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The Universal Language

The Universal Language

One day, Soccer for Success coach-mentors Rick and Diego noticed a few boys sitting on a hill overlooking their practice session at the Mattie Rhodes Center. It was apparent they wanted to play, Rick recalls, so he approached them to ask if they wanted to join. Little did he know that the boys spoke little English.

Sila and Omari are cousins and recently moved from Tanzania to Kansas City, Missouri along with their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and siblings after their family left Congo. The 13- and 11-year-olds remember playing on dirt fields, using shoes and rocks for goals. For a ball, Sila describes filling up a balloon, putting it in a bag, and tying a shirt around it until it resembled a soccer ball.

Despite the fact that they did not speak English, the kids jumped up ready to play right away, even in their thong sandals. Coach-Mentor Rick says that “I actually left that practice right then and there and tried to scramble up as many pairs of shoes as I could.” When Rick returned with the shoes, the kids were extremely excited, tried them on, and gave him a thumbs up. When it was time to play, however, Rick and Diego were surprised to see them remove their new shoes and put their sandals back on.

Rick and Diego with the boys

But their shoe choice didn’t seem to be a hindrance. “They’re all pretty good,” Rick comments, noting that they can run circles around everyone in their sandals. “I remember another kid who has been in the program for a while asking me and Coach Diego, ‘How is he doing that in sandals? How is he that good?’ And I remember him saying ‘I’m going to take my shoes off.’”

Because Rick, Diego, and other coach-mentors taught themselves a few soccer phrases over the course of the season, the language barrier didn’t prove to be a major obstacle. “We’re...trying to teach ourselves their language,” says Rick, “certain things like, for one, ‘pass the ball’ because they’re really good and they’ll dribble the whole field, so we’ve got to yell out the term ‘pass the ball’ sometimes.”

From a peer-to-peer perspective, language was never an issue. “Because of the game, the kids had a common interest, and the common interest is so strong, that it wasn’t necessarily ever an extreme barrier,” Rick explains. “They couldn’t talk to each other in a language [but] they talked to each other through this sport of soccer.”

Fast forward to a few weeks into the fall season, and Sila, Omari, and their siblings have not only developed their English language skills, they’ve also become leaders in the program. “It’s really a testament of this program and…the power of it,” says Rick. “You can easily see that it’s helped them grow and get comfortable with changes in this world where they have no [other] way of communicating.”

“The confidence that they have in themselves is through the roof,” Rick adds. “They show up one day, they don’t know anyone, there’s a language barrier, they’re quiet, but the only connection we have is this sport, is this game of soccer, and you can tell they love it.”

Soccer for Success has also provided the children with a place to develop their interests. “They keep coming with us, which means they like how we run the practices and the entire program of Soccer for Success, but we also provide them with the literature and the nutrition that they didn’t have,” says Diego.

While Sila, Omari, and their siblings have become integral members of the local Soccer for Success community, they are eager to give back. “I want to be a police officer because I want to help people. I want to get the bad guys,” Sila proclaims. Omari, too, says he wants to be a police officer, but he also wants to play soccer. “I want to do both,” he says.

After learning of Sila’s and Omari’s aspirations, Diego had an idea. A few weeks ago, Diego arranged for Sila and Omari to meet Antoney, a police officer who coaches Soccer for Success with Mattie Rhodes as a part of the local Police Athletic League (PAL) program.

“When I became a cop, I wanted to help kids. I originally wanted to be a gym teacher,” Antoney says. He adds that “I’m basically a cop that’s a gym teacher now and I love it. I love working with kids. I love keeping kids out of trouble, keeping them on the right path, and getting them into college and getting them into good jobs.”

“The goal is to keep them involved all we can and to help them in every aspect of their lives,” says Diego. And while we may see Sila and Omari in the PAL in the future, for the time being, they’re all happy to be part of the Soccer for Success program.

Soccer for Success provides an open and inclusive space where everyone can play the beautiful game and learn from trained coach-mentors. Learn more about the program here.

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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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    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.

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    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

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    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

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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.

  • 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.

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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.

  • 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.

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