U.S. Soccer Foundation's work more important than ever as pandemic widens disparities between kids with access to soccer

The United States Soccer Foundation  is a non-profit organization, dedicated to help grow the sport in this country. With an emphasis on underserved communities, the Foundation has awarded over $57 million since 1994 to a variety of initiatives. In recent years, a primary emphasis has been on creating fields. The “Safe Places to Play” program provides grants to local groups to help them build or enhance existing soccer fields.

Some grants help cover lighting, irrigation, surfacing and enhancement costs. In fiscal year 2018-19, over $600,000 helped enhance 51 fields.

Other funding is for hard-court “mini-pitches,” which work particularly well where space is at a premium. Foundation money provides lighting, fencing, goals and benches for these smaller fields. Last year, 82 mini-pitches were built, bringing the total since the program began to 300. The goal is to create 1,000 mini-pitches by 2026.

But COVID-19 shut down nearly every outdoor space. Schools and parks closed. The Foundation focused on its other main mission: programming.

Soccer for Success” is a free after-school program. Through partnerships with over 190 YMCAs, YWCAs, Big Brother/Big Sister organizations, local parks and recreation departments and other groups, “Soccer for Success” uses the sport to help promote health lifestyles at more than 1,500 sites.

“Soccer for Success” provides a uniform, ball, 75 to 90 minutes of play three days a week, nutritional information and mentorship.

Of course, in mid-March those organizations also halted their programs. The United States Soccer Foundation had to find ways to reach boys and girls stuck at home. Quickly, the Foundation pivoted.

Soccer for Success at Home” became an online offering for youngsters. In English and Spanish versions, it includes fun drills, activities and tips, delivered through a weekly newsletter and videos. The Foundation enlisted big names, like Staci Wilson (who showed children how to improve their speed and agility).

Most of the activities involved only a ball. Some could be done using just a couple of socks. As with the after-school program, there was a health and wellness component.

Because some families have limited access to technology, a print version (accessible with a QR code) was available too.

Now, as the nation begins to reopen – tentatively, and not at all uniformly -- Foundation officials are imagining how “Soccer for Success” will look like this fall. The video package will continue. There are plans for coaches to meet youngsters virtually, via Zoom or Facebook Live sessions. In areas where socially distanced meetings are permitted, activities are being created that keep children in self-contained pods.

“It’s an accordion-type approach,” explains associate vice president of programs Sarah Pickens. “Youth organizations can be flexible, and adapt to changing constraints.” Virtual training for organizers will be conducted over three days in early August.

“It’s a challenge,” Pickens admits. “We’re moving into unknown territory. The coach/player relationship is so important. So are the relationships between teammates. It’s hard to replicate those virtually.”

Many people – adults and children alike – are suffering from “screen fatigue,” she notes. “We have to get real creative. It’s like Pilates: What can you do in a 5-by-5 space? How can you substitute a ball? How do you make sure kids want to come back? Coaches always have to be creative, but this is demanding an exponential level of creativity. We’re doing what we can to help.”

No one can predict the future of sports – including youth soccer – in this country. But, Pickens says, “We think the United States Soccer Foundation will be more important than ever. There were disparities between kids with access to soccer and those without before COVID. Those may increase now, and be even more apparent than ever.”

She acknowledges the recent national emphasis on social justice and racial equity. “That’s been the core of our work: bringing soccer to Black and Latino communities.” Pickens notes.

“We’re all learning together, trying to figure out what to do and how to do it. It’s a difficult space to navigate. But our mission has always been to serve kids, and that’s what we’re going to keep doing.”

Further reading: U.S. Soccer Foundation CEO Ed Foster-Simeon: 'Soccer is a powerful vehicle for social change'

5 comments about "U.S. Soccer Foundation's work more important than ever as pandemic widens disparities between kids with access to soccer".
  1. Wallace Wade, July 28, 2020 at 10:35 a.m.

    You forgot to mention The Federation actually sued them! People should always remember that

  2. R2 Dad replied, July 28, 2020 at 1:39 p.m.

    Yes, proving Control is the number one priority of USSF. All else comes after.

  3. Ric Fonseca replied, July 28, 2020 at 4:50 p.m.

    R2D2 Dad... As one of the "many few" that saw the beginning of the Soccer Foundation, it'd behoove the personnel of said foundation to make themselves better known.  And, after more than 50 years deeply entrenched in our growing soccer scene, both in Northern California (Oakland/East Bay) and mostly in the Greater Los Angeles area, I've yet to hear about or read an article or two about the Foundation.  'S matter-o-fact, the only Foundation known to many Angelinos is the 1984 L.A. Olympic Foundation that is still very wealthy, but seems to me to have some problems getting itself known to the local Latino/NBrown communities.  Ok, ok, ok, agreed, it is the '84 LA Olympic Foundation and encompasses many sports, besides soccer, still and aprt from this "factoid," rarely have I read or heard about of any programs from the Soccer Foundation (except the only formed/headed by a former Los Angeles Politico!)  And please, believe me, there literally in the high hundreds of sites where the Foundation could go into, but I'd be remiss not to mention that all their efforts seems to be focused from the great Mississippi River eastward.  I suppose the "wild-wild-west," is too "wild for it?  PLAY ON!!!

  4. uffe gustafsson, July 28, 2020 at 10:31 p.m.

    $600k divided by 51 will come out to 11 thousand.
     For each, it's not nothing but will cover re sod of a field. So great every thing will help.

  5. R2 Dad, July 29, 2020 at 12:56 a.m.

    i'm all for these mini-pitches, as they seem specifically designed for tight urban locations. The Foundation says 1,000, I'd like to see 10,000 like Cony has mentioned. Maybe USSF could bury the hatchet and grow that Foundation program as it's directed towards underserved markets. 

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