This year’s Urban Soccer Symposium was your third since joining the Foundation. Why is the Symposium important to you?
The Symposium recognizes the importance of our role in the growth of soccer across the U.S., especially for those who don’t have access to it. We’re able to bring in the grassroots soccer organizations that are providing soccer for youth and communities that can’t afford the traditional pay-to-play model. We also engage soccer clubs and youth soccer groups that are interested in bringing soccer to underserved communities, and want to learn the best practices for doing so. We give these two groups the opportunity to talk about ways to work together and develop a relationship that can be beneficial for all.
How was this Symposium different from your first one in 2013?
This year’s Symposium had a much heavier focus on organizational development. We brought in experts from all different topics of organizational development to provide guidance to attendees and to be a resource after leaving the Symposium. The Symposium was also much bigger than in the past — which was really cool. Two years ago we had about 140 attendees, and this year we had over 240 attendees. Over the years, I’ve been able to see the growth of the folks that have attended year after year. Some of our Soccer for Success groups that started serving 150 kids, are now serving 800. Groups outside of that umbrella have grown dramatically, too. I’ve watched people go from being attendees to being presenters because they’ve truly learned best practices around soccer-based youth development. That’s cool to watch.
Does anyone specific jump out as an example?
Ben Dudley of AC Portland is a great example. When Ben started at AC Portland, his organization was serving 150-200 kids. It’s now serving about 500. Ben has really enhanced his fundraising and subsequently, has been able to build his program. At this year’s Symposium he gave a very well-received workshop focusing on how community-based and soccer-based organizations can utilize the faith-based community to increase the work they’re doing. To see him shine as a program lead has been really cool.
What’s something that you think went particularly well at this year’s Symposium?
The poster session was pretty great! The session gave attendees an opportunity to create posters showcasing the work of their respective organizations. We had a record number of poster presentations. Just to see folks talking and sharing with each other, then head off to the Symposium reception still discussing the session was exciting.
Is there anything you would change?
Maybe not hold the Symposium during one of the biggest premier league games of the year . . . In all seriousness, no matter what, I want to be sure we represent program operators and those with their nose to the grindstone. I want to be sure we speak to and provide resources for that day-to-day work, why it’s important, and why it matters.
What are your plans for next year’s Symposium?
Next year is the 10th year, which is so exciting. We’re looking to blow out the 10th year with really awesome keynote speakers. I also want to celebrate the folks who started the movement. Ten years ago, a handful of people got into a room and decided they should have a yearly convening on youth sports development—before youth sports development was a thing. We want to thank them for their trail blazing. We also want to get people to look to their goals and their vision of how the next ten years in the field will look for them.
What is your favorite symposium memory?
In 2013, former NBA player Etan Thomas spoke about his background and where he came from, mixed with spoken word. It was incredibly powerful. Being a huge soccer fan, last year it was really cool to have Michelle Akers and Briana Scurry speak to the importance of getting girls involved in soccer. The same goes for having Ali Krieger there this year. My favorite part of the Symposium though, is just watching folks share. I love when I can sit in on workshops and watch people in their “aha” moments, or watch them vigorously write down notes to take back to their organization. Being able to provide the Symposium as an affordable option for people—I just love that.