Urban Soccer Initiative: Community Soccer Journal

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URBAN SOCCER INITIATIVE community soccer journal
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A collection of stories and interviews about community soccer in the US by some of the most inspiring individuals and organizations we've met recently.

Transcript of Urban Soccer Initiative: Community Soccer Journal

  • URBANSOCCERINITIATIVEcommunity soccer journal

  • Welcome Readers,

    We are delighted to present to you our first publication, The Urban Soccer Initiative: Community Soccer Journal.

    The Urban Soccer Initiative began in 2009 in Washington DC, when a few soccer-mad friends got together to repurpose a local field they played on. The field was being

    demolished to make way for new high-rise apartments in what was a high migrant and heavily underserved neighborhood of the city. Four similar projects soon followed in similar locations across DC as well as Buffalo. To date, these fields have served over

    10,000 players (and counting). In 2014, however, we took a step back and reviewed our activities. Noticing the stunted potential of working on only one project at a time, and considering the ever increasing popularity of the sport across the country, we decided to pivot.

    Utilizing our expertise in field development and our expansive network of those inspired to support the game; the Urban Soccer Initiative facilitates the building and rehabilitation of soccer fields by connecting all stakeholders involved in a field

    development project. We do this by

    Serving as a gateway between site partners (parks departments, community centers, schools, etc.) and capital partners (corporations, foundations, private donors) looking to invest in communities through soccer.

    Providing grassroots stakeholders with the resources needed to get their own field development dream off the ground

    The inspiration for this publication came from the countless individuals, organizations, and communities weve met in over six years, who have helped to grow the sport locally and throughout the country. Each with their own unique story deserving of many pages in a publication. As a result, we decided to produce a small collection of stories, opinions, and interviews, with those that have inspired us the most and surely as well, those they serve, work with, and play with.

    For more information about us, how to get involved, and to donate to our activities visit urbansoccer.org. And with that, we thank you for your support.

    Sincerely, The Urban Soccer Initiative TeamFO

    REW

    OR

    D

  • INDEXSOUTH BRONX UNITED 1

    THIS GAME MATTERS 4

    AMERICAS FIRST GAY SOCCER TEAM 6In Conversation with The New York Ramblers

    NOT FREE-TO-PLAY 9In Conversation with Project Vega

    SOCCER WITHOUT BORDERS 12

    MY RELIGION 15

    Click on the chapter names to read

    Art Director - Nihar ApteCover - Zia Sen

  • 1He came to the United States from Nigeria at age 11 with his parents and two older brothers If adjusting to new continent was not enough, that same year his parents vanished, returning to Africa leaving Paul and his brothers alone figuring out how to make a life for

    themselves. For the past seven years, Paul has been raised by his older brothers, who have helped them get by and move between several neighborhoods in the South Bronx.

    Since 2010, Paul has also found a home at South Bronx United, or SBU. Paul first connected to SBU

    while the Oriaku brothers were receiving services from Catholic Charities of New York. A case worker suggested he start playing soccer in SBUs recreational program. His blazing speed and budding ball skills led him to a spot on a travel soccer team. At SBU, he soon found a peer network, academic and social-emotional supports, and legal representation for a long process that would eventually lead to Paul and his brothers gaining permanent residency status.

    Paul is in the SBU Academy, South Bronx Uniteds program that reaches 150 middle and high school students through their passion for soccer and provides academic enrichment, college prep programming, mentoring, leadership development, and other support services. I started the organization in 2009 while teaching special education and mathematics at public school in the Morrisania neighborhood. Soccer has been a passion of mine since picking up the sport at the now relatively late age of nine. Coaching afterschool soccer programs for my students, I saw the demand for engaging out-of-school programs and specifically for a

    soccer team that would give youth the opportunity to see outside of the Bronx. Many of my students rarely left their ten-block radius. They could not even conceive of what Staten Island looked like.

    SOUTH BRONX UNITED Paul Oriaku is a high school senior facing many of the same dilemmas

    that other seniors typically face, trying

    to balance schoolwork with social and

    extracurricular interests while sorting

    through college options. But life has

    been far from simple for Paul.

    by Andrew So, Executive Director

    Image by Hakkim Kabbaj

  • 2Since that beginning, though, South Bronx United has become much more. The goal of the SBU Academy is to provide South Bronx and immigrant youth with a bridge from middle school to high school to college to careers. Like Paul, 43 percent of participating youth were born outside of the United States. Nearly all of them are from immigrant families representing a group of 30 different countries as diverse Mexico,

    Honduras, Ecuador, Haiti, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Guinea, the Republic of Congo, Morocco, and Italy.

    There has been a clear need for an engaging youth development program in the Bronx to keep immigrant youth on track to college. Although there are many positive developments in the borough, as of the last U.S. Census the South Bronx had the nations highest poverty rate, with 49 percent of children living below the poverty line. The community also is in the lowest percentile in terms of health and wellbeing rating

    nationwide. Crime and gang-related violence is still common.

    Poverty and health issues correlate with academic outcomes. Less than half of high school seniors in the South Bronx graduate in four years with a New York State Regents

    diploma, and test scores in math and English are the lowest in the state.

