Don’t Underestimate the Power of Sport in this Moment

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

—Nelson Mandela

As the national discussion on racism and equity issues continues, the power of sport as a vehicle for social change has risen to the forefront of conversations and discussions. But what does that mean in practical terms? How should we think of sports at this moment in time – a moment of soul-crushing sadness about the continued injustices and inequity faced by Black and Brown Americans? Yet, also a moment of swelling hope surrounding what may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to initiate deep and lasting change for future generations?

Elite athletes play a critical role. Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe – like Tommie Smith and John Carlos before them at the 1968 Olympics – used their moments in the spotlight to force the nation and the world to confront issues it would rather ignore. In the wake of the recent shooting of Jacob Blake, pro athletes collectively decided not to play high-profile games and matches in an effort to force our nation to take a hard look at these issues and to spark real action. Their voices matter.

The response of the nation’s pro leagues matters, too. They have the public platforms and the financial resources to shape public opinion and drive the national agenda. In the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police, the NBA, WNBA, NFL, MLS, NWSL, NHL, MLB, and even NASCAR issued strong statements and have taken actions that indicate they are ready to do just that.

Yet, when it comes to this sector driving enduring social change, arguably nothing has as much potential as youth sports. Young people are our future leaders and youth coaches are an underutilized national resource in shaping their trajectory. Youth coaches are among the most influential people in a child’s life. Too often though we measure a youth coach’s success by wins and losses as opposed to the impact they have on a child’s overall development.

Youth sports is also an undervalued contributor to social connection across social, racial, ethnic, and gender lines. It is a platform that brings people of varied backgrounds together in pursuit of a common goal: support of their children. It also can have a positive impact on long-term health and the development of critical life skills – leadership, teamwork, perseverance, grit – that is too easily taken for granted.

In order to maximize our potential, we must reimagine youth sports. Celebrating a fortunate and gifted few who receive college scholarships and “looks” from pro scouts isn’t enough. Leaders from the national, state, and grassroots levels must embrace and leverage youth sports as a vehicle to also help shape the health and development of the whole child beyond the playing field.

This approach benefits children of all backgrounds and athletic abilities, from little kickers to academy level athletes. That value is magnified when employed in underserved communities, where equity issues are evident in everything from the lack of safe places for children to play to few opportunities to participate in organized youth sports. In fact, underserved communities are four and half times more likely to lack recreational facilities and 81% of children living in poverty are not playing organized sports.

Simply rolling out a ball and blowing a whistle won’t drive the kind of enduring change that truly matters. To have the greatest impact, youth sports must fully embrace the best practices developed by sports-based youth development organizations. In addition to technical skills and drills, these groups leverage sport to improve health, social, and education outcomes among youth.

For example, the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s national network of community partners use soccer to deliver in five key areas:

  • Physical Activity: using soccer to deliver at least 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity.
  • Health & Wellness: melding traditional soccer skill drills with wellness learning in fun and engaging ways.
  • Mentorship: training coach-mentors to support children’s social-emotional learning and development of other critical life skills.
  • Community Engagement: connecting families to resources and providing information that helps them live healthy lifestyles and nurture their child’s personal growth.
  • Safe Spaces: providing spaces that are physically and emotionally safe for participants.

The results: 88% of participants in the Soccer for Success program work better on a team, 86% avoid anti-social behavior, and 83% have improved health outcomes.

The potential for such outcomes is not unique to soccer. Almost every sport has organizations working to deliver similar outcomes. However, sports-based youth development shouldn’t be a niche endeavor. It should be standard practice at every level of youth sport. Reimagining youth sports was the theme of our recent Virtual National Training. Attendees from hundreds of organizations learned how to have difficult conversations about race with their teams and how to incorporate best practices for sports-based youth development into their local programs. It’s time for policy makers and leaders of youth sports organizations to adopt and support sports-based youth development at a much broader level.

It will take a wide range of interventions beyond sports to address the pressing societal issues we now confront. But sports-based youth development programs that deliver outcomes beyond the scoreboard can play an important role in the social determinants of health and life outcomes. It’s time to get in the game in a way that really matters.


