The Possibility of a Soccer Experience for Every Youth in America - Soccer Parenting Association

The Possibility of a Soccer Experience for Every Youth in America

Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Accessibility in youth soccer is a very complex issue. There is certainly not a single solution to making the possibility of a soccer experience available to every youth in America. We dove into this topic yesterday (complete video and transcript is below) in a powerful conversation with four notable leaders: Lawrence Cann, Founder and CEO of Street Soccer USA - Nicole Hercules, Executive Director of Rochester City Soccer League and Chair of the United Soccer Coaches Black Coaches Advocacy Group - Chris Kessell, President West Side Soccer Club, West Virginia and - Mutanda Kwesele, Founder of The Rising Point and Youth Coach with Columbus Crew MLS Academy.

After I hit “end webinar” on my screen yesterday – I sat in my office staring at my now blank computer screen which had just moments before held the silhouettes of four talented, smart and committed leaders in this space – I felt a rush of optimism overwhelm me as the buzzing energy of the interview continued to float through my veins.  This extremely complex situation is, in fact, solvable. 


Soccer Parenting will continue to explore this topic in future interviews and with important coalition building.  

If you would like to join a list to receive future communications about Diversity, Inclusion, Equity and Accessibility in Youth Soccer – DO SO HERE.


The entire just over hour long video discussion as well as transcript is below.

A handful of my personal key takeaways:

  1. A national coalition with solid leadership is essential. There are many people working all over the country doing similar work in their communities and if we can connect them, determine best practices, share experiences and deploy resources across these silos – we will make change faster and more effectively.
  2. Every community is different but the process for the solutions can be similar – the focus should be on understanding and meeting the specific needs of the player and their caregivers.
  3. People matter – quality, committed people who deeply care about the community they are serving will be the leaders who persevere and facilitate sustainable programs.
  4. Well-funded soccer clubs are an important part of the solution – with important local political/municipal power, coach education expertise, league and tournament control, and essential resources that organizations serving the traditionally underserved can potentially rely upon. 
  5. While in need of a culture overhaul in many areas, the current youth soccer club and league structure serves some players well - but it needs to be continually checked and revised in two important ways: First, we need to continue to work hard to make our current environments more open and inclusive to Black and Brown people who join or who want to join.  Second, we need to address the fact that the high travel demands of league and tournament play pushes people not towards the top of the economic pyramid away.
  6. While providing scholarships is a good thing in many situations – it is certainly not the solution. 
  7. We are not going to develop a single system that will provide the possibility of a soccer experience to all the youth in America.  There will be multiple systems that meet the needs of the players however EVERYONE must belong to the US Soccer "nation". 

I welcome your takeaways in the comments below!

Transcript:

Skye:
Welcome, everyone. There's already some comments here that everybody's saying how excited they are for this conversation. So why don't we start off just with a little quick intro from each of you just about the work that you're doing in this space right now. Chris, why don't you start us off?

Chris:
I am the president of West Side Soccer here in Charleston, West Virginia, and it's an inner city soccer club. We have about 200 kids in it. I also run a thing called Chemical Valley Athletic Club, and we offer free soccer. It's a Futsal program that we partner with the City of Charleston Parks and Rec and do it every Friday night in the community center, the Martin Luther King Center downtown, and we built a Futsal court downtown also, when it's nice outside in the summer, that we play every Friday. Well, COVID stopped it, but we've been doing that every Friday night for about five years straight. I was also the president of our league that had 11 clubs that also was a home for a bunch of rural clubs in West Virginia. So I've been a part of two very different groups of populations of kids that had the same needs but were serviced in very different ways, and it's been a very unique and awesome experience.

Skye:
Excellent. Thanks, Chris. We're really excited to have you here and have your voice be part of this. Nicole, you're the next person I see on my screen.

Nicole:
Sure, yeah. Skye, thanks for doing this and thanks for having us all on here. We're looking forward to having a great conversation today. I'm Nicole Hercules. I am the chair of the Black Soccer Coaches Association for United Soccer Coaches. I have a program in Rochester, New York, where we provide holistic programming for inner city youth free of cost. We use the stadium that the old Rhinos used to play in. While I'm sad that the Rhinos aren't there anymore, I'm happy that my kids have an amazing facility to train out of. I also have a company called NMH Consulting, where we help to create the Champions Rise Here clinics, where we work across the country to provide quality training with celebrity players that look just like many of the players who we were looking to bring to the game. So that's some of what I do, and I'll pass it over to whoever's next.

