As the newest member of the Foundation team, I’m often asked why I am attracted to this kind of work or why I’m so passionate about using soccer as a vehicle for social change. I could point to hundreds of studies on youth development or rattle off a dozen facts about the benefits of playing organized sports, but what it really boils down to is this: I believe in the power of the beautiful game to have a positive impact on a child’s life.
Growing up, soccer was my passion. I was a good athlete and a dedicated teammate, but I was never an “elite” player. I knew I would never play for a Division I school, never grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, or play alongside my childhood heroes. I played because I truly loved the game. What kept me coming back, season after season, were the friends I had made and the sense of belonging I felt as part of a team.
In college, I volunteered as a youth soccer coach in Oakland, CA. I was surprised to learn that many of my kids never belonged to a team prior to joining mine. This was not due to a lack of interest, but rather, a lack of opportunity. Once given access to safe playing facilities and the right equipment, my kids embraced the game wholeheartedly. And despite a less-than-stellar league record, they finished the season as a strong team of confident, supportive leaders. They proved to me what I have always known to be true: soccer is bigger than the game itself; it’s true value lies in the lessons it teaches and in the community it creates.
While I’m still getting the hang of things around the office, I love knowing that every day I am helping to create these same opportunities for kids in under-resourced communities across the country. Because of the work we do, another kid will know how it feels to lace up a pair of cleats, dribble a ball down the field, and belong to something bigger than his or herself – and win or lose, I think that’s a pretty beautiful thing.