After a troubling report on youth soccer participation numbers, it's time for some good news ...

After a troubling report on youth soccer participation numbers, it's time for some good news ...

As the world watched France defeat Croatia on soccer’s largest stage on Sunday, the conversation around the sport in the United States quickly shifted to a troubling issue at the other end of the spectrum—a reported decline in the rate of youth soccer participation here at home.

Youth sports in general have struggled to keep kids engaged in recent years.  Soccer is no exception.  Joe Drape reported in his New York Times piece that 6- to 12-year-olds playing soccer regularly dropped nearly 14 percent over the last three years and the sport has lost nearly 600,000 participants. The article points to several reasons for the decline. They range from a ‘pay-to-play’ system, which prices too many families and children out of the sport, to increased competition and pressure at earlier ages that can drain the fun out of the game. Yet, amid all this, there is some good news that isn’t yet widely known.

The U.S. Soccer Foundation has been able to stimulate significant growth in participation among children in underserved communities nationwide where poverty and a lack of infrastructure historically have presented significant barriers that limited access and opportunities to play. In fact, over the past three years as participation of 6- to 12-year-olds playing soccer reportedly dropped 14 percent, participation in our Soccer for Success after-school program saw an average year-over-year growth rate of 39 percent. Just last year, the program saw a year-over-year increase in participation of 64 percent. In the coming school year, we expect to engage 100,000 children.

Soccer for Success participants 1

How is this happening while national trends are going in the opposite direction? With the help of a wide range of partners, we make sure that kids have easy and affordable access to a quality soccer program that is fun and engaging. Soccer for Success is offered free to participants and their families. The program focuses on small-sided games and practices are held at or close to schools. The Foundation and our partners also work to create safe places to play soccer in areas where play spaces have not been previously available.  

Additionally, our coaches (whom we call coach-mentors) are specially trained to make soccer inclusive and engaging. There are no try-outs so all children have the opportunity to play. Soccer for Success coaches make the sport fun. Last season, 58 percent of participants were introduced to the sport for the first time through the program and 76 percent of participants said they liked soccer more because of their experience in Soccer for Success.

Here’s how Charli (Charlize) Valentin of New York’s East Side Community High School put it: “As an older high school student, I see within the middle school whenever I help out Coach Louis, there’s just so many kids who want to play soccer… Even the people who have been at East Side and have played a different sport or no sport at all, see that soccer is such an inclusive sport. I feel there is a bit more confidence in them to go out and try and be welcomed. That pitch really brought everyone together to see that this is a school that takes soccer seriously and wants success, not for just the sport, but for the students who play it too.”

All of the above is extremely promising, but there is a still a long way to go. The Foundation has set ambitious goals to achieve by 2026 when the FIFA World Cup returns to the United States: build 1,000 safe places to play and engage 1 million children a year in Soccer for Success

Soccer for Success participants 2

To be clear, we have not found a way to eliminate all the costs associated with delivering quality soccer programming and safe places to play. It will take considerable resources and cross-sector collaboration to achieve our 2026 goals. The good news is that a growing number of people and organizations see tremendous value in providing children in underserved communities with the access and opportunity to play our game.  More importantly, they are willing to invest in making that a reality.  Why?  Because governments see value in keeping children active and engaged with coach-mentors during the critical after-school hours.  Because charitable foundations see value in the positive health and youth development outcomes associated with participation in Soccer for Success and how the program helps strengthen communities.  Because philanthropic individuals, particularly those who grew up playing soccer, recognize how much the game enriched their lives and want children growing up in less fortunate circumstances to have that same opportunity.

The success seen to date results from a wide range of partners getting behind this effort. Target, adidas, Musco Sports Lighting, Major League Soccer, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the California Endowment, government funders, and philanthropic individuals nationwide have come together to help create access and opportunity in underserved communities. Child-serving organizations nationwide are adopting and implementing the Soccer for Success model because they see value in the evidence-based outcomes that help kids develop on and off the playing field, aiding them in their mission in service to youth. 

To achieve our 2026 goals, we’ll need the support of everyone in the soccer community—and beyond—to continue to expand access to the game. It will require non-traditional partners, policymakers, parents, and soccer fans to play whatever role we can to ensure that children—especially those in underserved communities—can play and benefit from this incredible game.

We need to make soccer everyone’s game. Let’s get to work. Join us at to learn more about our efforts and to become part of a national movement that will change the landscape of soccer in America.


Good article about a great program. Unfortunately the youth participation numbers continue to decline. I am in the camp that a major factor in this decline is the pressure to move kids from a recreational type league to a developmental type league. I believe the focus of national organizations should not be on developing future national team players but on recreational participation. Quit pushing the kids and the parents...

