U.S. Soccer Foundation bringing the beautiful game to kids who need it

The United States Soccer Foundation was founded in 1994, part of America reigniting its interest in the beautiful game around the time of the World Cup. More than 18 years later, its legacy is arguably just as important as any other initiative in American soccer, using soccer and embracing modern technology culture to effect positive social change.

Goal.com recently talked with Foundation President and CEO Ed Foster-Simeon via email about the Foundation and some of the challenges it is tackling:

Goal.com: You recently ran a social media contest inviting people to submit photos of fields they wished to develop on Twitter and Instagram, with finalists voting via Facebook. How did the exposure for this contest compare with any similar efforts in the past that didn’t use social media channels so aggressively?

Ed Foster-Simeon: We ran a social media-based contest called “Field of Dreams,” in which we asked the general public to submit photos of a space that they wanted to turn into a soccer field for their community.

Finalists of the contest were determined by photo “likes” on Facebook and Instagram. Finalists were then invited to submit additional information about why they needed a field and the impact the field would have on their community. The winner of the contest received a planning grant from us, to help jumpstart the planning phase for a new field.

The “Field of Dreams” contest engaged close to three times the number of applicants we normally see in a standard grant cycle. In addition to seeing an increase in applicants, we also saw an increase in social media activity as more people began to pay attention to our page as well as engage in terms of liking, commenting or tweeting. Just as an example, we received over 1,000 likes to our Facebook from this contest alone. Just as importantly, the contest made many more people aware of the pressing need for more safe places to play and got those people talking about solutions.

Goal.com: Former U.S. national team goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann recently expressed his displeasure to one of our writers about the lack of physical education his son received at his new school in Seattle after moving back from England, saying: “My 12-year-old doesn’t even have P.E., then the school wonders why kids act up at lunch time while they get a 20-minute break for the whole day… how can a 12-year-old not have any chance to go run around and not burn off energy during the day, and then they expect them to pay attention in class? It just doesn’t make sense to me.”

How much of a problem has lack of active time for young kids in school been in regards to issues like childhood obesity, and how is the U.S. Soccer Foundation working to change that situation?

Ed Foster-Simeon: The youth of today are facing a major health crisis with the childhood obesity epidemic. One third of the nation’s children are overweight or obese. One in three. That comes with serious human and economic costs. Unless things change, experts indicate that this generation will be the first in which the children will have a lower life expectancy than their parents. Moreover, the direct and indirect costs of inactivity cost the country more than $146 billion in 2008. To address this problem, we know that it is imperative for children to have opportunities to not only eat healthier but get physically active.

Soccer is a great sport for improving health because of its continuous nature and its low barrier of entry – you really only need a ball to play. We work primarily in urban, under-resourced communities and it is important for us to know what challenges children face in those communities in order to make a meaningful impact.

We know that the most dangerous time of the day for children is after-school. It is important for kids to have a safe place to go after-school, away from negative influences. In addition, we know that in one third of schools with the highest poverty rates – recess has been eliminated. There is a need for children to have an opportunity to exercise in a safe environment. We fill that gap by offering Soccer for Success, our free after-school program that combines soccer and nutrition education.

For 90 minutes a day, three times a week for the entire academic year, kids can come to our program and learn soccer skills, learn how to eat healthier and interact with caring coaches/mentors who are dedicated to improving their well-being. With the program being free, we eliminate any cost barrier that may have prevented a child from participating otherwise. Since last year, we have more than doubled the cities we are serving and will almost double the amount of children we serve by the end of the program year.

In addition to learning and enjoying soccer, 89 percent of our participants in the overweight or obese categories decreased their BMI percentile as a result of the program. 82 percent of participants said that they know more about healthy foods as a result of the program as well. In addition to the lack of active programming available for children in and out of school, children in urban areas often lack the green space to play in general. We work with communities to build safe places to play in urban areas and have helped create over 1,000 safe places to date.

Goal.com: Where I live, in Philadelphia, young girls are especially at risk, with the teen birth rate by far the highest in the state, with 63 births per 1,000 girls aged 15-19, and 70 percent of teen mothers drop out of high school. With soccer the most visible women’s team sport in America, and a natural positive role model for these young girls, what is the U.S. Soccer Foundation doing to provide and reach at-risk girls in the inner-city?

