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Revitalizing Play Spaces With the U.S. Soccer Foundation: The Story of a Sports Surfacing Vendor

Revitalizing Play Spaces With the U.S. Soccer Foundation: The Story of a Sports Surfacing Vendor

It was only after I graduated from the University of Tennessee with a degree in industrial engineering and completed several job interviews that I realized I did not want to be an industrial engineer. At the time, back in the mid-70s, this meant working inside production facilities with a clipboard in hand, analyzing the interactions between human and machine.

Luckily, I was a businessman. At a young age, I had started a local grass-cutting business that turned into a driveway sealing business by the time I entered college. My partner and I were later approached by the company that made the coating we used. They were looking to train people on how to use their new surface material that was designed specifically for tennis courts. Since a handful of our customers also had tennis courts, we decided to learn about this new product and make a go in this new line of business. This led me to where I’ve been for most of the last 40 years now, working in athletic surfacing operations.

Over this time, you could say I’ve become well acquainted with the surfacing industry. I’ve taken part in thousands of tennis court installations, and my team and I have become certified to handle and a variety of acrylic sports surfacing products.

Little did we know, however, that after doing hundreds of tennis court installations each year, we’d be introduced to and play a role in the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s Safe Places to Play mini-pitch work. But a few years ago, it just so happened that the Foundation was growing its operations to install mini-pitches across the country and needed more certified vendors to get involved. That’s where we came in.

THE AUDITION

Our first projects for the U.S. Soccer Foundation took place in Atlanta. We were immediately thrust into the hustle and bustle of the projects, which were very different from what we were used to. We had a big batch of mini-pitch installations to complete ahead of the 2018 MLS All-Star event, hosted in Atlanta that summer, so we had to adhere to strict timelines; the logos were new; we had to learn a lot on the spot. It was memorable because it freaked me out, but also because it was something new and exciting.

At the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrenceville, for example, we captured an unused part of the parking lot there and turned it into a pitch. We’ve never done anything like that before. Then over at Isabel Gates Webster Park, we transformed a seemingly random, paved area in the middle of the park into a pitch. By the end of our first trip, we’d created nine mini-pitches across the city.

Before and after: Isabel Gates Webster Park

Taking an unused space, like a vacant lot or a dilapidated court, and converting it to a pitch has become really pretty easy. Since our first ‘audition’ in Atlanta, we’ve surfaced mini-pitches in Nashville, Cincinnati, and Durham, and are headed to Memphis this summer, installing over 20 mini-pitches with the U.S. Soccer Foundation in three years.

Mini-pitches at East End Park (Durham, North Carolina)

MORE THAN A SPACE

You can imagine that after decades of installing tennis courts – the same lines, the same green coloring – the work would get a little tired. But the mini-pitches have added some vibrance to our projects, and they have also inspired us. There are a lot of facilities across the country that are never going to be used as tennis courts again and mini-pitches provide an efficient, inviting, and unique way to bring those facilities back to life.

Not only that, but soccer is on the rise. We’re seeing it wherever we go when we’re working on projects. Soccer is definitely getting more popular and the mini-pitch repurposes spaces such that they can accommodate more people and provide a better way to play. It’s exciting to see an unused space start to get used.

Mini-pitch at Hartwell Community Center (Cincinnati, Ohio)

We’ve seen a lot of entities that will just fix up the courts occasionally and that’s it. No more thought is put into it. In a lot of cases, there seems to be no coordination with the facility and programming – they’re operating separately.

But the Foundation’s community-focused approach to installation and site selection for these mini-pitches is unique because it involves thoughtful evaluation and coordination. It involves the Foundation team participating in community meetings, working to ensure that the space will be used by the entity – be it a school or a park department – for both high-quality soccer programming and free play. It involves collecting data on the pitch’s usage to better inform other installation projects.

MY ‘WHY’

We are proud to have been able to work on these mini-pitch projects over the last several years and will continue to do so. Our role in the project may be simple, but the long-term benefits from that work are tremendous. When we come in to help fix up a play space, we have no doubt that more people are able to get outside and use it in a way that supports their health. The Foundation’s mini-pitches are part of a larger effort to get people active, give them a safe place to play, and build community resilience.

The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified this need. Now more than ever, it’s imperative that these kinds of facilities are ready for kids to play on as soon as it is safe to do so. What I think we can all collectively agree on is that we, as people, do not want to stay cooped up. And when it’s safe to get outside, we should all have access to reliable options to be active. Mini-pitches provide just that.

The U.S. Soccer Foundation has installed 300 mini-pitches across the country over the last five years. Follow this link to learn more about Safe Places to Play mini-pitches.

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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 adidas.com.

  • 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 www.sportsbyapt.com.

  • 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, www.astroturf.com/soccer. - See more at: https://ussoccerfoundation.org/article/astroturf-partners-with-the-u.s.-soccer-foundation-as-a-national-partner-for-field-building-program#sthash.FL8E8bAM.dpuf

  • 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 chacompanies.com

  • 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 SportsMatter.org.

  • 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 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.

  • 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 Kwikgoal.com.

  • MLS WORKS

    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 https://ussoccerfoundation.org/grants/ 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 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.

  • 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 https://www.worldwidetgi.com or contact Mike Squire at msquire@worldwidetgi.com / 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 www.worldsoccershop.com.

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