Name (required)John Powell - November 4, 2018

Good morning, I’m looking for a league to help my boys train and get into the sport here in miami Florida. Can you tell me where you are located and what the prices are? I’m have a really low budget but I really want my boys to play as their dream is to one day become a famous soccer player. Please let me know any information regarding any soccer team.

Roxana Matute - December 1, 2018

I am involved in running a small town soccer club named Salisbury United SC in Salisbury Maryland. We have a significant local immigrant/minority population who work in agriculture or poultry industry. We have tried to engage/incorporate these kids as best we can with limited resources. Recently, a home burned down in one of our poorest neighborhoods. As far as I can tell, the lot is abandoned. This is a neighborhood with tons of Hiatian and Hispanic kids running the street. It seems like a great place to “build a safe place to play”. Earlier in year, we applied for a Robert Wood Johnson grant but we did not win it. How would we attempt to access your program for potential support. Thank you. Brett Hofmann

Brett Hofmann - July 24, 2018

Thanks for your feedback and comment. The Foundation has several options to assist with field-building efforts through our Safe Places to Play grants program. See here for more details: Our next grant application opens in September, and we’d be excited to review your application!

Jennifer Arnold - July 27, 2018

A huge step backwards was the change to stop the kids playing in their school year to calendar year. Seems dumb to ignore the number one reason that kids come into the sport which is to play with their school friends. At the time US Soccer said it was to do with matching what is done elsewhere but that is not true. I grew up in the UK where the kids played according to school year. It is still that way. Only professional clubs with academies at a higher level do it calendar year. Grass roots soccer should take advantage of every positive reason to engage as many kids as possible in the sport. Things were growing nicely before the change and seemingly backwards ever since even with a huge improvement in the number of fields etc.

Steve - March 3, 2019

Our rural soccer programs are in need of more grant opportunities and support. Our players and communities are forgotten. Our club doesn't need grant funding for a turf field, lights, or mini-pitches. We simply need a proper field! Our kids have no options other than to play on a level grass field they can find anywhere. When we travel to tournaments in the city they get confused at how to ball travels on a proper grass field and turf. Our county is in the bottom third poorest counties in the state so fundraising is difficult, not to mention keeping the league in operation. Stop focusing just on the cities and suburbs, you're missing an entire segment of our population and thus, missing out on their potential talent!

Kevin - December 9, 2019

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Our Partners

  • 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

  • APT

    APT (Advanced Polymer Technology), the Foundation’s Partner for Acrylic Coating Products, is a global leader in high performance sports surfaces. APT provides people around the world with safe, reliable, performance enhancing surfaces. APT’s Laykold Masters acrylic surfacing system will be the official surface of an estimated 500 mini-pitches. For more information on APT, please visit

  • AstroTurf

    For athletes and soccer enthusiasts, AstroTurf® is redefining how synthetic soccer fields are built and perform. The brand offers advanced, state-of-the-art synthetic turf systems with proprietary engineered technologies. A growing number of clubs, high schools, colleges, professional sports teams and municipalities continue to select AstroTurf’s LigaTurf-branded products for their premium quality, technical superiority, and safety. To learn more, visit the company’s recently redesigned website, - See more at:

  • 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

    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 0 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

  • Hunter

    Hunter Industries, the Foundation's National Partner for Irrigation Equipment, is one of the world's leading manufacturers of irrigation equipment for turf, landscape and soccer fields.  Hunter Industries' focus is on landscape irrigation with a significant part of its business centering on the proper care and maintenance of sports turf. For more information, please visit Please contact Lynda Wightman, 406-273-3073, with any questions regarding the U.S. Soccer Foundation's grants program.

  • Johnson & Johnson

    Johnson & Johnson, the Foundation’s grant partner, is dedicated to supporting the next generation of female leaders by providing greater access to girls’ youth soccer programming in underserved communities nationwide. As the world’s largest and most broadly based healthcare company, Johnson & Johnson strives to create healthier communities, and put a healthy mind, body and environment within reach of everyone, everywhere. For more information, please visit

  • 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.

  • MTJ Sports

    MTJ Sports is honored to be a corporate partner with the U.S. Soccer Foundation and its Safe Places To Play program. We believe in working with our customers as a true business partnership. We cultivate & drive healthy relationships through our core business values and provide premier turnkey services for sports surfaces & equipment from design & manufacturing all the way through the installation process. For more information please visit our website at or contact our president, Mats Jonmarker, directly via email at

  • 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, 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 Spaces to Play in 2017, along with a 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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