    At the same time, the Bronx has the fastest growing immigrant population in New York City with neighborhoods in the South Bronx experiencing particularly fast growth. Young immigrants face considerable challenges in adjusting to schooling and learning a new language. In 2010, just 7 percent of English Language Learners in the city graduated on time college-ready, and just 19 percent of students with limited English proficiency attending South

    Bronx schools received Regents diplomas. Finding the right support can be difficult for immigrant families

    who might lack the knowledge and resources to access community services. Most of these families come from countries where soccer is an integral part of their culture. Soccer, then, provides the glue that reaches across languages, cultures, and generations and can be leveraged to help youth achieve success in the classroom and make a difference in their communities.

    In all, South Bronx United reaches 850 boys and girls. Starting at age 4, children can join the Recreational Soccer Program where they participate in weekly soccer training and games led by volunteer coaches in a safe, structured environment. In addition, more than 1,000 books are distributed free to children and families during an annual Literacy Day, and a Health

    and Wellness Fair exposes families to community health resources. South Bronx Uniteds City in the Community program, funded by New York City FCs global City Football Foundation, provides soccer activities and health and nutrition education at two neighborhood elementary schools.

    Perhaps the most critical time to reach at-risk youth, though, is in early adolescence. Middle school is well recognized by educators as one of the most determinant periods in schooling. In fact, a students school attendance in 8th grade is as one of the strongest indicators for whether that student will graduate high school.

    The SBU Academy begins working with 11 and 12 year olds, 5th and 6th graders. Youth train and compete at a competitive level, but most of all they are encouraged to excel off the field. These student-athletes attend

    at least two days a week of academic programming which vary by grade level, including afterschool tutoring, Sophomore Skills math and English groups, SAT preparation, and college prep mentoring for high school seniors. High school students visit several colleges each year ranging from Brooklyn College and Columbia University to Franklin and Marshall College, University of Albany, George Washington University, and LIU-Post. To help keep students on track during the summer, a five-week Summer Soccer Scholars program

    Soccer, provides the glue that reaches across languages, cultures, and generations and can be leveraged to help youth achieve success in the classroom and make a difference in their communities.

    Image by Amanda Berg

  • 3Image by Amanda Berg

    precedes afternoon soccer training with academic, life skills, and health coursework to provide full-day activities as well as trips out of the city. Strong character and leadership skills are developed not just on the field, but also through weekly boys and girls

    discussion groups and the SBU Youth Council.

    For some youth, the services beyond academics, athletics, and social-emotional development make the most difference in their career and college prospects. South

    Bronx United is recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals allowing staff to practice immigration law and

    represent youth and families in proceedings before Immigration Court and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Every youth is screened for immigration status and eligibility to receive legal services. To date, SBU has screened hundreds of individuals. Paul is one of ten youth to date who our staff has helped to receive their green

    cards through Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, which provides a path to permanent residency for youth who have faced certain family hardship, often including the abandonment by one or more parents. Thats one unique service you wont find in any other sports-

    based youth organization.

    Perhaps the most crucial component of the SBU Academy, however, is the support network that the program cultivates for its participants. Youth regularly call SBU their family. Staff, coaches, mentors, and

    volunteer tutors help students other stay on track to graduate high school and attend college. Peers hold each other accountable. Together, they help address each obstacle that might keep low-income, immigrant youth from higher education. It is also this family that contributes to 89 percent of youth returning each year.

    Within the last four years, 100 percent of SBU Academy high school seniors have gone on to graduate, and 94 percent have enrolled in college. While the organization is still young, 80 percent of our college students remain in school or have received their degrees. In comparison, nationwide just 10 percent of college students with family incomes in the lowest quartile currently receive bachelors degrees. Graduates in the SBU Academy Class of 2015 are attending highly selective institutions such as St. Lawrence University, William Smith and Hobart Colleges, Clarkson University, Sarah Lawrence College,

    and SUNY Oswego. This year, we also placed four high school students at prestigious boarding schools in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Pennsylvania to give them a stronger academic foundation; open new doors for college; diversify their life experiences; and, in some cases, enable them to escape difficult neighborhoods

    or family situations.

    There is still a long way to go. With long waitlists in every program, we want to reach thousands of South Bronx children, youth, and families who are seeking and can benefit from SBU programs. We want to grow the

    capacity for the SBU Academy specifically so that we can

    help more adolescents get on track who may be on the verge of dropping out of school or falling into the wrong crowd. We want to go from a 100 percent high school graduation to a 100 percent college readiness rate and a 94 percent college matriculation rate to a 90 percent college success rate. We want to train our youth to become influential leaders in their communities and

    campuses. We want to play a greater role in improving health and wellness outcomes in a district devastated by obesity, asthma, diabetes, and mental health epidemics. South Bronx United plans to deepen its community roots by expanding and strengthening programs, by building a physical presence, and by increasing involvement in community issues.

    Yet, as we still strive to reach these many goals, I have no doubt that South Bronx United is built to last. The impact we have on the lives of South Bronxs immigrant youth is real. We are still helping Paul make his future while hundreds more boys and girls are already following in his footsteps.

    Back to Index

  • 4Instead of gathering around a television blinkingly in the early morning hours, as I do each weekend in my adulthood, my friends and I would play in competitive leagues sponsored by the local YMCA. No positions, save a goalkeeper sporting oversized gloves, no tactics, save sprint and score.

    Over time, it became more than ritual, more than Mass, more than school or social life. It slowly began to overtake me, to overtake my friends, to become something connecting us to the bigger world on the other side of the mountains, the other side of the world.

