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Enterprising soccer enthusiasts found 'new concept' skills gym for kids

Upper90 Skills Center opened in Tualatin last month.

This story has been updated from its original version.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Boys and girls dribble around the staff at Upper90 Skills indoor soccer facility in Tualatin. Staff from left: Jose Bautista, Alex Hockborn, Tom Choquette and Alyssa 'Roo' Russell.Tom Choquette has been playing soccer for just about his entire life.

Growing up in Gladstone, he played soccer for the Gladstone High School Gladiators; he went on to Yale University, playing soccer there as well. Now back in the Portland area and living in Lake Oswego, Choquette continues to play and is active in the Westside's vibrant soccer community. He's also a father now, and he said it was in part his desire to give his kids a great opportunity to learn the sport he loves that led him to co-found Upper90 Skills in Tualatin.

Upper90 Skills opened its doors just last month on July 2. Within its 11,000 square feet or so of space in the Franklin Business Park, 19950 S.W. 112th Ave., it offers soccer-focused exercises, activities and challenges for children and teenagers who play or are learning to play the sport.

Choquette said he drew inspiration from Shoot 360, a basketball skills training gym with locations in Beaverton, Vancouver, Wash., and Los Angeles. Like Shoot 360, his facility focuses on drills and exercises. There is no field at the gym to play 11-a-side soccer and no league teams associated with the facility. It is purely a practice space for soccer players.

“It's a new concept, something that hasn't been done in the soccer world,” he said.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Victor Xia, 13, uses a Quick Feet trainer to improve his accuracy at Upper90 Skills, an indoor soccer facility in Tualatin.

Skills center quick to draw interest

Although it's been open just a month, Choquette said, Upper90 Skills already has close to 100 members.

“It's a gym membership, essentially,” he said. “Our basic plan is $99 a month. So for $99 a month, they can come in and get their extra training in.”

Choquette and his partner, Jim Brazeau (formerly a professional goalkeeper with the Seattle Storm and Portland Pride), have invested in equipment and gadgetry to give members a more engaging and challenging experience. The gym is subdivided by netting into four “labs,” each intended to develop a different set of skills; while much of the space is given over to traditional shooting areas, with large turf spaces and soccer nets for kids to practice, others feature more unusual elements.

Choquette seems particularly proud of a set of “rebounders,” equipment manufactured in Denmark that is designed to bounce back soccer balls that are shot at it.

“It plays like a big old tennis racket,” he said. “The ball really pings off of it. It's a true bounce. It retains most of the speed and energy that you give the ball. So it's really a great piece of machinery.”

The rebounders come with an app that can track and time shooting.

Exercisers are also electronically timed and scored when they use Quick Feet trainers, hexagonal structures with a computer that tells users which side to kick the ball at. Those pieces of equipment come from the United Kingdom.

The coaches at Upper90 Skills use equipment and drills to set challenges for members, giving them goals to work toward.

“It brings in that gaming experience for the kids,” Choquette explained.

Eric and Victor Xia, 13, have been coming to Upper90 Skills for several weeks now. The West Linn brothers get instruction from the coaches there, honing their skills and working up a sweat.

“They have you rotating into, like, five different sections,” said Eric, who will be a student at Athey Creek Middle School near Tualatin this fall. “So you get to rest sometimes, because some of the sections, labs, are easier than others.”

The brothers play on a soccer team together, Crossfire Oregon's under-14 squad, Eric explained. He enjoys training at the skills gym, which he described as “really fun.”

“I like the rebounder and then the (Quick Feet) matrix lab,” he said.

The gym is stocked with plenty of soccer balls and set up to maximize the amount of time members spend practicing with them.

“When I grew up playing, I was that kid by himself out in the field, kicking his ball through the goal and chasing after it,” Choquette said. “You get the ball and retrieve it, kick it back through — it's not very efficient.”

The operation he and Brazeau have set up with Upper90 Skills is something else entirely.

“I can't tell you how many parents used to play soccer who come here with their kids and go, 'Man, I wish I had this when I was a kid,'” he said. “That's sort of how every time I come in here, every day, I'm just like, 'This is so cool.'”

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Tom Choquette is the co-owner of Upper90 Skills, an indoor soccer facility in Tualatin that teaches kids soccer skills.

Sponsoring Stafford's Willamette United

Upper90 Skills has a relationship with Willamette United Soccer Club in Stafford, which it sponsors. Brazeau is the club's director of coaching, and he and Choquette have brought over a number of coaches to staff the gym. Many of the kids who have been training at Upper90 Skills over the past month heard about it through Willamette United, Choquette said. Going forward, he said, he is hoping to branch out and draw more members from communities including Lake Oswego, Sherwood, Tualatin and beyond.

Brazeau and Choquette are even thinking about expansion already, Choquette said. They are eyeing a second Westside location in Beaverton before perhaps expanding up to Washington, in the Vancouver and Seattle areas, he suggested.

“It is looking promising,” he said. “We feel like we need to prove the model here. And a month in, you don't know that you're going to be able to retain customers. We've been able to attract them, but … are they going to continue to be excited about it as the months go by? We'll have to make sure that happens.”

Right now, the gym caters just to children and teenagers. But Choquette said his hope is to draw in entire families by hosting adult league futsal, a variant of soccer played indoors on smaller fields and with five-person teams, beginning in the fall.

People can sign up for an Upper90 Skills membership online. Members can also reserve practice times or even book private lessons through the skills center's website.

TIMES PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Victor Xia, 13, and his twin brother, Eric, mimic footwork drills from a monitor at Upper90 Skills, an indoor soccer facility in Tualatin.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story misspelled the name of an instructor. His name is Alex Hockborn.

By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor
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