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Bringing More to the Table

McDonald’s. Pizza Hut. Arby’s. Taco Bell.

These are just a few restaurants down the road from the Boys & Girls Club of Zebulon in North Carolina, and local fast food restaurants have a noticeable effect on how local community members eat.

“We’ve seen what the kids and their families bring in for snack and lunch is not always the healthiest option, but it’s the cheapest option,” explains Chris Tuggle, club director at the Boys & Girls Club of Zebulon.

Soccer for Success coach-mentor, Amber, discovered that a lot of her Soccer for Success participants were eating unhealthy meals late in the evening. Her solution has been to bring healthy food to the kids. Amber has built upon the nutritional component of Soccer for Success to emphasize the importance of healthy eating. She says it’s about “bringing new foods to them, letting them try it, [to] see what they like and what they don’t like. And then maybe, hopefully, when they go to the store with their mom and dad, they point out things they’ve tried and know they like.”

Chris reiterates this sentiment. Bringing new foods for them to try “gets the kids to buy in more and to pay better attention, but then it also gets them to want to do it, to want to show up and to look forward to the [session] as well,” he explains.

Every week, Amber creates activities that go along with the nutrition elements discussed in Soccer for Success practices. Week-to-week, these activities supplement the nutrition lessons in the Soccer for Success curriculum to emphasize the importance of healthy eating. “I try to make sure they line up together so they are getting the most impact out of the program,” she says.

“One time we had a blindfold contest,” describes Amber, who goes to the grocery store to buy fruits and vegetables for the activities. The blindfold contest fell in line with the Soccer for Success nutrition topic of the week – healthy vs. unhealthy foods. “They got to feel what they were about to eat, make a guess, and then taste it.”

The taste test was a big hit with the kids. “My favorite [activity] has been the feel and taste test,” says C’Niiya, a member of Amber’s Soccer for Success team.

On other days, the kids create worksheets in which they’re tasked with sorting healthy and unhealthy food choices, or identifying food groups.

Amber’s dedication as a mentor stems from personal experience. “I was a former Club member. When I was a kid, I used to go to the Boys & Girls Club and build…those relationships with the staff,” she explains. “So, I remember how much of an impact it makes with the kids…and you’re providing that relationship, that trustworthiness for the kids.”

For Amber, going the extra mile to put on these activities allows her to get in the mindset of her players. “I feel like I’m a big kid sometimes to where I say ‘What would I want to do at that age? What would I think is fun?’”

Throughout the course of a Soccer for Success season, participants learn valuable lessons, such as how to identify when they’re hungry versus when they’re full, the importance of hydration, and the significance of starting the day with a healthy breakfast.

Amber’s diligence in conveying these messages week-to-week has paid off. “We’ve seen, especially during snack time during the school year, [that the kids are] coming in with healthier foods,” reports Chris.

Soccer for Success participant Jordan asserts, “I used to eat a lot of cake, but now I eat more carrots and celery because of what I learned.”

Their healthy eating habits have also better prepared them for the pitch. “I can play for longer now,” says Jared, a Soccer for Success participant.

Amber echoes that “the kids are more energetic and they are more capable of physical activity.”

It’s clear that the kids benefit from building a strong foundation in healthy eating habits through Soccer for Success. The evidence-based program can help children improve their BMI percentile and aerobic capacity, and better understand how exercise, sleep, and food affects their health. And Amber is committed for the long-run. “I want them to have the ultimate experience and ultimate resources used on them because they’re worth it.”

Amber goes above and beyond for her Soccer for Success participants. Learn more about how the evidence-based program works to positively impact youth and how you can bring Soccer for Success to your community here.