When today’s top athletes are discussed, the term "elite” is often used to describe their performances. Yet a recent ad by Nike, a brand that over the years has become almost synonymous with elite athletes, features an overweight, 12-year old Nathan Sorrell who comes into full focus only as he slowly jogs towards the camera down a deserted dirt road at dusk. The message in the ad, titled "Find Your Greatness", seems simple; we can't all be elite athletes but we can all be great and inspire greatness.
I note this particular advertisement not because of its message but because it put a spotlight on an issue that requires our immediate attention. The federal government's recent release of its “obesity map” and current obesity statistics, suggests that the problem is serious and isn't going away anytime soon. There is growing evidence that this may be the first generation of children in this great country to have shorter lifespans than their parents. The U.S. Soccer Foundation believes that our game is a powerful vehicle for social change and an important part of the solution. Through our Soccer for Success program, we are combating the childhood obesity epidemic by providing children with opportunities to exercise in a fun, safe environment and using the opportunity to also educate them about the benefits of good nutrition and the importance of leading active lifestyles.
Soccer for Success is a free, after-school program that uses the world’s most popular game as a tool to improve health and social outcomes among children growing up in economically disadvantaged urban communities where the obesity problem is particularly acute. The Foundation partners with community-based organizations across the country to operate Soccer for Success sites – providing thousands of children from kindergarten to 8th grade with free after-school programming three days a week for 24 weeks during the academic year. In 2011 we served 8,000 children in 8 cities nationwide. During the 2012-2013 school year we will serve close to 16,000 children in 20 U.S. cities. We're thrilled to say that we're getting great results. Our 2011 evaluation data revealed:
- Ninety-four percent (94%) of participants said they try harder in school as a result of this program
- Eighty-nine (89%) of participants in the overweight and obese categories decreased their Body Mass Index (BMI) percentile.
- Eighty-two percent (82%) of participants said they make healthier choices about food or drinks as a result of this program
- Seventy-three percent (73%) of participants reported spending less time watching TV or playing video games as a result of this program
- Sixty-eight percent (68%) of participants said they like exercising more as a result of this program
It can be fun to debate which professional athletes are truly elite and which are not. However, the real pressing question is how we will encourage more children to achieve personal greatness by leading healthier, active lifestyles – whether they have the potential to become elite athletes or not. Initiatives like Soccer for Success are doing just that. I encourage you to join our effort. Together we can make a difference, improving lives one soccer field at a time.