Ed Foster-Simeon: We love soccer because it is a sport that encompasses all. It is cross-cultural, cross-generational and gender-neutral. By lowering the barrier of entry to play soccer and giving girls the confidence to play – encouraged by caring mentors – we can impact girls in a positive way using soccer. We also provide grants to organizations that are using soccer for social change (Anderson Monarchs for example, in Philadelphia) – once again, providing opportunities for girls to play and be positively impacted by a sport that can keep them engaged in a dynamic and fun way.

In Philadelphia, we work with (former Harrisburg City Islanders defender) JT Dorsey and his foundation to implement Soccer for Success. He once told me a story about a girl that joined the program in her neighborhood. When she started the program, she sat on the sidelines and did not want to join the other children. The coaches continued to encourage her to join the program – they refused to give up on her. Slowly but surely, she became more involved and wanted to do more. Now she demonstrates the day’s activities, helps the coaches and even began to encourage other girls in the neighborhood to join Soccer for Success. They call this girl, “Girl Power.” She is an example of the inclusive nature of soccer and shows the impact that a quality program with well trained and caring coaches can have.

The U.S. Soccer Foundation’s contributions have been impressive. According to the Foundation, since its inception, it has awarded $57 million to various organizations and field-building projects around the country, and its “Passback” program has collected and redistributed more than 900,000 items of soccer gear. Throughout the month of December, the Foundation has teamed up with Fox Soccer Channel to promote its “Creating Chances” initiative, a fundraising campaign to create safe environments for underserved children to play soccer.

To find out more about the U.S. Soccer Foundation and its programs, visit ussoccerfoundation.org.

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OUR PARTNERS

  • adidas

    adidas

    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 adidas.com.

  • APT

    APT

    APT (Advanced Polymer Technology), the Foundation’s Partner for Acrylic Coating Products, is a global leader in high performance sports surfaces. APT provides people around the world with safe, reliable, performance enhancing surfaces. APT’s Laykold Masters acrylic surfacing system will be the official surface of an estimated 500 mini-pitches. For more information on APT, please visit www.sportsbyapt.com.

  • AstroTurf

    AstroTurf

    For athletes and soccer enthusiasts, AstroTurf® is redefining how synthetic soccer fields are built and perform. The brand offers advanced, state-of-the-art synthetic turf systems with proprietary engineered technologies. A growing number of clubs, high schools, colleges, professional sports teams and municipalities continue to select AstroTurf’s LigaTurf-branded products for their premium quality, technical superiority, and safety. To learn more, visit the company’s recently redesigned website, www.astroturf.com/soccer. – See more at: https://ussoccerfoundation.org/article/astroturf-partners-with-the-u.s.-soccer-foundation-as-a-national-partner-for-field-building-program#sthash.FL8E8bAM.dpuf

  • CHA

    CHA

    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 chacompanies.com

  • 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 SportsMatter.org.

  • Hunter

    Hunter

    Hunter Industries, the Foundation’s National Partner for Irrigation Equipment, is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of irrigation equipment for turf, landscape and soccer fields.  Hunter Industries’ focus is on landscape irrigation with a significant part of its business centering on the proper care and maintenance of sports turf. For more information, please visit hunterindustries.com. Please contact Lynda Wightman, 406-273-3073, lynda.wightman@hunterindustries.com with any questions regarding the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s grants program.

  • Johnson & Johnson

    Johnson & Johnson

    Johnson & Johnson, the Foundation’s grant partner, is dedicated to supporting the next generation of female leaders by providing greater access to girls’ youth soccer programming in underserved communities nationwide. As the world’s largest and most broadly based healthcare company, Johnson & Johnson strives to create healthier communities, and put a healthy mind, body and environment within reach of everyone, everywhere. For more information, please visit www.jnj.com.

  • 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 Kwikgoal.com.

  • MLS WORKS

    MLS WORKS

    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.

  • Musco

    Musco

    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 https://ussoccerfoundation.org/grants/ 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 scoresports.com.

  • Soccer.com

    Soccer.com

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

  • Target

    Target

    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 https://www.worldwidetgi.com or contact Mike Squire at msquire@worldwidetgi.com / 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 www.worldsoccershop.com.

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