Skye:
Great. Mutanda?

Mutanda:
Hi. Mutanda Kwesele, and I am currently working in Columbus, Ohio. I'm the head coach of the U14 age group in the academy here. Previous to that, I founded a organization called The Rising Point in Seattle, Washington, and that mission is to develop quality people and build communities. So thank you so much, Skye, and everybody for joining. I'm excited to be here.

Skye:
Fantastic. Thanks. Lawrence? Oh, we can't hear you, Lawrence.

Lawrence:
That's because I muted myself.

Skye:
Well, there you go.

Lawrence:
So my name's Lawrence Cann. I'm founder and president of Street Soccer USA, and our mission is to fight poverty in constricted communities through soccer. So we have staff in seven cities, where we're building community-based programming where we're training local coaches and building sustainable programs outside the existing system. Our point of view is really social justice and the least served, so we started working with homeless teens, homeless adults, really using sport and other means, specifically soccer, as really a tool for drug rehabilitation, for just socialization, for advocacy, for anything that really came from the needs of the participants.

But soccer was always ... It had to be authentic. It wasn't just a tool. So we really believe in the special value of this sport and just believe in a different perspective towards the sport, which is why we've been a little bit on the outside of the youth soccer system that I participated in as a kid. I had a ton of advantages, but there were challenges to me participating, and so you can imagine a lot of the communities where we work, where logistics and economics make the existing system not viable or responsive, really, to their specific set of abilities and capabilities that are ignored because of the way we have things set up currently.

Skye:
Awesome. We'll dive into that and talk about our structures and how things are set up and what needs to change. Chris, can you kick us off here, just with some thoughts on, for those that are watching, how they can best take advantage of this next hour in listening and processing all of this discussion?

Chris:
Well, I think it's really important that we start out by looking at our organizations, and whether we're just an active participant as a parent or if we're a coach or an administration, we're involved in the governance of a state organization or whatever, and we really analyze whether or not we're doing the minimum standard or if we're actually reaching out into different communities and trying to bring people in because I would very, very hope that everybody's meeting the minimum standard, which is we're not excluding anybody. Across the board, I think most organizations across the country are not excluding anybody, but if that's all you're doing, you're not really doing enough.

As a parent, if you can look and you can look across the field and can see that it's very monochromatic or if everybody's from the same socioeconomic level or whatever it is, I'm speaking from the youth club side of things here, that if you look at that, then it's time for you to use your power in the organization to say, "Well, why aren't we doing more?" If you're a coach and you look down and see the same things and make these same pieces of analysis, I think that that's where it's at. If we can all just take away from all these discussions that that important step of saying, "We have to do more for our communities, we have to do more to bring people into this game," like Lawrence said, it's a tool to do so much more than just allow kids to play soccer. We can all do more, and all of our organizations can do more.

Skye:
Excellent. I appreciate that. Thanks for getting us in the right frame of mind. I wanted to make a quick comment about pay to play and just tackle this head-on from the beginning because one of the things that's very frustrating to me personally is when we hear the narrative, on social channels especially, that let's just end pay to play and then that will solve this problem. So I want to be really clear that pay to play is not a thing that necessarily can be ended. I was talking to Chris just yesterday. He's a volunteer-run organization, all volunteer coaches, and he has an annual budget of $20,000.

There's this misnomer that in Europe there is not pay to play. I have a friend who coaches at AIK. I asked him today. Youth kids, the eight-year-olds are paying 200 euros a year to play in their youth system, and then they have to pay more if they want to go to a tournament of some sort. So this is not about ending pay to play, and I just wanted to leave that there so that we can move the conversation forward and not get distracted with that. I know that, Lawrence, you and I have talked about pay to play before, so I guess a question for Lawrence and Nicole is why is scholarshipping kids not the only or the solution that we should be looking for? Lawrence, want to take a stab at that?

Lawrence:
Nicole, you're welcome to go first, but I can ... Okay.

Nicole:
No, you can go ahead.

