“As a coach, showing them the fun part of soccer is most important because it gets their interest in the game,” says 17-year-old Jerome Reano.
The teen is a member of the Santo Domingo Pueblo tribe in Albuquerque, N.M., and has been playing soccer for the majority of his life. More recently, however, Reano has transitioned from player to coach, as well as referee.
He has played in the Indigenous Soccer Cup (ISC) tournament, as well as the North American Indigenous Games – both of which are organized by Southwest Youth Services (SYS), a grantee of the U.S. Soccer Foundation. SYS seeks to bring positive youth development to American Indian communities, and these soccer competitions do just that.
“The annual Indigenous Soccer Cup in Las Cruces, N.M., is a week-long Native youth summit melding soccer with training in wellness, prevention, leadership and college preparation,” says Brenna Anderson, program coordinator for SYS. Anderson says the ISC serves “approximately 300 Native American youths, representing more than 34 indigenous communities.
He continued, “U.S. Soccer Foundation support has specifically helped to provide soccer equipment for ISC participants, as well as providing NSCAA coaching certification courses so that parents & community volunteers may develop soccer programs in their local communities.”
“I think ISC has enabled me to be more outgoing and make friends easier,” Reano says. “It also helped me grow in maturity because your parents aren’t there to check in on you. It forces you to make good decisions in your eating, sleeping and behavior.”
Not only do tournaments like this help develop life skills, but they also allow participants to embrace their cultural roots. “Balancing their Native culture and the present society can be an underlying stress, which lasts throughout the year,” Anderson says. “The Native youth environment of the Indigenous Soccer Cup allows many players to flourish and come alive. At the ISC participants embrace their culture.”
After his positive experiences playing soccer at the ISC, Reano decided to branch out and take a stab in the world of coaching. Of the position, he reflects, “It’s really incredible to see the kids have a lot of fun because I know that I’m sharing my enthusiasm for the game with another and that it may have a real impact on their life.”
As if coaching and playing weren’t enough, Reano has been a referee in the Adult Soccer League (ASL) in Albuquerque for four years.
Thanks to SYS and its programs like the ISC, youths such as Reano are taking the knowledge they have learned and depositing it back into the community. This virtuous cycle allows more Native youths to develop life skills through soccer, as well as embrace their culture.
Donating to the U.S. Soccer Foundation helps provide resources for programs like the ISC, so that more people like Reano can be positively affected through the game of soccer.
As Anderson says, “The confidence and teamwork built on the soccer field improve a child’s outlook on their community, leading them to make healthy decisions within their school, home and with friends.”