the day, is what’s going to get these types of top tier players coming to you. By having that secret sauce, it keeps you unique because there’s so many different people in this industry. For us, there are so many trainers in Miami. Every day, there’s a new guy coming up. But if you stay true to yourself, believe in yourself, it’s a journey.
I think a lot of people, they’ve been hitting me up through Instagram like, “Oh, can I come work for you? Can I train with this Pro?” For me, I’m laughing when I look at the other guy who I work with, I’m like, “Dude, nobody believed in us when we started.” Now because you’re on the high rise, everyone is really in tune to it. So for me, it’s a journey. It doesn’t happen overnight. People think that I got these Pros yesterday. It took a lot of years of trial and error and working. But, again, it goes back to perfecting the sauce, understanding what the sauce is, perfecting the sauce, and then, most importantly, like any businessman, it’s about execution, at the end of the day. You get the moment. Can you execute? I think that’s the biggest question that everyone asks themselves.
What do you mean by secret sauce? Is it the training plan or the marketing and branding or both?
Yeah. I think it’s a mixture of both. It is a mixture of both. I think that’s what I started learning about this new social media era that we’re in. I mean, listen, I’m a young guy. When I train, though, I train. I don’t want to record. I don’t want to do this or that. But they were telling me, “Listen, dude, your stuff’s good, but it needs to get out there. You need to really start grabbing the phone, getting this guy to record, or just pay a camera guy and get the camera guys to come.” So I never really took it seriously. Then I started developing it.
I believe in it. I believe in it. I really believe in it. I really think what I’m doing is working and it’s going to keep working. It can only go, so that’s why when I’m talking to these guys, they feel it. You can’t fake this. You feel it. You feel the energy, the momentum, and it’s just like, “This guy Sounds crazy, but let’s just go with it, and let’s see what he’s got.”
What is the psychology that separates a winner?
Okay. So what separates the top tier of players, because we see it from all levels. We see from a youth kid to a medium kid to a guy that’s about to sign a Pro contract to a guy that’s making the big, big bucks. It’s the level of execution when it’s the time to execute. I think from what I’ve noticed. Execution for the Pro guy is ten levels higher than the execution from a rookie. And then from the rookie to a pro about to sign, it’s like there are levels of execution to it. Obviously, the guy at the highest level can execute and they’re executing with us in a very intense environment. But you also have to understand, they’re executing in front of 80,000, 90,000 fans, day in and day out and consistently.
I think so for me, the two big things that stand out for a winner is the consistency and the execution. I mean, without those two, it becomes very difficult for one to make it. To be a winner is to be a winner. At the end, it’s very generic, but it’s that dog mindset. You’ve got to have that little grit that’ll take you to the finish line. When your legs are done, when your heart is about to explode, everything’s done, you’ve got to have that little dog fight in you to just take it to the end.