    As I grew, the game grew up around me. The first

    televised match I remember watching on American television was Aston Villa-Manchester United, sometime during the 1997-1998 season. I remember Keane, Giggs, Yorke, then playing for Villa. I remember the splash of emerald green and the Holte End, the dreariness of the day.

    I remember, as well, how I felt a part of something from that moment, that a community so clandestine in the wilds of Montana, dominated as it was by American football and basketball, was the status quo in other cities, in other countries, in other worlds. I belonged to a global base of fans who also knew players, who also knew stadiums, who cared about the game as much as I was beginning to.

    The community in which I was raised began to take notice of this growing sporting trend. Grass was laid, pitches lined and a complex of soccer fields built

    to sustain, and also to create, a small communitys interest in soccer. These fields became more than a

    place where friends of mine would gather to practice and socialize. In our teenage years, we would drive on hot summer evenings, in late fall before the first snow, to pass, to shoot, to talk about what was

    going on in our lives.

    Rather quickly, the game and my relationship to it, took over my life. I played on more competitive teams, talked seriously about college soccer, spoke with coaches and travelled across the West Coast to compete.

    I was not blessed with confidence; most goalkeepers

    dripping with it, Buffon or Casillas or Hart, mask an

    inner anxiety often too difficult to bear. I was blessed

    with size and a passion far beyond my ability level. I

    became near-obsessive, watching every match I could, strengthening and maintain a passion perhaps more dramatically than necessary to compensate for the distance between me and Englands green pitches.

    To counter this passion for the far-away, the distant, I fell in love with a pacy center forward with an eye for goal, my sophomore year of high school. She did not stunt my passion for the game, instead, allowed it to flourish in new and uncompromising ways. She made

    me yearn to be better, to be at her level of athletic competency, her level comfort on the pitch, her level on confidence as she strode around the selfsame fields

    of our youth.

    Soccer became the way we first connected. Like with the

    sport early on in my life, this relationship brought the world to my door. We would stay late after our practices ended, passing a ball to one another, doing wind sprints until late in the evening, the early spring sun setting later each week over the Continental Divide. In summer, co-ed pickup games were stealthily coordinated to include her cadre of friends and confidants, as well as mine;

    soccer helped our love blossom.

    Soccer brought us to Northern California, to another life, with redwoods instead of lodgepole pine, sand instead of snow. I drifted away, partly out of confusion, partly out of some mental faiblesse, an ennui in which I

    THIS GAME MATTERS

    It started on Saturday mornings in the fall, with whispy cirrostratus clouds chalked into the cornflower blue Montana sky, on bumpy, rocky semi-pitches. Like schools of pilot fish following a shark, friends and classmates and I chased oblong, rubber soccer balls for an hour or more before parental referees called time.

  • could not escape for some time.

    Each summer, I would return to Montana and center myslef once more. One of the great focal points of each week was a large, regular scrimmage at those fields. Girls, boys, men, and women, all together

    embracing the nostalgia of youth, of how playing this game made us feel.

    I have now watched matches in a half-dozen countries, across different leagues, played with ex-pros on the

    seafront, connected with my older brother in a new, more meaningful way. Soccer is my entrepot into a global, cosmopolitan culture. It is my passport, my identity I carry with me. I sought out the concrete pitches with the tiny goals, the Astroturf-covered parks in some indistinct neighborhood, a raw patch of overgrown turf through a quiet glade of beech trees, teammates fascinatingly unique. Each new venue, each new chance to step on the pitch, allows me to harken back to the place I learned to play, where I was introduced to so many people who have made my life valuable, to my soul mate, footballing and otherwise.

    In its simplest form, community soccer provides exercise, provides lessons of teamwork and perseverance, learning a new sport, learning to work hard, to ensure shoelaces stay tied (always my greatest difficulty), to maintain focus for seventy, eighty,

    ninety, one hundred twenty minutes.

    Assuredly, what I learned later during moments of reflection are more valuable. Geography, sociology,

    anthropology, if I read into the game as much as I typically do, I extract the deep and hairy issues: globalization, postcolonial identities, hypercapitalism, deindustrialization, Creolization. I can sit in dark

    bars and drink cheap wine in the early morning, filled

    with hundreds of people doing the very same, and feel connected to a wider community, a community bonding to a larger, global community.

    In its most banal, maybe that is what the game has brought to me and my life. The ability to connect, or superficially feign connection, to bond over borders,

    or in our self-interest, find solidarity in cultural

    movements in share we superficial interest at best. In

    its most grand, however, we find our raison dtre, to

    jump out bed early, to get sick over, to stress over, to get swallowed whole by emotion and consume hours of our semi-precious time. In the end, I know now I could not live long without it, the joy it brings me cannot be replicated.

    It started long ago, in a community in which I no longer live, with friends who I have not seen in many years, in a place not unlike any other place on the American soccer frontier in the early 1990s, with families ferrying children across distances big and small, to compete, to enjoy themselves, to instill something within them.

    What that now means to me cannot be adequately conveyed; it is simply part of the string tying me to this universe. On cold, rainy days, I will look at

    About The AuthorBrendan Ward grew up playing soccer on the Eastern Slopes of Montanas Continental Divide and would go on to play as a goalkeeper for Humboldt State University. He is an avid Arsenal and Southend United supporter. Brendan currently lives in Portland, Oregon where he works as a community designer and is Editor-in-Chief of the blog This Game Matters (thisgamematters.squarespace.com).

    a window and wish I was standing stolid on some faraway pitch; I will awake from dreams so vivid, my lungs feel almost hoarse, as I call out to imaginary players in imaginary stadiums to keep tracking back.

