The Mini-Pitch Connection

In Hawthorne, CA, it is illegal to play soccer in the public parks.

Grassy areas that once existed have been replaced with trees, transforming parks into small sectioned areas, not conducive for play. “Even if you wanted to run around or play in the park, there’s no area to do so,” explained Sergeant Chris Cognac of the Hawthorne Police Department (HPD).

With no fields to play soccer, kids in Hawthorne would take their soccer balls to the only other available space, the local tennis courts.

“The tennis courts were constantly empty, unless there were kids playing soccer,” said Sergeant Cognac. “But because of rules set by the Parks Department, HPD would have to continually kick them off the courts.”

Noticing the lack of use the tennis courts received and the desire the kids had for a place to play soccer, Sergeant Cognac saw an opportunity to further connect with the community and create a safe place for the kids to play soccer.

Working in partnership with the LA Galaxy and Chevrolet, the abandoned tennis courts were transformed into three futsal courts.

“The transformation of the courts has created new life in the community,” said Sergeant Cognac. “It was an empty space that did nothing, and now it’s a space with a purpose that does more than just provide a safe place to play.

When the courts opened, the HPD announced a Thursday futsal pick-up program on social media. “We did not know what to expect, but wanted to have an organized time where students could come play. Furthermore, we wanted a time where we could build stronger relationships between the officers and the community,” explained Sergeant Cognac.

10 students attended the first Thursday futsal pick-up game. With everyone unsure of what to expect, a game of pick-up began.

“It was exciting because no one knew each other and it worked because they all enjoyed soccer,” said Sergeant Cognac. “We told them to come back next week, and sure enough they did, and so did more kids. And then after a little time, more people realized it was a cool weekly thing.”

Thursday futsal took off and began to spread among the kids from Hawthorne and surrounding communities. Now, with an average of 50 to 70 kids each week, the program serves as an opportunity for the kids to play futsal and receive mentorship.

“We each have a group of mentees that we work with,” said Sergeant Cognac. “We take 5 to 10 minutes each week to check in right there on the courts. We check grades, ask how they’re doing, help them take on leadership roles, and see what we can do to help them succeed.”

After Sergeant Cognac spoke to a group of high school students, one student approached him wanting to learn more about the program.

“Brianna was interested in the program, so I invited her to come on Thursday and share more about herself and her goals,” recalled Sergeant Cognac. “When she came on Thursday, she had written an essay about herself. After reading it, I was hooked. I wanted to help her grow and achieve her goals.”

“The first day I went to futsal I tried playing, but truthfully, I’m not very good,” said Brianna. “But I kept going and took ownership of the program’s social media.”

Brianna has been one of Sergeant Cognac’s mentees for over a year now and knows the program is about more than playing futsal. “The program teaches kids where there is a good and safe place to play after school. It keeps them off the streets,” she said. “I love seeing the kids all come from different neighborhoods and schools and play together.”

While she doesn’t play in the pick-up games on Thursday, Brianna has taken a leadership role within the program, serving as the publicist for the program and teaching some of the younger participants how to create content for the social media accounts. In addition, she has gained real world experience that has guided her decision to study communications in college next year.

“Through the futsal program, I’ve gotten to do more than I ever imagined,” explained Brianna. “I’ve had the opportunity to job shadow the LA Galaxy PR staff, work alongside reporters from the LA Times, and be mentored by staff from the Hawthorne Police Department.”

Other participants have had the opportunity to learn the sport from Gyasi Zardes, a member of the U.S. Men’s National Team and Columbus Crew SC, and a native of Hawthorne.

As a kid, Gyasi was constantly kicked off the tennis courts for playing soccer. Now, he works with the HPD to help run the Thursday futsal program and mentor a group of kids from the community. “To the kids, Gyasi is one of them,” said Sergeant Cognac. “He may be a professional athlete, but he’s from Hawthorne, grew up where the kids are now, and is back playing on the courts.”

Gyasi started working with Sergeant Cognac and the HPD as an intern in college. Since then, he has continued to volunteer, helping to build the program and grow the sport on the courts in Hawthorne.

“He gives what we are doing even more credibility,” said Sergeant Cognac. “He is from the neighborhood, had a dream, went to college, played soccer, and succeeded. He is the definition of what a professional athlete and role model should be.”

Gyasi is one of the many volunteers outside of the HPD that have helped to make the Thursday futsal program successful. Others include a local photographer, who captures Thursday futsal and has taught Brianna and other students photography, and a medical student who tutors students on the side of the courts before and after their games.

Two years into programming, Sergeant Cognac knows the work and success of the program is not something that can fabricated. “The success of the courts and Thursday programming is because everything we do is organic,” explained Sergeant Cognac. “Everything is based on effort. It takes something to invest in the kids – you have to see more than just the kid. Take an interest, empower them, show them a path, and see what they say.”

The impact of the Hawthorne courts has inspired other police departments across the country to start community engagement programs around soccer. One of the departments is the Chicago Police Department, who connected with Sergeant Cognac after learning about the success of the Hawthorne programming. Through Sergeant Cognac, Officer Daniel Diaz was introduced to the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the Safe Places to Play program. This program transforms abandoned courts, empty schoolyards, vacant lots, and the like into state-of-the-art soccer fields for kids.

Together, the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Chicago Fire, MLS Works, and Southern New Hampshire University brought two new Safe Places to Play mini-pitches to Gage Park in Chicago. Now, the pitches are open for play and host soccer programming for youth, while members of the Chicago Police Department coach.

Sergeant Cognac hopes police departments across the country will build courts in their communities and create opportunities to foster leadership and provide mentorship to their community’s youth.

To learn more about the Hawthorne Futsal Courts and the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s Safe Places to Play program, click here.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Join the U.S. Soccer Foundation in the movement to improve lives through soccer.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.




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



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

The DICK'S Sporting Goods Foundation

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 $100 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

Kwik Goal

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



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.



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 to learn more about the grant program and application process.

SCORE Sports

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, 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. embodies a passion for the game that extends to the people who play, coach and support soccer. For more information, please visit






Target announced a national partnership with Safe Places to Play in 2017, along with a $6 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

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 or contact Mike Squire at / Phone: 312-371-5852.

World Soccer Shop

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


Tweet or post on Facebook and show the world
that you believe in the power of soccer.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter