40 balls, 32 cones, 22 kids and 12 weeks. These are the numbers I was thinking about four years ago as I walked into an old gymnasium in Chester, Pennsylvania, an underserved community outside of Philadelphia. I clutched the Soccer for Success curriculum both nervously and excitedly. The integration of nutrition into soccer practices was right up my alley and I was looking forward to sharing my knowledge of both soccer and nutrition with my players.
22 kindergarteners, first-graders, and second-graders burst into the gym with huge smiles and clumsy feet, and that easily, my work had started. Throughout the first few weeks, both myself and my coaching partner, Dayna worked tirelessly to teach the kids how to dribble, pass, and most importantly how to keep their growing bodies healthy. Soon Dayna and I started building relationships with the kids and were able to see their strengths both on the soccer field and in their character.
Two players in particular caught on quickly to the logic of the sport and technical skills needed for the game of soccer – Eli and Emmanuel, a set of twins. They were basketball players at heart but within a few weeks, together, they were unstoppable on the field. Though they picked up the soccer skills quickly, they struggled with the nutrition portion of the curriculum. “But Coach Lindsey, fruits and veggies are yucky,” they would grumble. Both couldn’t grasp why we encouraged eating certain foods over others, and scoffed at us whenever we mentioned eating “a rainbow of foods”. Over the course of a few weeks, Dayna and I tried to reach the root of their issue with healthy foods. We found that the reason for this was because healthy food was not readily available to them.
That was when I realized how meaningful our positions as coach-mentors were. These kids needed extra guidance – someone to look out for them, someone to praise them, and someone who would support them on both their good and bad days.
Since then, I have coach-mentored at three programs in Chester, Pennsylvania, Orlando, Florida, and now in Washington, D.C. At each site the kids are different. However, the mission is still the same as when I walked into that gym in Chester four years ago: to create healthy lifestyles in kids and present them with life skills that they will use for years to come.
My favorite part of being a coach-mentor with Soccer for Success has remained the same – the gratification of seeing a player transform throughout the season. In Chester, Camille came into the program angry and left at the end of the season smiling because she had found her balance within soccer. In Orlando, Tyree brought a salty and spicy snack every day to practice. By the end of the season, he would show up with an apple or carrots and would even share with some of his teammates. Samuel was encouraged to join DC SCORES, (Washington D.C.’s Soccer for Success program) by his mom who was worried that he was not socially outgoing. This season, he has shined as a defender and has made a good deal of friends that share his passion for soccer.
These are the stories of why I became involved and why I stay involved in Soccer for Success: the changes I see in the kids during the season are absolutely incredible, and have truly changed the way I view the sport I love, the kids I work with, and my outlook on life.
Every season, regardless of what city or program I’m working in, the kids make me a better coach. In return, I am gifted to help them transform into distinguished young leaders both on and off the soccer field.