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  • adidas


    adidas, the Foundation’s Safe Places to Play – Mini-Pitch Partner, supports providing children in underserved communities with safe play spaces nationwide. adidas strives to be the globally leading and most popular sporting goods brand. Dedicated to innovation,  adidas embraces creativity and seeks to be socially responsible in all facets of its brand. For more information, please visit

  • CHA


    CHA Sports, the Foundation’s Supplier for Soccer Facility Design and Planning Services, provides community partners with expertise in soccer facility design. CHA Sport’s full service approach allows the company to build world-class projects without breaking budgets. For more information, please visit

  • The DICK'S Sporting Goods Foundation

    The DICK'S Sporting Goods Foundation

    DICK’S Sporting Goods and The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation believe that participation in sports makes people better. Since 2014, DICK’S and The DICK’S Foundation have pledged more than $100 million to support youth sports teams and leagues in need.  Through our Sports Matter initiative we strive to increase awareness for underfunded youth athletics nationwide and provide much-needed support through equipment, uniform and monetary donations. For more information on Sports Matter, visit

  • Kwik Goal

    Kwik Goal

    Kwik Goal, the Foundation’s Official Supplier for goals, seating, boundary equipment, training equipment and coaching accessories, will be supporting a variety of Foundation programs and initiatives including: Soccer for Success, National Training and the Safe Places to Play program. Over thirty years ago, Kwik Goal was founded on the revolutionary concept of providing transportable goals for coaches at all age levels. Since that time, Kwik Goal has continued to focus on helping coaches and soccer programs create safe and dynamic learning environments by supplying high quality, safety tested soccer goals, field equipment and training equipment to the domestic and international market. For more information, please visit



    MLS WORKS, Major League Soccer’s community outreach initiative, is dedicated to addressing important social issues and serves as a platform for both League and club philanthropic programs. MLS WORKS seeks to establish Major League Soccer as a leader for improving the lives of people through sport. MLS WORKS is committed to improving the communities where we live and play our games by executing national programs and legacy projects, charitable giving campaigns, and undertaking various initiatives in underserved communities.

  • Musco


    As a proud corporate partner of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Musco is dedicated to helping the major charitable arm of American soccer create new opportunities through high-quality sports lighting. Their Total Light Control—TLC for LED™ technology is engineered as a system with lighting, structural, and electrical components designed to work together for streamlined installation and long-term reliability. TLC for LED delivers superior field lighting while eliminating glare and spill from impacting surrounding neighborhoods. And Musco’s long-term warranty covering parts and labor means U.S. Soccer Foundation partners don’t have to handle any maintenance on their system, or pay for it, for 25 years. Visit to learn more about the grant program and application process.

  • SCORE Sports

    SCORE Sports

    SCORE Sports, the preferred provider of shin guards to the Foundation’s Soccer for Success program, is a family-owned and operated business specializing in sports equipment, uniforms and apparel. SCORE is an industry leader and has been involved in the sports community for over 40 years. SCORE outfits athletes with high-quality uniforms that SCORE develops, designs and manufactures in the U.S. SCORE takes pride in working with various non-profit groups and causes to give back to athletes who may need some extra support to play the game they love. SCORE is environmentally cautious with the materials it uses for its products and does its part in minimizing our environmental footprint. SCORE proudly offers a wide variety of products to provide customers with a one-stop shop for all your soccer needs. For more information, please visit

  •, the Foundation’s National Partner for Soccer Equipment and Uniforms, was founded in 1984 to provide high quality soccer gear at reasonable prices through its nationally circulated catalog. embodies a passion for the game that extends to the people who play, coach and support soccer. For more information, please visit




  • Target


    Target announced a national partnership with Safe Places to Play in 2017, along with a $6 million commitment to build 100 new soccer play spaces with the U.S. Soccer Foundation by 2020. This is the latest initiative in the Minneapolis-based retailer’s multi-dimensional approach to the sport of soccer, bringing the game to more kids and families across the country, and unlocking access and increasing involvement at all levels.

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    TGI Worldwide

    TGI Worldwide, the Foundation’s National Partner for Visual Branding (Signage, Event Décor, Pageantry, Sponsorship Activation), Perimeter Field Board Systems, Creative Services and Event Operations is proud to support a variety of initiatives and programs throughout the United States. Headquartered in the U.S., TGI is an internationally recognized sports marketing company delivering high profile Visual Branding, Live Event Management, LED, and cutting edge Digital Sports Applications to enrich the experience at major events and deliver commercial impact for sponsors and partners. The company has a 20-year history in providing its various solutions for many top-tier domestic and international events, organizations, teams and companies, with proven success and turn-key solutions across 1000+ events, 160+ cities and 50+ countries globally.

    For more information on our services, please visit or contact Mike Squire at / Phone: 312-371-5852.

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    World Soccer Shop

    Launched in 2001, World Soccer Shop is an online soccer retailer based in Birmingham, Alabama. It carries one of the world’s widest selections of officially-licensed products from the sport’s top brands and teams. World Soccer Shop is passionate about soccer and endeavors to spread the beautiful game around the world, especially to those in areas of need. For more information, please visit


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