This Dentistry Student Plans to Use His Pro Soccer Background to Help KC Kids

Dental student and soccer talent Edgardo Leiva needed coaches for his youth soccer business and his fellow students were the talent pool he needed.
Edgardo Leiva coaching youth soccer

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Edgardo Leiva
Anticipated graduation: 2023
Academic program: Doctor of Dental Surgery, UMKC School of Dentistry
Hometown: San Pedro Sula, Honduras

Dental student Edgardo Leiva rose through the competitive ranks of soccer, from the Honduran National Team to college soccer in United States. His playing career came to an end as his career as a dental student ramped up. He soon transitioned to coaching in addition to his dentistry studies. His sought-after coaching skills were in such high demand that he formed his company, Soccer Roots, where he began hiring additional coaches, including many of his fellow dental students.

How did your soccer career begin?

I started playing competitively when I was 12 or 13, eventually participating in the developmental program for the Honduran national team. But the situation in Honduras became too difficult for my family, so my mom brought us to Miami, where my grandmother was living. When we first moved there, it was very difficult. My mom had to work multiple jobs.

What was your path to UMKC?

I played soccer at a couple of colleges in the Midwest, eventually landing at UMKC to play for the school’s soccer team. As my collegiate playing career was ending, I knew I needed to figure out something else to do. I always wanted to go into dentistry, but to do that I needed to put my focus on my academics.

Edgardo Leiva in dental clinicWhat opportunities have come to you while at UMKC?

My academics really started taking off when I began working in the research lab of Ryan Mohan, a professor in the UMKC School of Science and Engineering. I met Ryan at a soccer camp where I was coaching his kids. Getting more involved in research really helped me focus on my academics but I always kept up coaching.

How did your coaching career develop?

I was coaching recreational teams for Sporting Brookside, a Kansas City soccer league. The league includes both recreational teams that are open to all and a competitive side where players try out to participate. The parents liked the structure of my recreational practices and were interested in me providing additional coaching to their kids who wanted to transition to the competitive side. That’s when I started my company, Soccer Roots, which now oversees the Elite Program within Sporting Brookside for players interested in additional training to help them continue to the higher levels of the sport.

How have your fellow dentistry students helped with that?

The workload grew to where I had seven teams. On the weekends I would coach 15 games, but it was getting out of hand. I started with hiring our class president and a close friend of mine, Morgan Engelbrecht, to help with the admin side of things. Also, I always need coaches, and I was meeting dentistry students who had soccer experience, even a few who played at the collegiate level. I thought, what better people to coach these kids than my friends in the dental school? I’ve had as many as 14 coaches on my payroll, with eight being dentistry classmates.

Edgardo Leiva kicks soccer ballHow has soccer shaped you as a person?

I’m so grateful to soccer because I would not be where I am now. It provided me a pathway to becoming a dentist by molding my character. It taught me discipline, responsibility and how to work hard. I owe soccer a lot, and I’ll always be involved in the sport.

How did the structure of coaching help you in your academic pursuits at UMKC?

When you’ve been in soccer for so long, teaching someone to kick a ball is not something that comes naturally. You have to think back on how to dissect the process to be able to teach it. It’s the same in academia, where you learn the process and are able to dissect everything you learn.

Edgardo Leiva and dental faculty working on patientWhat can you take from soccer that will help you as a dentist?

Playing soccer -- and especially coaching -- has helped me in dealing with my patients. Dentistry is basically coaching. We coach our patients to keep good oral hygiene and teach them the skills to achieve that.

Do you have any plans to incorporate soccer into your dentistry career?

One of my goals before I graduate is to create a nonprofit soccer camp that incorporates oral health. I’m coordinating with the pediatrics department at the UMKC School of Dentistry, where we would offer free soccer camps. One of the rotations is going to be an oral health screening. Ultimately, I would like something that connects my two passions while making an impact on the next generation.

Why is it important for students to cultivate interests outside of the occupation they’re working towards?

It’s important to have balance. I learned from one of my mentors that you can’t just look at teeth all day. You’ll be so much more fulfilled when you’re engaged in things you’re passionate about.

Learn more about School of Dentistry

Published: Mar 28, 2023

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