The annual Urban Soccer Symposium is always a much-anticipated event for the Foundation staff – not only is it a chance for us to reconnect with many of our Soccer for Success program operators and colleagues in the sports for youth development field, it’s a chance for us to learn from others who are using soccer for social change and to be a part of the evolving conversation around urban soccer and the growth of the game. This year was no different, and after four days of sharing big ideas and working together as creative problem solvers, I think it’s safe to say that the 8th annual Urban Soccer Symposium was one of the most collaborative and inspiring Symposium to date.
The Symposium kicked off bright and early Thursday morning on Capitol Hill, where we met with Members of Congress to discuss the importance and impact of youth sports, mentoring organizations and afterschool programs, like Soccer for Success. Capitol Hill Day gave us a unique opportunity to visit with policy makers and showcase the great results that organizations across the nation are achieving through innovative soccer programming. More importantly, it once again reminded us that the love of the game is widespread (and growing!) throughout our country; Republican or Democrat, East Coast or West Coast, we all share the love of the beautiful game.
JT Dorsey Foundation and Chester Upland on Capitol Hill
On Friday, we shifted gears (and locations) and jumped right into our schedule of featured speakers and interactive breakout sessions. Darell Hammond, Founder and CEO of KaBOOM! helped get the party started with a great keynote address that got us thinking about the importance of play and investing in collaborative partnerships to better our communities and improve the field of youth development. This theme was emphasized throughout the afternoon breakout sessions as we discussed topics like “Teaching Character through Soccer,” “Working with Your Local State Association,” and “Community Asset Mapping.” The day culminated with a fantastic presentation from Dr. Ruby Payne, who gave us new insight into understanding poverty and the challenges faced by youth in underserved communities.
We kept Friday’s momentum and discussion rolling into Saturday with a Q&A with Matthew Spacie, Founder and Executive Chairman of Magic Bus. Using his own organization as an example, Matthew talked about organizational scaling and sustainable growth as it relates to our programming models. Matthew’s discussion led right into our “Sustainability Hackathon,” which asked us all to think creatively about the collective challenges we face as leaders in the field of sports-based youth development and to seek new solutions or opportunities for sustained growth and improvement. As nonprofit organizations and program administrators, we so often look at lack of funding, limited capacity, etc. as barriers to growth and success, but the hackathon taught us to look at these challenges in a new light and to take proactive, results-oriented steps toward our desired outcomes. For this reason, I think it was one of the most valuable sessions at this year’s Symposium.
The morning’s hackathon was followed by another series of engaging small-group discussions, including sessions led by Up2Us, the Indiana Soccer Foundation, and the JT Dorsey Foundation. Throughout the afternoon, we discussed topics like “Redesigning Sports to Amplify Impact” and “The Keys to Successful Grant Writing.” I even had the opportunity try out some new tricks in the Futbolinho and Skills Challenges session with the New York Red Bulls! Saturday was also a busy day for our Urban Soccer Coaching Diploma group, which spent the majority of the day on a nearby soccer field learning new techniques and strategies for coaching in compact and urban spaces.
On Sunday, the fourth and final day of the Symposium, we were treated to an amazing Q&A with former U.S. Women’s National Team members Briana Scurry and Michelle Akers. Led by Diana Cutaia of Coaching Peace, Briana and Michelle talked about their experiences playing the game and breaking racial and gender barriers in soccer. Briana and Michelle were quick to credit their youth coaches and mentors with being the defining factor in their long term success, both on and off the playing field – a theme that resonated strongly with all of us in the audience. As youth program leaders and administrators, we don’t always see the full impact of our work, but Briana really hit the nail on the head in saying, “When you’re not sure what you’re doing matters, trust me – it matters.” For many of us in the room, this statement was a great reminder that our work is not just important, it’s often vital.
Briana Scurry and Michelle Akers – Former USWNT members
Sunday wrapped up with a final afternoon of breakout sessions, followed by closing remarks from our very own Ed Foster-Simenon, President & CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation. As Ed stated, we are so grateful to be a part of a community dedicated to improving the lives of youth and while the path is not always clear, we have a unique opportunity to be trailblazers in our field. It takes each and everyone one of us to create change, but together we have the collective knowledge and power to make it happen.
It’s been a whirlwind few days here in DC, but we’re feeling motivated and inspired by all of those who attended and the ideas and stories that they shared with us throughout the Symposium. We can’t wait put these new ideas into action, and as always, we’re looking forwarding to welcoming everyone back again next spring for another fantastic Urban Soccer Symposium!