    Soccer remains the community to which I must zealously belong; through tempests and doldrums, misty gloom and radiant sun. It brought the world to my door, provided me an opportunity to throw something out to the universe, in hopes it would respond with something bigger and purer.

    And it has. And its love.

    Back to Index

  • 6AMERICAS FIRST GAY SOCCER TEAMIn Conversation with THE NEW YORK RAMBLERS

    Specifically for gay men, the New York Ramblers became the first LGBTQ team in America. Now entering their fourth decade, the Ramblers have traveled the country and the globe participating in various soccer tournaments, from the Philadelphia Pumpkin Patch and Provincetown Classic to the Gay Games, Outgames and IGLFA World Championship. we at the Urban Soccer Initiative interviewed the Ramblers Secretary and Director of Communications, Sean Kiely, to discuss soccer and the power it can bring among marginalised populations.

    1. Why and how was the New York Ramblers founded?The how was through an advertisement in the Village Voice in 1980, looking for gay men who were interested in playing soccer. They met in the area of Central Park called The Ramble, thus The Ramblers were born. I think people, at the time, were looking for something active, that also had a social aspect. I cant imagine what life as a gay man in New York City in the 80s was like, but I think this organization provided a comfortable place for guys to be themselves and meet others in the LGBTQ community.

    2. How have the Ramblers grown since 1980?We definitely grown in numbers! The bond of

    friendship within the club has also grown - Im sure every Rambler can tell you about a great friend they have made through the organization. Our message has grown, too, now reaching LGBTQ youth through our scholarship fund.

  • 73. How do the Ramblers function now? How many players and teams are there and where do they compete?There are many ways to play as a Rambler! We have

    our own internal league, with registration and score keeping all done through our website. There are six teams with 10 players each, but we play 7 v7 . The games are once a week on one of the spaces we rent in Manhattan - Chelsea Waterside Park or Pier 40 Rooftop. We also hold practice once a week in those spaces, as well.

    We also send Ramblers teams into other leagues in NYC. These teams are much more competitive, so players are all at a much higher level of play and are asked by the captains of the teams to play. We just won the championship of the Gotham League a few weeks ago! They play in varying parts of NYC, as

    designated by the league they enter.

    4. What are key challenges in growing the club?FIELD SPACE! Our internal league now goes to a long

    waitlist, with registration filling in a matter of minutes.

    Its disappointing that we cant accommodate every player, every season. Wed love to add a third night of play into our weekly schedule! We dream of a day

    when we can have a pier of our own with three fields!!!

    5. What types of guys do you see joining the club? I imagine its a mix, but in general, what are the common goals and ambitions of

    the players who join the Ramblers?We have players at all skill levels, so we really welcome anyone to play with us. We also want to help our players continue to get better, so weve been adding some skills and drills into practices. Some of the people who go to practice and league regularly have improved so much without having touched a soccer before before playing with us. Wed love to send more teams into the external leagues, so player development is big for us.

    This organization is an amazing place to meet new people and make friends. We have a few players who moved here from abroad, so playing soccer with us has given them a comfortable atmosphere to get acclimated into the city. If you like to play soccer and maybe get a drink after, youll have fun with us!

    6. What about soccer makes it a coalescing force within a specific community?For us, soccer is the first thing we have in

    common. Everything that has happened to our league has come from playing the game. Its also something

    thats popular around the rest of the world, so its opened doors for us that participating in another sport may not.

    7. More teams specifically for the gay community have been founded in other cities. What is the Ramblers role in this growth, if any? Do you imagine new teams will keep appearing, and if yes, why?We often attend the tournaments that are held by other clubs all over the USA. Were also open to speaking with any other clubs about ways we can have more contact and play soccer together. Weve added a position to our board this year that is really focused on improving our relationships with other clubs.

    I think if there are players in any city, its a possibility! Its taken us 20 years to get the

    amount of players we have now, but all it took was that one advertisement!

    8. What advice would you give LGBTQ communities

    in other urban areas, looking to set up a community sport initiative?

    See where you can play and just throw the idea out there! If there

    is an LGBTQ community center in the area, I think

    that would be the best place to start!

    Soccer is the first thing we have in common. Everything that has happened to our league has come from playing the game.

  • 89. You mention that the Ramblers goal has always been to breakdown stereotypes. How do the Ramblers achieve this? What challenges do you face in doing this?Im playing in a much different time than when our

    club was founded. I think during our clubs inception, there was a stereotype of gay men in general, so it was a huge challenge all its own. I think weve broken the stereotype by welcoming anyone who wants to play and making a real effort to ensure everyones time

    with the club is enjoyable.

    10. Do the team ever face any level of discrimination from competing teams or anyone else? What tends to be the general reaction and has that changed over time?We are lucky to live in a time where acceptance and mutual respect have proven stronger than discrimination. In 1980, though, Im sure this wasnt the case. Our journey to grow and build as an organization has been a long one, not without its ups and downs, but our message of equality and camaraderie through soccer has always been and will always be the driving force past any obstacle in our way.