Lawrence:
Thank you. Well, that tends to be a solution for the club, not the player. They can rent out a roster, make it more competitive, charge a few more people because they can complete a roster with a scholarship. That may not be the number one motivation. The motivation's probably like, "Oh, hey, let's be more inclusive," but that's kind of the way the system's set up. Then that puts the kid in an awkward position, doesn't solve the logistical challenges. I think what we need to do is focus on a different sort of infrastructure that is responsive to the folks that aren't being served by the existing system, not shoehorn them into a system that isn't designed to serve them. So I think it just misses the point altogether. Not to say that scholarship isn't a great thing for a lot of kids with certain abilities, not that it should go away. It's a great fit for the right fit, but it's not a fit that fits all sizes, and we're ignoring the larger problem if we think that that is a solution more than for a subset of specific kids.

Nicole:
Absolutely. The way we look at it is when we approached our youth in our community about what they needed, part of the conversation was with our top players who were playing Division I and different places. We said, "If we were to create a league all over again, what do we need to create?" They essentially said, "A whole new system." They felt used when they played for many of the DA programs. When they were injured, they were still forced to play because they were some of the best players. So our programs really look at things where our players really determine what's best for them. We want holistic programs that allow them to thrive. When we think about equality, it's literally everyone having something or having the same, but equity is providing what everyone needs to thrive, and the programs we create need to be for what our kids need to thrive in this world.

When we think about what the word underserved is, it just means we have a population that is not being served what they need to be successful in the game and outside of the game. Our work is to make sure that they have both of those, whether they're going to play at the next level or whether they're going to be the next chemist or whether they're going to be the next janitor. We want to make sure that they're great people but they're also ready to be successful for whatever it is. We're giving them what they need to succeed.

Skye:
No, thanks, I love that.

Let's also talk briefly while we're here about what often isn't happening when we scholarship players. I know that we were all saddened to hear about the suicide of a Man City player this week. Nicole, we talked about that briefly. Do you want to just dive in on that just a second? Because I think that's necessary to mention here.

Nicole:
I think there's things that we don't think about when we're talking about inner city soccer with cultural relevance and making sure that we have people who understand a player's culture and respect and value them as an individual and where they come from. So, sometimes, you can have a kid who loves the game but doesn't feel like he's being seen as an actual human being. He could be on a team where he's the only minority, but he's still figuring out how to fit in while still having to compete at that highest level. All those pressures are tough. So we really have to make sure that mentally and emotionally we're checking in with our players all the time.

Sometimes, it's so much about winning, it's so much about having the best talent here or there that we forget that these kids are kids and that they're going through things, especially in times where there's racial injustices, there's a pandemic. We got to make sure that we're looking at the kids and figuring out what's best for them, and sometimes, it's just that cultural piece. This kid may be different than other people, and it's not even just a race thing. There's many different levels to that. But can we see the child for who they are?

Skye:
Excellent. No, thank you, appreciate that. Mutanda, just very generally speaking, we're talking about this is a really big, complex problem that we're trying to solve. But, really, what is it going to take for us to make soccer accessible, the possibility of a soccer experience accessible to all youth in America?

Mutanda:
Well, I think it's really a question of, generally speaking, two things, which is, number one, there's transforming current spaces in kids' play and then, as Lawrence was speaking about, the second thing is creating new spaces and creating new pathways and new infrastructure. I like that word a lot. I know you spoke about this briefly at the beginning, but my thing with pay to play, I think it requires us to be honest about the terms that we use and be detailed in our assessment of what the issue is so that we can solve it. Yes, pay to play exists in a lot of places, a lot of cultures. Eventually, people have to be compensated for labor.

However, we know that in youth soccer there are costs that do not need to exist that exist purely for the profits and not for development of kids, and that's an issue that we have to tackle. Once we do, we can then not only transform current spaces, because there are kids in current spaces who are not being served by the current system, but then we can also, I think, very, very importantly, think about who is not being served, who is not at the tournaments and these spaces, and then craft an infrastructure that includes them. Yeah, that's what I would say about that.

Skye:
No, thanks. Anyone else want to chime into that? What's it going to take when we're thinking about transforming current spaces or creating new spaces? Any thoughts from any of you?

Chris:
I think that Nicole said something that was very, very-

Nicole:
I think Lawrence and Mutanda ... Go ahead, Chris.

Chris:
Oh, sorry.

Skye:
Go ahead, Chris.

Nicole:
Go ahead, Chris.

