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Paving the Way

In the fall of 2013, America SCORES Bay Area became an official Soccer for Success partner. At the time – and up until just recently – the organization offered opportunities for boys and girls to participate in all-boys teams or on coed teams, but the need for an all-girls team soon became evident.

“We’ve always wanted to have equitable access to our program,” says Leah Morales, program manager at America SCORES Bay Area. “Having coed teams, we were finding, would work at some schools, but we were having a hard time recruiting and retaining girls.”

“A lot of the boys that are in our program have been playing soccer with their brothers, uncles, dads since they were four years old,” Leah continues. She notes that even if the boys on the team are supportive of the other players, less experienced players can still feel uncomfortable due to being at different stages of learning.

Leah and her colleagues would host all-girls clinics every so often as a way to offer extra play time and to gauge the girls’ interest in the sport. They found that the girls were eager to play soccer but were hesitant to play on teams where their teammates’ skills were at different levels. So, in the fall of 2018, America SCORES Bay Area piloted its first-ever all-girls teams.

“Creating these girls-only spaces was huge; it was the key,” Leah says of the all-girls teams, of which there are now six.

While female participants can now learn the sport at their own pace, Leah also attributes the success of the girls’ side of the program to a particular coach-mentor, Evora, who was hired during the fall 2018 season to serve as the coordinator. “Instead of five or six site visits a week, we now have 12. Without her, it wouldn’t have been possible,” Leah stresses.

Outside of playing her role in site management, Evora is also a role model for the participants she coaches. Nearly 80 percent of all America SCORES participants are Hispanic or Latino and Leah maintains that Evora’s ties to the community and her ability to speak both Spanish and English have helped her form strong bonds with her participants in a short span of time. “They see themselves in her,” Leah says.

As a local community member, Evora is a valuable resource for her participants. “I’ve been playing soccer since I was five years old and just growing up here in San Rafael, California, I’ve been able to get to know a lot of people through soccer.”

Ultimately, Evora is happily amazed at the rate at which the female teams are growing. “The girls are telling younger girls from their schools to come out and play. The teams keep getting bigger,” she says. “There’s one school that I have 23 girls signed up.”

She is also excited by the personal growth she has seen in such a short amount of time. “They’ve gotten so confident in the past couple of weeks and their improvement has been amazing,” she recounts. “They leave their hearts on the field.”

Mia, a fourth-grader who played on a coed team last season, describes her new team as one that provides her with opportunities. “Last year, I was too afraid to do anything in the soccer team, but this year, I feel like I have more chances.”

Paty, Mia’s mother, has seen her daughter’s confidence improve firsthand through the program. “I always wanted her to play sports, but soccer is very expensive, and it’s very competitive,” Paty explains. “It was hard to take that chance in investing all that money if she was going to be afraid to be on the sidelines.”

“I feel like this team, it has a lot of kids that haven’t played soccer before and it’s just a great environment because they feel more eager to learn,” she says of the Soccer for Success program, offered free to participants, “whereas in another team I feel like she would’ve gotten a little bit more shy because the kids are so intense.”

Sandra, mother of Flory, has found that the program is not only a great way for her daughter to exercise consistently through sport, but also provides her with the opportunity to learn from and spend time with her teammates. “I think it’s a nice place for her and a great reason to be with her friends.”

While this is just the first season that America SCORES Bay Area has implemented all-girls teams, the positive impact is already evident. According to Evora, it is now just a matter of bringing the girls’ teams to scale with the boys’ teams. “I just hope to see them incorporating more girls to come out and play soccer,” Evora says of her current participants. “They help each other as well. They help each other improve.”

America SCORES Bay Area identified a pathway for their female participants to enjoy and learn from the game. If your organization has similar goals, look out for the release of the Foundation’s 2019 Program Grants, Reaching Her Potential, which seek to address the lack of representation of young women in soccer. The Request for Proposals will be available in early 2019 and will include details on the application process.