    11. Some of your members used to play at a fairly competitive level. How do you integrate aspects of performance sport into community soccer? I.e. have you trained with the assistance of a coach? And if yes, what was that experience like for the team?Weve been trying to make practice as much of learning experience, as possible. We have had a coach in the past and are considering getting one again. I think now

    that weve grown so much, wed make better use of a coach than we had in the past. Id love to see some of our newer players excel into the external leagues!

    12. Homophobia in pro soccer, although diminishing, is still not uncommon. What solutions do you see to stopping discrimination and homophobia in the professional game? And do the Ramblers have a role to play in that?Our relationship with the NYCFC has been instrumental in our success this past year and we are excited for the possibilities of what we can do together in 2016. Wed love to plan a Gay Day at one of their games!

    13. If community soccer worked like pro soccer and a foreign oligarch all of a sudden wanted to invest millions of dollars into the team, what would be your first request?Get us our own fields, then an empty trophy case.

    Well fill it ;-)

    Id actually love to see a space built that can house all of the LGBTQ sports leagues!

    14. What do the next 5 years look like for the Ramblers? What are your goals?We plan to be a major presence at every major tournament possible. This year we are focusing on success at the IGLFA championships in Portland, but were also thinking about the Gay Games in Paris 2018. We would love to see as many Ramblers participating as possible.

    We also intend to improve on the social aspects of the club, hosting more outing at our sponsor bars and getting to better know other LGBTQ sports organizations in both NYC and other cities.

    During our clubs inception, there was a stereotype of gay men in general, so it was a huge challenge all its own. I think weve broken the stereotype by welcoming anyone who wants to play and making a real effort to ensure everyones time with the club is enjoyable.

    Back to Index

    All images in this article have been taken from the Official

    Facebook Page of The New York Ramblers. All images belong

    to newyorkramblers.org

  • 91. Describe your background in community soccer as a coach? How many years were you coaching before you began Project Vega?I began coaching during my first year in college, so

    back in 1999. I started out as an asst. coach for the womens team at my high school alma mater, Bishop ODowd in Oakland, and then took my first head

    coaching role once I graduated college at St. Marys. I coached club at the same time and started out at Bay Oaks Soccer Club, which is now East Bay United Soccer Club (ebu). Plenty of personal training and a gk coaching role at sf State as well. I really got engaged in serving the community through soccer during my time at ebu. I had a very talented boys team from their freshman year until graduation (U15-18) and approx. half of the team was underserved. That said, the best part about our team was the mixture of kids from different backgrounds socially,

    economically, and ethnically. It created a special

    blend that was powerful and I got to see first hand the

    impact soccer can have on kids in terms of changing their lives for the better. Soccer provided that focus and I think they truly cared about each other.

    2. What made you want to start Project Vega?I wanted to start Project Vega after the aforementioned boys team graduated and I found myself deeply inspired by one member of the team in particular, Raul Vega. Raul overcame so many hurdles and became the first member of his family to graduate

    high school and go to college. Soccer was the vehicle that helped him to get there, it was so cool so see the moment when he realized his awesome talent could get him into school, if he was willing to put in the work. It felt like the purpose of Project Vega was best embodied by Raul, so only appropriate to name the company in his honor. Working with Raul was the most rewarding thing I had done in coaching at the

    time, and revealed to me what the game could do to help people.

    3. Briefly describe the state of community soccer in the MISSION DISTRICT in San Francisco when Project Vega began?Since I grew up in the East Bay and coached in Oakland, I knew that the competitive youth soccer landscape was pretty poor in San Francisco, including the mission district. There simply isnt much going on in sf for talented kids, evidenced by almost half of my ebu team being made up of sf kids....though worth noting only one from the mission. I just couldnt believe that there was no talent in the mission and so it made sense to base Project Vega out of that area. This was also strongly supported by our recreational program having huge participation in the mission, so we felt we were trying to fill a void. The clubs that were operating

    in the mission when we got there did not seem to

    NOT FREE-TO-PLAYIn Conversation with PROJECT VEGA

    Project Vega was a not-for-profit from San Francisco that provided free-to-play soccer to some of the citys most disadvantaged children. After 3.5 years of operation, Project Vega closed its doors in 2014. Urban Soccer Initiative interviewed former Executive Director of Project Vega, David Wilkinson, about community soccer in silicon valley and the pitfalls of operating a free-to-play model in the United States.

  • 10

    have the kids best interests at heart. Its sad, there is a tremendous amount of talent at young ages, although that typically all disappears by middle school and even more so by high school. The environment for positive development was very challenging.

    4. What were the goals of Project Vega when it began and how did they evolve?The primary goal of Project Vega when we started was to provide access to rec and high-level competitive soccer to kids that couldnt afford to participate in the

    established system of youth soccer in this country. In my opinion, lack of access is the number one reason top talent in the US doesnt get identified, which of

    course has a huge impact, all the way up to the national team. I think the primary evolution Project Vega went through in terms of our goals was the realization of the deeply positive impact our recreational program, Play Vega. The power of soccer matched with consistent positive adult role models in the inner city is immense, and I didnt fully appreciate that fact when we first started

    Project Vega. I think the full vision for how soccer can impact any community is really the integration of rec and competitive soccer, along with reducing the cost considerably or entirely if possible.

