Sixteen million children in the United States are growing up without the presence of a mentor, and of this group, more than half are faced with challenges on a day-to-day basis, including lack of access to athletic programs.
Ed Foster-Simeon, President and CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation
, joins Sheila Hyland to discuss his organization’s mission to provide children of all economic backgrounds the opportunity to play the game of soccer, while learning necessary life skills from coach-mentors.
Hyland: Increased self-esteem, academic success, and a healthier lifestyle -- all benefits for children participating in sports. But for children in underserved communities, access to affordable, quality sports programs and safe places to play can be limited. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Sheila Hyland. Joining me to discuss efforts to help underserved communities get that access and how sports, soccer in particular, can be a vehicle for social change is Ed Foster-Simeon, President and CEO of the US Soccer Foundation. Ed, thank you so much for being here.
Foster-Simeon: Thank you for having me, Sheila.
Hyland: Let´s talk about the lack of programs and places to play in underserved communities. understand that more than 80 percent of children living in poverty are not playing sports. What are the ramifications of that?
Foster-Simeon: There are significant ramifications. Participation in sports programming is part of any healthy community. Sports have existed for millennia because it´s a place where children learn various skills and life skills that will help them become productive, healthy adults. You learn teamwork, you learn discipline, you learn the rules, you learn how to win, you learn how to lose, you learn how to challenge oneself, to be accountable to others, and you get the opportunity to be healthy and active, and it´s an incredible classroom that we undervalue as a society.
Hyland: But how was the idea born to use soccer as a vehicle for social change? You could´ve picked baseball, football, any other kinds of sports. Why soccer?
Foster-Simeon: Well, we´re the US Soccer Foundation, and our belief in the game is that it plays a role in every aspect of life. The spotlight is always on the top athletes at the very top of the elite pyramid, but what we realize is that our game, both boys and girls play equally. It doesn´t take a lot of equipment. You just need some open space and a ball and a safe place for children to play. And you can get a lot of benefits from participation in sport. The secret sauce, though, is the coaches.
Hyland: And talk about that. They´re really the mentors to these kids. -They´re not just coaches.
Foster-Simeon: Exactly. The coaches in the Soccer for Success program, which is offer free to children in underserved communities 3 days a week for 24 weeks during the school year, those coaches are not only trained in how to deliver a quality soccer programming, but they learn best practices in mentorship and in sports-based youth development so they can leverage that position of influence in a child´s life to get better outcomes, not just on the playing field but in life.
Hyland: I understand that one out of three children do not have mentors in their lives, and their role cannot be understated.
Foster-Simeon: They cannot, and the protective factor of a mentor in a child´s life, particularly children in underserved communities, there´s a lot of downward pressure in those children´s lives, but having just one more caring adult in their life can bend the arc of those young lives upwards and in the right direction.
Hyland: Ed, tell us more about the program. From what I understand, you are actually building the soccer fields right there in their communities and their neighborhoods. They don´t have to take transportation and go to a soccer field that´s far away.
Foster-Simeon: Yes. You know, it´s interesting. When we first started this work, we started with the programming, making sure we had a quality program available in those communities so that children had easy access. But then we realized there weren´t very many safe places for children to play, so we´ve focused on building safe places in those communities so that children have easy access, and you´re exactly right. If a play space is more than a half-a-mile away from a child in an underserved community, it might as well be on the moon, because they don´t have access to transportation, they don´t have people available to take them wherever they need to go, and so making sure that we put play spaces right in neighborhoods where children live where play becomes the easy choice in the neighborhood is really important.
Hyland: How many kids are we talking about, Ed, that are involved in the program now, and what are your plans for the future?
Foster-Simeon: Yeah, so we´ve set some pretty ambitious goals. We served 70,000 kids last year. This coming school year, we´ll serve 100,000 kids. Our vision is for a million children to be engaged in Soccer for Success programming nationally and to build 1,000 safe places for those children to play across the country.
Hyland: I think it´s important to mention, too, the outcomes of those who have participated in this program. -It´s pretty amazing. -
Foster-Simeon: Yes. One of the things when we first started this work, we decided that, well, you know, it´s all nice to say sports are good for you, but you really need to prove it. How do you prove that? And so we´ve had independent evaluation of the Soccer for Success program that showed that 83 percent of children who are at greatest risk for diabetes and cardiovascular disease have positive health outcomes as a result of participating in the programming, 86 percent of children avoid negative social behaviors such as fighting, you know, and 88 percent perform better on a team. These are all incredible outcomes that make a difference in a child´s life. Whether they become a professional athlete or they just become a worker in the workforce, those are things that will be helpful to them.
Hyland: All right, and briefly, ho can someone join or get more information about the organization?
Foster-Simeon: Please go to itseveryonesgame.org. That´s itseveryonesgame.org. It´s our website in which we brought all of our work together under one umbrella to campaign where we want you to sign up to get updates on the work. We love for corporations to get behind this work to sponsor it in their communities, we love individuals to get behind and volunteer to serve as coach mentors, and youth serving in schools around the country that we can train them how to deliver this evidence-based programming to their community so children get these positive health outcomes.
Hyland: Ed, we wish you continued success with the program.
Foster-Simeon: Thank you so much, Sheila.
Hyland: Ed Foster-Simeon with the US Soccer Foundation. And thank you for joining us. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit comcastnewsmakers.com. I´m Sheila Hyland.