Leaders and innovators from the sports-based youth development network from across the country gathered in Washington, D.C. from March 23-25th for the 12th annual Urban Soccer Symposium.
These leaders and innovators kicked off the Symposium with Capitol Hill Day, where they met with their Congressional representatives on Capitol Hill to inform them about work being done in their districts and on funding priorities important to their organizations.
Hector Avila of Houston Parks and Recreation participated in Capitol Hill Day for the eighth consecutive year, this time to urge his representatives to continue supporting their major funders, such as AmeriCorps and the Youth Mentoring Program. “It helped that she was a former council member in Houston,” Hector said of Representative Sheila Jackson Lee. “We gave her an overview of what Soccer for Success is doing in Houston in all 20 different locations, how it’s changing the culture. She was really touched by that.” After discussing the programming, Hector and his colleagues were about to get to the issue of funding when the Congresswoman stopped them mid-sentence and ensured them that their funding would not be cut.
Day one of the Symposium began with a keynote presentation from Houston Kraft, co-founder of CharacterStrong, a series of trainings and curriculums that create more compassionate cultures in schools and communities. During the session, attendees interacted with new faces while learning the power of being proactively kind.
The breakout sessions touched on a variety of topics, ranging from how to leverage soccer for social change to how to make the sport “sticky” by using art and poetry to build a sense of community.
The Foundation presented two of its three Urban Soccer Symposium awards in the influence and impact categories on Friday. Toya Williford accepted the 2018 Influence Award on behalf of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who was recognized for his work in assisting the Foundation’s efforts to develop the New York City Soccer Initiative. South Bronx United received the Impact Award for its work to combine soccer with forms of assistance such as academic enrichment, college prep, mentoring, and immigration legal services.
Marc Bamuthi Joseph led the lunchtime keynote plenary session, where he took a deep dive into the cultural complexities of soccer, including ways in which the global sport may be used to connect young people with the arts and bring awareness to issues facing immigrant communities. Two young participants were there to share their poetry.
Attendees sprang into action on day two of the Symposium, where a handful of them spent the day earning their Urban Soccer Diploma. During this course, attendees learned best practices and tricks for coaching in non-traditional soccer settings. In addition to on-field demonstrations, Diploma sessions included “Understanding the Youth We Serve,” “Designing and Implementing Lessons in an Urban Setting,” and “Best Practices in Youth Development.”
“It was great to be with a group of like-minded coaches dedicated to bringing the beautiful game of soccer to underserved communities across the U.S.,” said Lenny Muckle of Ambassadors Football Pittsburgh, who now feels that he has the “tools to help meet the emotional and physical needs of those we serve. I am a better coach and hope my kids become better players because of the course.”
Mark Dessauer of Spitfire Strategies led the Saturday morning session with a lesson on interactive storytelling. Attendees learned how to use the power of storytelling to craft the perfect elevator pitch and how to master other communication techniques to connect with funders.
Saturday also saw Seattle Housing Authority’s Yesler Redevelopment receive the 2018 Innovation Award for investing its redevelopment dollars into pocket parks and play areas that reorient neighborhood to create safe places to play.
Dr. Irving C. Jones examined the role of sports in meeting the needs of today’s youth during the lunch plenary session. He also inspired attendees to develop the tools they need to act as fearless leaders for the youth and communities that they serve.
The Urban Soccer Symposium culminated on Sunday with two Q&A panels with former U.S. National Team stars Abby Wambach, Kristine Lilly, Kasey Keller, and Edson Buddle. Six-time winner of the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year award, Abby Wambach, emphasized the power of a positive, strong team environment. “For me, the team-first mentality is something that we embody and that we live out every single day of our lives,” she said. “And I think that’s a big reason why the [national] team…was so successful is because everyone had that personality on some level.”
Kristine Lilly, who holds the world record for international caps (352) on both the men’s and women’s side, noted that coaches in her younger years had a big impact on her game. “The first thing they did for us was create a fun atmosphere. Back then, I just remember I had fun going out there and playing.”
Both Abby and Kristine shared their thoughts about the importance of youth soccer in the United States. Kristine, who coaches soccer clinics across the country, said that kids “come alive when they’re out on the field…We want these kids to feel like they matter and that what they’re doing is productive. And I think if we get in an environment where, around the country, the kids do have opportunities…then things will change.”
“When people move their bodies, they’re going to have more confidence,” Abby said. “When people move their bodies, they’re going to have less depression, they’re going to be more engaged, they’re going to be better students, they’re going to be better community service members. Whatever it is, we know that getting kids involved in sports isn’t just necessarily an opportunity for them to maybe one day play on their high school team or college team, but also give back to their own community, their own families.”
Throughout lunch, President & CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Ed Foster-Simeon, led a Q&A panel with former Men’s National Team stars Kasey Keller and Edson Buddle. Kasey shared his experience of competing in several leagues overseas, while Edson shared what led him from the A-League to the national stage at the 2010 World Cup. While Kasey and Edson had different experiences, they shared similar opinions on how to nurture young athletes in the United States.
“The first and foremost thing we’re trying to do when it comes to sports is giving our kids an outlet to have fun, to have physical activity, to grow as kids,” said Kasey.
Edson maintained that young players thrive when “you have a coach that pushes you…that is passionate about the kids.”
Throughout the weekend, attendees from 34 U.S. states participated in the 2018 Urban Soccer Symposium. Click here for more photos from the event.