Earlier this month, I attended the NSCAA Convention in Philadelphia. The event hosted over 10,000 soccer coaches and program administrators from across the nation for five days of field demonstrations, coaching sessions, and lectures. I’ve attended this convention in the past and was excited to see that this year’s event placed a greater emphasis on soccer programs and organizations working in underserved communities. Topics covered during the lecture sessions varied greatly, but interestingly, at least four of this year’s sessions included the word “urban” in the title – two of them led by us here at the U.S. Soccer Foundation. While I’m excited to see that the soccer community is recognizing the need for urban-specific soccer programs, throughout my travels, I have noticed that underserved communities can be found everywhere – in urban, suburban, and even rural areas.
Our mission at the Foundation is to “enhance, assist and grow the sport of soccer in the United States, with a special emphasis on underserved communities.” We take this mission very seriously and it is the guiding principal behind all of our work. With this “underserved” mission in mind, we have driven many resources over the past few years into urban communities in cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington D.C. As we focused our support, we even created the Foundation’s Urban Soccer Symposium, which sought to provide resources tailored to organizations in urban communities. While there is still a need in urban communities, it is has been interesting to see that the social and economic landscapes of our cities are changing dramatically.
According to a study released by the Elizabeth Kneebone and Alan Berube of the Brookings Institute, poverty rates are now growing fastest in our nation’s suburbs. In cities like Atlanta, 88% of those in poverty now live in the city’s neighboring communities. While there are a variety of factors at play – including rising housing costs – assuming that “urban” and “underserved” are one-in-the-same is no longer a safe bet. Kneebone and Berube sum up the situation as follows:
“…public perception still largely casts poverty as an urban or rural phenomenon. Poverty rates do remain higher in cities and rural communities than elsewhere. But for three decades the poor population has grown fastest in the suburbs.”
At the Foundation, we’re thinking critically about what these changes mean for programs like Soccer for Success and how we can best meet the needs of underserved communities everywhere. Our recent partnerships with organizations like the Osage Nation Reservation in Oklahoma and the city of Spartanburg, South Carolina, as well as existing relationships with organizations like the JT Dorsey Foundation, offer a look at the ways we’re stepping outside this “urban-underserved” mindset and exploring the parameters of our work.
So, has the paradigm shifted? What is heartwarming is the knowledge that the U.S. Soccer Foundation is committed to providing opportunities in underserved communities. After all, whether a player lives in a small town or a big city, he or she deserves the opportunity to thrive.