    5. Briefly describe the type of players served by Project Vega?Project Vega aimed to serve kids who normally would not have access to competitive soccer or recreational soccer. In terms of the rec soccer, we worked with

    the Boys and Girls Clubs of SF to provide kids whom otherwise might not feel comfortable or been able to play with older kids. We worked cognitive development into our curriculum, for example, vocabulary and language development. On the competitive side, we aimed for kids who are talented, but more importantly have a passion to work hard and improve. Most of our players could not participate in teams that were pay-to-play, so we got access to a pool of talent that other clubs couldnt access in their pay-to-play models.

    6. What were some difficulties in running a free to play soccer non-profit?Making a living! Upon reflection, we may have been better served by gradually working towards completely free-to-play instead of leaping to it right from the start. Scholarships would help those who truly couldnt spare any payment, but its extremely difficult to continue

    any service that is totally free without some type of benefactor or other revenue stream. Id like to see corporate america get involved much more as well as the US Soccer Federation itself. I wonder how much is spent keeping the academy at Bradenton open and if thats the best use of those funds.

    7. Considering soccers increasing popularity in the U.S. but with not much changing with regards to most programs still being pay-to-play, how do you see the landscape of community soccer for those you served developing over the coming years?

    Sadly, I think it will remain largely the same. The growing popularity will serve to increase participation, but not amongst those kids I think would benefit the

    most, let alone may be more talented. Until the USSF steps up in a real way and begins to directly subsidize community soccer programs, I fear change will only come in isolated instances as opposed to what is really needed, systemic change.

    8. What about San Francisco makes it especially challenging or interesting with regards to running a youth soccer program?SF is a very unique community to work with in several ways: 1) the non-profit community here is not very collaborative and the entrenched organizations are used to being competitive for resources. This makes it challenging to realize large visions that require multiple parties -- it is not always a group of organizations that does what is best for those they serve, instead focusing on financial growth; 2) In terms of all things soccer, it is a very isolated city. Its almost like no communication or information was shared with any place outside of SF, so at times the very community you are trying to work with doesnt understand the basics about how the pay-to-play system works, let alone other soccer organizations; 3) Lastly, SF is a very expensive place to live. It just makes everything more difficult to accomplish. On the positive side,

    Until the USSF steps up in a real way and begins to directly subsidize community soccer programs, I fear change will only come in isolated instances as opposed to what is really needed, systemic change.

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    there is such opportunity here! The isolation I mentioned

    before, while difficult, also allows for a huge amount

    of undiscovered talent that is simply not participating in the existing pay-to-play system. The talent here is absolutely amazing.9. There was a video where a group of employees from a Silicon Valley tech company tried to book a field in the MISSION that was being used by a community soccer program. This caused considerable uproar with some seeing this as endemic of the current gentrification in the area. How did you see the incident if at all? And could you comment on how the gentrification of high immigrant neighbourhoods impacted the people you served?This is a very sensitive and complicated issue. I did see the video and actually several of the kids in it participated in our programs at the time. My take is that gentrification is a word that elicits deep emotions

    and is not always understood in the same way by everyone. I think its difficult to stop people from living

    in a certain community if they are willing to spend large amounts of money to purchase homes there. Of course, this leaves the existing community with a lack of space and having to endure relocation and the change of their community in very deep ways. Id like to see those moving in from the outside be more attentive and sensitive to the community that already lives there....the video is a good example of that, I think those guys from the tech company simply are tone deaf and didnt think they were doing anything wrong. Our teams have experienced the same thing, being booted from a field by some company group

    who had to have the whole field, with only a handful

    of adults playing. We had 40 kids playing and its just ridiculous to not be able to use half of the field

    and the adults could use the other half. Lastly, the

    city of SF doesnt do enough to deal with this and in fact facilitates these issues by having the ability to purchase time on a field for recreational adult play at

    the expense of youth.

    10. What made you close Project Vega and is there a plan to restart it anew?We closed Project Vega as it became very difficult to

    continue with the business plan we had, which at its heart relied on collaboration with other non-profit

    groups. Our recreation program closed down over funding disagreements and in the end, once we lost those participants (over 95% of our overall numbers) we found it tough to regroup and rebrand as a smaller

    I think its difficult to stop people from living in a certain community if they are willing to spend large amounts of money to purchase homes there. Of course, this leaves the existing community with a lack of space and having to endure relocation and the change of their community in very deep ways.

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    organization. I think the concept of Project Vega is something Id like to do again, but under very different

    circumstances such as funding sources, alternative revenue streams, and how we introduce ourselves and ideas to the community we want to serve.

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    SOCCER WITHOUT BORDERS Soccer Without Borders (SWB) began in 2006 to address various

    issues faced by underserved young

    people in their communities. These

    include a lack of safe spaces to play

    sport, a lack of opportunity to explore

    community challenges, and a lack of

    access to education, employment, and

    personal growth. The Urban Soccer

    Initiative spoke with their Executive

    Director, Mary McVeigh, to discuss

    the intricacies of running a successful

    community soccer program.

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    1. SWBs US-based programs take place in urban centers with large migrant and refugee communities. What role can soccer play in their integration into American society? The soccer field is one of the few places where newcomer

    youth immediately feel confident, counted, and like

    they can express themselves and contribute. When youth first come to the U.S., most feel the opposite.

    They are overwhelmed by what they dont know, and feel helpless and alone in almost every aspect of life. Too often, these youth turn to unhealthy behaviors, rejecting that which makes them feel incompetent. Soccer can reach these young people in a way that no other activity can.

