Today, we’re announcing the winners of our very first Innovate to Elevate Award—a group of organizations who will test innovative approaches for creating sports environments that are truly inclusive and show every child that there is a safe place for them in sport.
Why am I so excited about this?
Because at a very young age, I found my voice through sport. During recess, I was almost always the only girl on the field running with the boys. Eventually my teacher encouraged my parents to get me on a team and with that prompt, they were able to find a local soccer club and signed me up.
Because soccer was offered where I lived, and my parents had the means to afford it, I’ve had the opportunity to play the beautiful game all over the country. However, in all those experiences not only was I the only Black girl on the team, I also never had a coach that looked like me.
This led to several awkward moments – wading through cultural differences in a system that wasn’t built with me in mind. Sadly, I am far from alone in this experience as Black athletes at all levels of the game have had similar experiences.
We often see best practices for engaging girls in sport, but rarely do they speak to the experiences of girls that look like me, or those who are left out of the pay-to-play model because their families can’t afford it.
At the U.S. Soccer Foundation, it was important for us to change that. To address this deficit, we launched the United for Girls initiative alongside adidas and The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation. Through this work, a cohort of trailblazing organizations have identified six key strategies to effectively engage girls and women from underserved communities in sports.
With these strategies in mind, we knew that there were other organizations out there who had great ideas about how to do this as well. And we knew that we wanted to elevate some of these ideas and test them out.
So, in October, we announced the Innovate to Elevate Award. Applicants pitched their innovative approaches to creating a sport environment that is inclusive of all genders, of all races and ethnicities, and of all socio-economic backgrounds.
And the winners are in! These 20 organizations will be working with our team at the U.S. Soccer Foundation to transform the sport landscape to achieve gender equity.
• Can Play
• Delaware Youth Soccer Association
• Detroit Public Schools Foundation
• Directed Initiatives for Youth
• Elite Soccer Youth Development Academy, Inc.
• Football for the World Foundation USA
• Foundation for Interscholastic Youth Athletics
• Girls Leading Girls
• Gotham Girls FC
• Inter Atlanta FC
• New York Edge
• Open Goal Project
• Philadelphia Area Disc Alliance
• Portland Community Football Club
• PowerPlay NYC, Inc.
• Soccer for the Future
• Soccer Without Borders – Boston
• Soccer Without Borders – Oakland
• South End Soccer
• Washington Youth Soccer Association
These organizations will also get access to cutting edge trainings that will build their capacity to create a positive team culture where every female identifying participant can flourish. Together, we will test their tactics and surface additional promising practices to effectively engage girls in under-resourced communities in sport. And we’ll take these practices and share them so that other organizations can implement them into their programs.
I look forward to the day where my experience is one of the past—where there are children of all races, genders, and backgrounds who see themselves in our sport—and who feel included.
And while we are on this path to making these new practices the norm in sport, I know we are already moving the needle to make a real difference in the lives of girls nationwide. Girls who look like me.