If you are involved in Missouri youth soccer, then chances are that Denny Vaninger taught you much of what you know.
During a career spanning more than 40 years, Denny developed soccer skills in countless kids, gave U.S. Soccer licensing classes to thousands of coaches, and reached who knows how many others through his highly regarded instructional books.
Denny recently retired after more than 16 years as Missouri Youth Soccer Association’s director of coaching, but his influence continues in the many lives he touched.
“For the last 16-plus years, Denny Vaninger was the first person a coach probably met when entering the sport and the one most likely to leave a lasting impression,” MYSA Executive Director Nik Bushell said. “As a former coach myself, I met Denny in his first couple of years with Missouri Youth Soccer and have always remembered his passion for not just the sport but his belief that every young player should be met with enthusiasm and given all the tools to learn the game and fall in love with it. Nobody will ever replace Denny, but we will hope to honor his contribution to the game in Missouri on a daily basis and continue down the path that he made.”
Denny’s path began as a youth in the soccer hotbed of St. Louis during the 1960s. He developed into a world-class player in the old North American Soccer League with the St. Louis Stars and Fort Lauderdale Strikers from 1973-79. He made three appearances for the U.S. National Team in 1974-75. His professional career culminated with several seasons in the Major Indoor Soccer League in the early 1980s. He has been inducted into the St. Louis Soccer Hall of Fame and was recently honored as a “Legend of Soccer” by the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame.
During and after his playing career, Denny coached at every level of the sport in addition to running youth clinics and camps. He put his vast soccer knowledge down on paper in his 2012 book for MYSA, “Practice Makes Perfect,” a training guide for 6-10 year olds.
Tony Whelan, Denny’s longtime friend, former teammate and current Manchester United academy director, paid the ultimate compliment to Denny in the foreword to Vaninger’s book: “(His book) is a masterful book written by a master soccer coach and educator. Denny Vaninger is one of the finest soccer coaches of youth players in the USA as well as being a supreme coach educator.”
-Story by Dave Lange.
Dave Lange has covered soccer at every level for daily newspapers, soccer magazines, and soccer websites. He is the author of “Soccer Made in St. Louis: A History of the Game in America’s First Soccer Capital,” published by Reedy Press.