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Rucker's Legacy: the Game of Life

Rucker's Legacy: the Game of Life

Harlem's Rucker Park is widely known for the parade of famous players who have graced its basketball courts. Everyone from Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant has played there. Today, the park plays host to elite prep school tournaments, which often are the gateway for recruitment to high-profile universities and lucrative professional careers.

But as the New York Times' William C. Rhoden reminded in an August column, the park's namesake, Holcombe Rucker, was an early pioneer of what we call today “sports-based youth development.” He started a tournament at the park in the 1950s to help kids from less fortunate circumstances stay off the streets and aim for college careers.

"His life’s mission," as Rhoden put it was "expanding opportunities, broadening horizons and empowering young, disadvantaged African-Americans in Harlem." Sport was just an avenue  to better academic and social outcomes for these low-income children, rather than the stepping stone to a professional career that is possible for only a handful of extraordinarily gifted athletes.

The idea that sports are good for children is not a new one. Most of us grew up hearing that participation in youth sports builds character, instills discipline, fosters teamwork and develops leaders. Over the years I've learned that while this is generally the case, it is most true when coaches assume responsibility and are intentional about achieving positive social outcomes. 

The challenge today is that sport also holds the promise of great fame and wealth for those fortunate enough to make it to the pros. Such benefits are real, and many coaches, parents, and players alike entertain that dream for themselves or for their children. It’s a pyramid scheme though, with only a relative few at the very top getting to enjoy the benefits.

The real value of youth sport, however, is as an engaging platform to help children who make up the base of the pyramid develop knowledge and valuable life skills that will help them become healthy and productive adults. 

Coaches are among the most influential people in the lives of children. Kids engaged in sports are typically there because they want to be there — what child doesn't want to have fun? — and they are eager to learn. That’s a teacher’s dream. Whether coaches leverage these opportunities to the greatest benefit of children has been largely luck of the draw -- particularly as the emphasis in youth sports has shifted to winning at younger and younger ages.   

The luckiest children get coaches who recognize and embrace their role as major influencers; coaches who are committed to helping their players succeed on and off the playing field. In the past, a few passionate and charismatic leaders, like Rucker, made that their life's work -- often at great personal sacrifice. With the wide range of challenges children face today, we can no longer risk whether they will have the opportunity to enjoy the broadest benefits from their participation in sport.

To ensure these benefits can be attained requires an organized and systematic approach to leveraging coaches as a true national resource with the potential to help with such pressing issues as childhood obesity, academic achievement and juvenile delinquency.  Those of us involved in the growing field of sports-based youth development recognize that many youth coaches would gladly take on this responsibility and derive great satisfaction from doing so -- if only they were asked…and trained.   

Today the growing field of sports-based youth development is making important gains. Practitioners are identifying specific and realistic outcomes that can be derived by leveraging coaches as educators and mentors. They are putting program metrics in place and evaluating outcomes in a structured way. Curricula have been developed and implemented to incorporate everything from nutrition education to promotion of writing skills. And practitioners are getting results.

The U.S. Soccer Foundation's Soccer for Success free after-school program received a federal Social Innovation Fund grant after evidence showed that the physical activity/nutritional education program had a positive impact. The findings of a 2011 Stanford University study on the program show:
 

  • Ninety-one percent (91%) of participants reported that Soccer for Success helped them feel better about themselves. 
  • Seventy-one percent (71%) reported that they make better choices when it comes to food.
  • Sixty-one percent (61%) spend less time engaged in video games and/or watching TV.
  • Eighty-seven percent (87%) of participants said that Soccer for Success helped them stay away from violence and fighting.

On the health side, recent evaluation data showed 89% of Soccer for Success participants considered obese and overweight achieved improved BMI percentiles, reflecting healthier weight. 

Yes, quality sports-based programs are good for children.

Sports are best for children, however, when coaches are pursuing specific health and social outcomes, as well as wins, and have the training and resources to succeed -  then the children ultimately win both on-and-off the playing surface. 

Those involved in youth sports will always search for and cultivate the next young star with professional promise. But those young stars are few and far between.  Just as much thought and energy must go into finding coaches who care about the whole child and sharing the many teachable moments in sport to help all children succeed in the most important game of all:  The game of life.

Comments

I noticed that Denzel Washington was wearing one of your jerseys in his movie, "Man on Fire." I know he is involved in Big Brothers program, is he involved with your group as well?

Sandy Craig - October 26, 2015

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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.

  • All Sports Enterprises, Inc.

    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.


  • 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

  • Brock

    Brock is the U.S. Soccer Foundation's preferred shock pad products supplier. Providing safe places to play is at the core of what Brock USA does as a company. Brock PowerBase/YSR, PowerBase/PRO, and ShockPad/SERIES artificial turf shock pads have revolutionized an industry to provide better impact absorption and performance for fields to help reduce concussions and other injuries. By partnering with the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Brock hopes to make America’s artificial turf fields the safest places to play for children. Brock's shock pads are also the only product in the artificial turf industry to be Cradle-to-Cradle certified, so they're not only thinking about a child’s well-being today, but their futures as well. For more information, please visit www.BrockUSA.com

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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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