    2. What array of challenges do the population you serve face and how does SWB utilize soccer to help overcome those challenges?Newcomer youth are disproportionately at-risk academic failure, gang recruitment, drugs and other unhealthy choices. Many have experienced significant

    trauma and interrupted schooling and are faced with the daunting task of learning a new language in order to access pathways to success in America. Resettlement and other supporting agencies and health care providers are often a first point of contact; these agencies do a tremendous job of meeting the basic needs of newcomer families including food, clothing, medical services and shelter. However, youth programs are often outside of their scope, making programs like SWB a perfect compliment to pick up where they leave off.

    Youth join Soccer Without Borders at varying levels of soccer ability, English ability, and comfort in their communities, making flexibility and innovation key.

    Our evidence-based design is intentionally adaptable to local context and resources, while consistent in the five main program activities: soccer play and instruction,

    team-building, educational support, civic engagement, and cultural exchange. The balance and dosage of these activities in a safe and welcoming team environment led by a trained and committed coach creates a powerfully influential environment that is focused on the

    development of the whole person over many years.

    3. What institutional challenges does SWB face in implementing its programs?Our biggest challenge is that the need and demand far outweigh our capacity. To an outsider, setting up a new team or location may seem simple. They may also believe that what we do is no different from your typical soccer

    club. Establishing an intentional growth plan that has the necessary support to consistently deliver our full, high-touch program is a challenge.

    4. How do the goals of community sport and performance sport differ? Are there instances of the two intersecting as well (i.e. an SWB graduate achieving a soccer scholarship or going pro)?There are so many lessons and opportunities inherent to soccer that could be leveraged within both performance sport and community sport. However, as a program and as coaches, we make thousands of little decisions throughout the year to prioritize one goal over another. Does the more talented kid play, despite poor behavior or a lack of investment in his/her academics? Do you focus all of practice time on soccer skill-building, or also team-building? Are coaches also counselors and mentors?

    Does the team feel like a family, or do players jump from team to team to get the best opportunity at a scholarship?

    We have some incredibly talented players come through our programs. Some have gone on to earn scholarships (academic and soccer) in college, some have earned roster spots in college, and one even made her national team. With many of our high school students coming to the US recently, these are more the exception than the norm. It is not our primary focus, but getting to that elite level can also serve as a significant

    motivator for our players.

    5. What keeps you and your staff motivated every day despite challenges?The kids are our biggest inspiration

    6. What are some things people on the grassroots can do to assist you?I think its most effective when people can connect in

    a way that is meaningful to them and fits their talents,

    resources, and time. Our website lists a number of ways to get involved, from volunteering, to becoming an ambassador, to spreading the word.

    7. What are some things at an institutional level or larger organization level (think pro teams etc.) can do to help your programming?The larger soccer systems have an incredible platform at their disposal. By integrating support for organizations

    The soccer field is one of the few places where newcomer youth immediately feel confident, counted, and like they can express themselves and contribute. When youth first come to the U.S., most feel the opposite.

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    that are not only focused on talent development, but social change, they can send a message to the world that soccer is for everyone.

    8. What are the organizations goals for the coming year or two? How does SWB hope to grow?Each year we aim to expand our services as much as we are able, in order to meet the growing need. In 2016, we will expand by 25%, adding new teams, new locations within our existing cities, and more weekly hours.

    By integrating support for organizations that are not only focused on talent development, but social change, they can send a message to the world that soccer is for everyone.

    All images in this article have been taken from the Official Website of Soccer Without Borders.

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    MY RELIGION

    Disclaimer: All views and opinions expressed in the following article are

    exclusively from the writers perspective. The Urban Soccer Initiative does not associate itself with any views and/or

    opinions expressed in the article.

    For as long as I remember, I truly loved the sport. That was until I met him. Anand Swamy was a tough coach, a screamer, an unsympathetic man. Perhaps these qualities made Anand one of the best. His expectations were brutal and punishments severe. Or maybe I was too soft. Hed have me run an hour for petty breaches of conduct. If, for instance, I arrived five minutes late to my

    5:30 a.m. practice, rest assured, I was running nothing short of a dozen laps. Once I eventually got to pick up a cricket bat, Id lose my liberty to use it early. Hed yell and send me off to the sidelines to have me watch his

    favorites play. My love for the sport slowly withered, and gripping that cricket bat turned unpleasant. One winter morning I had finally had enough and retired my cricket

    career at the modest age of eleven. My state-of-the-art set of pads, gloves, balls, shoes, and cricket bat were put away, high up in never to be seen again.

    Son, youre going places, was what they said as I walked off the pitch. A natural, a prodigy, they said. Once I turned eight, I began competing with some of the older boys. We practiced for approximately two hours a day. Fellow eight year olds were far too easy, and so were some of the older kids. My coach, Roger Binny, loved me, my teammates jealous, and my parents proud. Roger Binny was a former player in the Indian National Cricket Team. When Binnys coaching camp

    shut down, I was forced to find another one. I began attending one of the best in the country.

    Image from gogryphons.com

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    As fate would have it, that same year, I happened upon a man called Bing. Bing, a man who grew up in the state of Goa, where cricket isnt the most popular sport, moved to Bangalore with his wife to teach at my school. He introduced us to the worlds greatest religion. One that had me falling in love again. Around the world, this religion I serve, is known by many names. It is most commonly called Football. Football with a capital F.

