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Engaging the Next Wave

Engaging the Next Wave


“You mean all of the coaches out there are girls, too?!”

On a hot, summer day in Denver, Colorado, a team of nine-year-old girls cheered as they sprinted onto the field to meet the first class of Next Wave Coach Academy candidates. Thirteen young women would spend the afternoon working with the team under the guidance of a licensed instructor (also a “girl, too”) to learn best practices for coaching young players. This would be their first step on a long-term pathway to becoming coaches at the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club.

Of the approximately 4.1 million youth sport coaches in America, only an estimated 650,000 are women. This leaves a void for female role models across youth sports. A recent study in the journal, Gender & Society, found an even wider gender disparity: only 13.4% of American Youth Soccer Association coaches are women.1

A lack of exposure to women in leadership roles makes a lasting impression on both girls and boys. Sport is one of the world’s most powerful social institutions and remains an important platform for shaping the perceptions and expectations of young people. While the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club is currently ahead of the industry average in terms of the gender disparity among coaches – 23% of full-time, part-time, and volunteer coaches at the club are female – the vision of the club is to become known as an industry leader in engaging female coaches.

To help boost the number of female coaches at the club, Next Wave Academy piloted a coach education and mentorship program with Women in Youth Sports Coalition and WeCoach. Through the program, we helped the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club engage its “next wave” of female coaches by creating an environment where women are encouraged to coach and are provided a pathway tailored to each individual.

How did we do this? We started the process by performing a needs assessment for the youth club to determine its coaching needs. Then, we recruited young women, including current club players, former players, and novice coaches, who were interested in coaching as a future career. We then interviewed each candidate to determine her coaching interests and development needs. This one-on-one interview helped us match each coach with an experienced mentor in the club with the skills to support the Next Wave Coach in her coaching journey. Over the course of the season, mentors met individually with their mentees a minimum of three times to create individual development plans, including on-field and off-field skills assessments, guided self-reflection, and evaluation.

The results of the pilot are very promising. In its inaugural season, the Next Wave Academy placed thirteen women in paid coaching positions at the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club. 

Throughout the season, these women earned sport-specific licenses; additionally, they gained a full season of paid work experience and each coach was supported by a mentor who is an experienced director at the club.

“I've been coaching with a female coach who didn't get this opportunity when she began,” said one Next Wave candidate. “She would have loved to have this program when she started. Being new [to coaching] and a woman, it's not easy to get into. She kind of felt thrown to the wolves. With me being in this program, I feel more prepared with extra tools in my toolbox.”

At this year’s Urban Soccer Symposium, I presented the results of this unique program, the Next Wave Academy, as part of the Symposium’s first ever gender equity track. Urban Soccer Symposium attendees were first immersed in elements of the program that potential candidates would experience, kicking off with an exercise that helped participants identify and articulate their core values. These types of activities are what make the Next Wave Academy experience unique: in addition to sport-specific licensing, the program works to empower women to be confident leaders on and off the field. These types of exercises can serve young coaches in any sport environment.

Kincaid leads a session at the 2019 Urban Soccer Symposium

Urban Soccer Symposium attendees were presented with the three main phases that help make this program successful:

  1. Engaging women as coaches through strategic recruitment 
  2. Inspiring these coaches through a holistic development approach including sport-specific licensing, leadership training, and experiential learning
  3. Empowering coaches by creating a support network through community-building and mentorship

Women are just one of many underrepresented demographics in the coaching world. While creating a more diverse pool of leaders requires out-of-the-box thinking, it helps us serve our players in more effective and personal ways. In the end, the hard work is worth it.

“When I step onto the field I do not feel intimidated by being a woman,” said a Next Wave coach candidate. “I feel strong. I want to use that strength to empower the players I coach.”

1 Messner, M. (2009). It’s All for the Kids: Gender, Families, and Youth Sport. Women in Sport and Physical Activity Journal, Vol. 18(Issue 1). pp 102-103 

The 2019 Urban Soccer Symposium hosted attendees from 183 organizations and 31 U.S. states. Follow this link to learn more about the three-day event.


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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 adidas.com.

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    All Sports Enterprises, Inc. is the U.S. Soccer Foundation's preferred artificial turf supplier and installer. Whether you are building a new, or renovating an existing facility, All Sports Enterprises, Inc. has the materials and professional installation crews to outfit your entire complex. With over 30 different manufacturers to choose from, All Sports Enterprises, Inc. will assist you in selecting the right products for the right application. Its intallation crews are experienced, certified, and will work with you and your staff to make sure your project is a complete success.


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    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 hunterindustries.com. Please contact Lynda Wightman, 406-273-3073, lynda.wightman@hunterindustries.com 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 www.jnj.com.

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    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 Kwikgoal.com.

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    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.

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    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 www.mtjsports.com or contact our president, Mats Jonmarker, directly via email at mats@mtjsports.com.

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    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 https://ussoccerfoundation.org/grants/ to learn more about the grant program and application process.

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    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 scoresports.com.

  • Soccer.com

    Soccer.com, 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. Soccer.com embodies a passion for the game that extends to the people who play, coach and support soccer. For more information, please visit soccer.com.

  • Sport Court

    Sport Court®, the Foundation's Supplier for Futsal Surfaces, has been the industry leader in modular athletic flooring for over 30 years. With more than 50,000 installations worldwide, and the largest and most experienced network of authorized dealers, Sport Court® delivers innovative, durable, high-performance solutions for a variety of sports and activities. For more information, please visit sportcourt.com. Please contact Lauren Gillian at lgillian@sportcourt.com for any questions regarding Sport Court's corporate partnership with the U.S. Soccer Foundation.

  • 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.

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    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 https://www.worldwidetgi.com or contact Mike Squire at msquire@worldwidetgi.com / Phone: 312-371-5852.

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