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The Power of a Program

I remember the day I was on vacation with my family in 2011 and I got a call from a staff member at East Hill Elementary school asking me to be a parent volunteer for the Soccer for Success program there run in partnership with Washington Youth Soccer Foundation. My son was a third grader at East Hill at the time, so it was a simple decision for me. I said yes!

About two weeks in, one of our head coaches quit. Another coach said to me, “You’re already doing all this work, why don’t you just lead the program until the end of the season, and we’ll see where it goes?”

East Hill, at the time, was ready to lose its legs. Leadership was changing and I was worried that the soccer program would get cut. I was also a bit overwhelmed, having to step in at a moment’s notice. But I thought to myself, “This is close to my house and it’s in my neighborhood; I don’t want this program to get cut.” And I found that the best way to make a difference in my community was to make the best of this opportunity and help lead the Soccer for Success program.

Our community is so diverse. To put it in perspective, East Hill Elementary is among the top 20% most diverse schools in Washington state. A lot of parents cannot afford to leave work and pay for their kids to participate in sports programs. That’s where Soccer for Success comes in. It is free for participants, and it provides a safe place for them to come after school. This is such an important and overlooked aspect of the program.

Soccer for Success has been very successful at East Hill. By the end of my first year, I had parents come up and ask me when the program would start again or where it would be. As someone who knows very little about soccer, getting these questions was huge for me. But I think that speaks to the power of the program. It’s not just about competition and learning soccer skills. The program brings so much more – and to so many more people than just our participants.

Everyone—family members and students—get excited about it.
One of our participants, Jack, joined our program last month. He was very shy but now he’s started to come around and tries to be more involved with his teammates. Jack recently found out that one of his classmates was in the program too and now they’ve started talking. I feel grateful to even just be a fly on the wall in those situations where they become more and more comfortable opening up to each other. It’s really something special.

As a Soccer for Success coach-mentor, you’re just thinking about the kids and the opportunity to give kids the chance to learn and enjoy their childhood. I think that’s the most important thing that we all can do as adults. Even if you don’t have kids, just to see them come to life is amazing. I cherish it.

As an immigrant child coming to the U.S., I didn’t have anything like this growing up and I wish I did. I wish that somebody would’ve mentored me when I was growing up. That’s my favorite part about Soccer for Success.

I can only imagine how much of an impact it would have had on me to have a mentor open my eyes to how many opportunities young people have. There’s a whole world out there that we don’t know about, and I try to show my players that.

But it’s not only for our young participants – our coach volunteers who fulfill their volunteer credits by coaching in our program have learned so much. One of our volunteer coaches who came through the program is now working for Doctors Without Borders.

When I started out at East Hill, I tried to be a better person myself. I am a mentor, so I have to lead by example. Now, I’m more aware of myself. Even the teachers at our school are inspired by Soccer for Success. They’ll come out to practice sessions and game days just to show their support. They want to do more for the kids.

We’re not just inspiring kids, but we’re also inspiring adults as well.
When I run into former participants around town, who are in their late teens and early twenties now, one of the first things they tell me is that they remember how fun Soccer for Success was. As a young kid, Paul was in our program for about a year and, last year, his dad came up to me in Costco. His dad knew who I was, but I didn’t recognize them when they walked up to me and this incredibly tall kid said, “Hey, Coach, what’s up?” Then it hit me. We got to talking and he kept telling me how great his soccer experience was, that having a coach who told him he could play and do anything he wanted had such an impact on him that he’s now on the high school basketball team. “I’m probably going to get a scholarship,” he said to me with a big smile.

It takes me by surprise when they say having me as a coach was a key part of their experience. To hear people talking about the program within the community, to have former participants come back to help as coaches (“Were we this rambunctious as children?”), it all speaks volumes about the impact I can have through a program like Soccer for Success.

If I could say anything about the program, it’s that I know it makes a difference.