    India and Pakistan have always been cricketing rivals, arguably one of the greatest sporting rivalries in the world, and understandably so. Unfortunately, this isnt simply a sporting a rivalry; its an international one. To me, both citizens are united by blood, but torn by religion. My grandparents were raised in Lahore before the partition, a city belonging to Pakistan, and were forced to flee their homes for one reason only: differing

    religious beliefs. As their home burnt, they were forced to become refugees in Delhi (capital of India). The partition occurred on religious grounds 1947, with Muslim-majority provinces in British India becoming the new state of Pakistan, an Islamic Republic, and Hindu-majority India becoming a secular one. In my case, I mostly played cricket with Hindus, and we, as boys, would paint all our Muslim teammates (brothers) as Pakistanis. Being Muslim automatically made one Pakistani in this cricket culture I was growing up in. Only for one reason: India vs. Pakistan.

    Cricket first came to my ancestral homeland, before the

    independence struggle and the birth of my nation, with an unfortunate bitter tinge. It came to the land with the British. The unwavering colonialists thought themselves superior to my inferior darker skinned ancestors. Hence, cricket was considered to be a sport of class. The British believed they were a class above the Indians, and most Indians believed the same. After Gandhis hunger-strike and after all the unsung heroes drove the British out, cricket remained as such. It seemed like the best thing the British brought to us was cricket, imaginably better than the language and railway system.

    Once Pakistan was formed in 1947, the then children of 1940s India cultivated a bitter resentment towards Pakistanis and, subsequently towards their fellow Muslims. One of the abundant reasons the British maintained their stronghold on the land was through a strategy known as Divide and Rule: pitting Hindus against Muslims to ensure Indians fought amongst themselves, a catalyst was created which kept the subcontinent divided. This hatred picked up steam and fell at my feet through cricket. Of course I partook in it. I was going places, remember? Note: The Indian cricket team has, thankfully, always been a set of extremely talented individuals who practice a variety of faiths. Further, I am certain there were places all over the country that upheld Indias secular constitution and didnt discriminate against people on religious grounds.

    I was born on 12th December, 1992. On 6th December, 1992 the Babri Mosque was attacked, leaving horrifying residual conflict amongst Hindus and Muslims in India.

    Apparently the masjid was built upon holy Hindu ground, where the town of Ayodhya once lay (the birthplace of a Hindu God commonly known as Rama). Unsurprisingly, radical Hindus took it upon themselves to bring the mosque down. Ever since, there have been long fought battles in court. Frustrated radicals used this as an excuse to spread hate amongst each other. Both have committed terrible crimes across the nation. Bangalore, a city I like to believe to be more liberal, more accepting, and more tolerant than the rest of my country, happened to betray a thirteen year old me.

    In the seventh grade all schools in my city shut for a few days, because Hindu-Muslim riots made it unsafe for anyone to step outside. All day I heard violent noises from my bedroom. As dusk approached and as my city went quiet, I took myself from my bedroom to the street. When the sunsets in Bangalore the sky envelopes my city in a beautiful, dim orange glow. Not this evening. This evening the sky was a dark blue. Unknowing I would be horrified by the sight Id see, I ran a short distance

    to the main road. The streets were empty. Never had I witnessed a street in India this vacant. Whatever little was left will forever remain a vivid memory. I looked to my left and found a burning autorickshaw, I looked to my right and found a Muslim man crawling out of the sewer, and right across from me, a body lay on the side of the street. I remembered my throat drying up and an unfamiliar taste forming in my mouth. I had read about the holocaust, Al Qaeda, about killings in the name of religion, but it took my own eyes to convince me: religion, as we know it, can have a terribly bitter taste.

    Most known religions preach what I learned from Football, but somehow, somewhere down the line society has managed to misconstrue the teachings of the Quran, Vedas, Bible, etc. and morphed words of peace into war cries to divide, conquer, and masacre.

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    Most known religions preach what I learned from Football, but somehow, somewhere down the line society has managed to misconstrue the teachings of the Quran, Vedas, Bible, etc. and morphed words of peace into war cries to divide, conquer, and masacre. Sure, these people are radicals, but what about the ones that arent? Why do families not allow a noble Muslim woman marry a shudh Hindu brahmin? Why do people I know refuse to do business with a Muslim? These people arent considered radicals because they arent on streets drawing blood. However, they are widening a gap. Theyre furthering an abyss in which hate is allowed to fester. Where does all of this come to a stand still? On the Football field.

    At thirteen, living in this confused world of infidels,

    I realised now more than ever, it did not matter where one came from, what one believed in, and what one looked like whilst chasing a tattered Football in our barefeet. If you had a problem with your teammate being Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, you could go ahead and watch your sworn enemy have the time of his/her life while you fermented on the sidelines, wasting life hating a boy/girl sweating happiness, joy, and unity. Perhaps there wasnt a separation between Hindus and Muslims because India and Pakistan are awful at Football. Maybe thats why kids had no reason to call someone Pakistani on the Football field. Although Im sure there have

    About The AuthorIshaan Pujari now lives in New York City. He grew up in Bangalore, India and moved to the United States of America for college in 2011. He has played Football at various levels throughout his life, and aspires to play around the world. He may play cricket again.

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    been instances on the Football field where people have

    belittled one another on the basis of religion, I have never once witnessed it. Which, in itself, is a miracle; god-sent! Something I used to hear so often playing

    cricket, I never once heard playing Football.