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Devoted in the District

Recorded videos. Coloring sheets. Word searches. Coaching instruction in English and Spanish. Virtual appearances from D.C. United, Washington Spirit, and Georgetown women’s soccer players. These are just a few of the ways that coaches and staff at DC SCORES, one of the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s Soccer for Success partners, have shown their resiliency, commitment to their community, and ability to adapt with the changing times.

At the start of the pandemic, the DC SCORES program team met to figure out how to keep programming running from a distance. “Our initial thoughts were to try to create a series of simple-to-set-up, individual, technical stuff just because we knew contact with others would be difficult, space would be an issue, some of these kids might be doing it in their homes and might not have a safe space to go to and couldn’t go outside,” recalls Chris Hudler, Soccer Program Manager at DC SCORES. “So we were looking to put together a series of things that could be done at home with minimal or no equipment, maybe not even a soccer ball.”

The first set of content that the DC SCORES team released were videos and flyers, which were disseminated to families in whatever way possible, whether that be social media or recorded videos that could be sent to coaches and schools to share on their platforms. “We really didn’t want to limit it to one platform because every school in our system was using different means,” says Chris, which meant that instructional videos were provided with voiceovers in Spanish as well. “Some were on Zoom, some were on Teams, some were on things we hadn’t even heard of. Our biggest thing to start was to get simple-to-use, really fun, and engaging activities that would not be limited to a certain platform.”

As the pandemic raged on, DC SCORES continued to innovate around how to best connect with their participants. Later on in the spring and in the summer, DC SCORES began virtual soccer camps and sent kits with mini cones, soccer balls, masks, and ball pumps to participants’ homes. For DC SCORES Community and Engagement Manager Lorena Palacios, there were some challenges to running programming in the virtual space. “When we’re in person, kids just want to play games,” she says. “But now with this alone time, we try to let them know that this is their time to focus on their footwork so that as soon as we’re able to be in person and play games, they’re ready.”

Ultimately, the virtual sessions became an important part of SCORES programming. “With our virtual practices, we are able to provide that outlet for them,” says Soccer Program Coordinator Jewel Christian. “They also just love the fact that they can socialize with their friends,” she continues. “A lot of them have connected on so many different things that if they were at school, they wouldn’t have talked about. Being at home and sharing some of their home life with some of their peers has brought them together.”

This safe space has become all the more important given the limitations of online learning. “In the virtual space during the school day, it’s so structured,” says DC SCORES Executive Director Katrina Owens. “Kids are not allowed to actually be in the virtual room without their teacher. They don’t have recess or lunch breaks to interact with their classmates. So the DC SCORES space creates some of that freedom to talk and engage.”

In addition to running regular virtual sessions, the DC SCORES team continued to send out weekly resources, which included soccer and poetry activities. “Our biggest things that we were trying to do was keep everyone safe, keep everyone connected, and just try to keep the sense of community,” says Chris. And, sometimes, that meant going a little off-book.

“The majority of them just missed seeing their coaches,” the DC SCORES Juniors coach says. “We wanted to do as high level of a soccer program as we could, but then it kind of evolved…Sometimes the soccer only happened a little bit, but the biggest thing was that they were in this safe space that they could just communicate with each other and just giggle and just have a place where they could mix with their teammates, which was pretty cool.”

In the fall, the U.S. Soccer Foundation released an adapted Soccer for Success curriculum that could be run through pre-recorded sessions, virtually by the program’s coach, or in person socially distanced depending on local guidance. While DC SCORES had found their own groove running virtual SCORES programming with their kids, they also found the U.S. Soccer Foundation materials especially helpful for families who might not have access to multiple mobile devices.

“I think the greatest part about the Foundation stuff is that it was so well put together, it was useful for coaches to do virtually along with the kids, but at the same time, for the families for whom it was easier to do on their own time, the asynchronous portion was phenomenal,” Chris raves. “And I want to say that we got really great feedback from the families for that.”

Whether or not family members were sharing devices, the additional U.S. Soccer Foundation materials also provided additional activities for participants looking to practice their skills on their own time outside of their programmed sessions.

“Every week, we were sending hundreds of our families the asynchronous materials,” says Chris. “So they would get an activity with us via Zoom, but then they would do the U.S. Soccer Foundation activities with the prerecorded sessions on their own time…That was a huge part of the Foundation’s work that we definitely utilized.”

More recently, as community spread has slowed and restrictions have been lifted, in-person sessions have resumed as an alternative to the virtual sessions. For example, DC SCORES has been able to run in-person socially distanced clinics across the District, utilizing some of the Foundation’s resources for safe coaching and playing protocols. It’s only a matter of time before full in-person sessions can resume, but thanks to the work of the DC SCORES team, the players will be ready.