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Soccer for Success: My Home Away From Home

I am so blessed to say that I get to do what I love for a living. Since 2017 through the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s and the Independent Health Foundation’s Soccer for Success program, I’ve been able to call one of our sites at JH Williams Park my second home and safe space. As I reflect on the significance of my role and the mission of Soccer for Success, I think about my time as a coach-mentor at JH Williams Park.

Throughout life, I like to believe that we each have a purpose no matter where we are in life. Becoming a coach-mentor is one of those experiences, which has supported my growth personally and professionally. After being hired by Independent Health Foundation’s partner, Algonquin Sports for Kids, and finishing an amazing first season as a coach-mentor, I was placed at Independent Health
Foundation’s new outdoor site, JHW Park.

Here, I was one of four coach-mentors coaching a small group of participants as our program was fairly new to the Riverside/North Buffalo area. Instantly, I felt welcomed by this diverse community and was excited, eager, and passionate about supporting the success of our program. Every time I showed up at practice and game days, I witnessed each family celebrate one another and their children as if we were all one big family. A melting pot of cultures produced a wonderful union and safe space for all who stepped on the field.alana pictured in front of white house with soccer ball in red shirt and white hat

It’s because of this union that I have not missed a single outdoor season at JHW Park and have become the last original coach-mentor there. Soon after this first season, I became a site manager and a Local Trainer. In both roles, I’ve worked to ensure that each coach-mentor creates a safe space for everyone each season. I strive for everyone to feel the same way I did when I began my first season at JHW Park. During my time there, I’ve had the pleasure to witness many of our participants grow up, transition into different age groups, and even age out of Soccer for Success programming.

This program year, four long-term participants of mine who aged out of programming became junior coach-mentors! I’ve been so fortunate to witness their leadership shine throughout the many years they’ve been with me and use what they’ve learned throughout the program to become amazing coach-mentors to our participants. One junior coach-mentor, who has been with me from the beginning (and has now grown taller than me), has truly emerged from his shell from this experience. He was very apprehensive as to how he would grow into his role, but took each opportunity to arrive early to practice, ask every question he had, and listen intently to all feedback. On our last day of the season, I had to hold back tears as each junior coach-mentor received special leadership certificates to celebrate their growth.

team photo of children with their certificates at the soccer field

As I continue to reflect on how this last program year went, I couldn’t be prouder of my entire team of coach-mentors. From arriving to practice early to connect with our players, consistently bringing up new ideas to make our season better, always bringing an optimistic attitude, staying accountable, hanging back after practice to play even more soccer with our players until the sun goes down – these are moments that our players, their families, and I will always remember.

It’s not only the team aspects of my time that I will always hold dear – this is also a family. Parents and participants invite me to attend their school team games, participate in car-side birthday celebrations, attend weddings, and more – and I am honored by the connections that we’ve all built with this family of mine at JHW Park. As I have become a Project Coordinator of this program through the Independent Health Foundation and now a National Facilitator through the U.S. Soccer Foundation, these are the experiences that continue to fuel my passion and motive.