Chris:
All right. I think Nicole said something that was very, very important when she talked about the cultural element. From my experience from starting this program from basically the ground up, was that that was the most important piece. It was convincing people, parents, that their children might enjoy the game, whereas normally they would be involved with other sports, or something that I repeatedly heard and the other people involved with the program, the thing we heard was, "They don't want us to be involved," meaning this isn't something that was viewed as acceptable for the people who already participated, for basically Black kids and poor kids to participate. Everybody felt, not everybody, but a lot of people felt the same way. So it took a lot of work from people within the community. It's hard if you try to come in as an outsider and say, "No, no, no, this is different."

So you have to make sure ... And I was very lucky that I was able to have our volunteer staff and our board be of the community that we were building in, so we had a lot of built-in connections and friendships and family relationships that allowed us to build this from the ground. It's important that if you are trying to serve a community that currently isn't served for you to actually provide what that community wants. It's not really up to you to tell them what they want. It's for you to come in and say, "How can we help give you what you feel like you need?" That's something that's really, really important and using all of the tools at your disposal to make that happen.

Skye:
yeah. So maybe framing that, and then chime in, definitely, Nicole, something that it's really going to take, one of the key things is that we need to understand what people who aren't being served need and what people who aren't being served adequately right now need. There needs to be that deeper understanding from those of us that are making decisions.

Nicole:
And I think also it's the narrative, too, that needs to be changed about what inner city soccer is. We can have people who are coming in and they have wonderful intent with wanting to do amazing work, but the impact can be negative if you don't value and respect and want to empower that community that you're working with. So, like Chris said, I think it's so important, and I'll share this with people, I've never paid a cent for a permit, and it's because we've had ... We train out of a large stadium. Our city is committed to investing in our youth because they know the benefits because we have identified the needs in our community. We had four kids who were murdered before we started our program, so it was really a life and death program. We had kids who were struggling in school, so we knew we had to provide college advisement and different things.

So we went in knowing what we wanted to take care of, we built the relationships with the people in our community that were interested in dealing with these things, and through the partnerships with our city, with our school district, it just made sense because all the work that everyone's collaborating on was really positive and shined a positive light and was able to create an entire new narrative that was positive for our kids in the city. Multiple valedictorians every year, 100% graduation rates, things like that, those are things that help you to have a successful program that's sustainable because now everyone wants to buy into it. Sponsorship and things like that happen. But you can create your own narrative, you can do your own programming, once you have a clear vision on what it is that you need to help the community with.

Skye:
No, I love it. This is such a complex problem that we're solving or attempting to solve, and I think, with complexity, we have to peel back the layers a little bit to try to understand it. I'm getting a lot of questions here from John and Shalom asking questions about what are you doing to offset expenses at your clubs so that it doesn't cost so much play. I want us to build a conversation, or what would be your response to somebody who's asking that question? Are we talking about creating a new structure, new structures, or how we can revamp our current ones? I know it's a little bit of both, but can somebody tackle this, that the complexity of this problem, it's going to take a lot of different solutions to really be implemented?

Lawrence:
I'll try to start. I think if you're talking about reforming or changes in the current system, that's a whole different conversation than I believe the one is that we're having here. I might challenge the notion that the kids in the existing system are really getting served in the best way. I think we got to consider any system you're building, there's no such thing as not pay to play. It's a question of who's paying. So, in the current system, the parents are paying. They're the clients. The system's designed for the highest willingness to pay of those parents, and you get travel tournaments and all kinds of stuff that may not serve what we're all really in the business of, which is teaching values through sports, because a small percentage of us go on to college, go on to Princeton. That's a whole discussion. That's over here.

Then, on the other side, I think is what we're engaged in, which is a system of reasonable expenses for people that aren't in that other system. There, someone's paying, right? Someone's paying the coaches, someone's keeping up the ... You get a free permit. The city's keeping up the field or whatever. So if we consider as a premise that we're all in this together, that the client is the community and city and the participants, then we sort of make the argument ... We all can agree ... I loved what Nicole was saying when she was describing what a successful program is. She was listing graduation rates and safe outcomes of participants, et cetera. Nothing about that was how many victories or goals or that sort of thing. We're all bought in on we want a healthy community. Nothing makes more sense than these sort of programs.

I think, to get back to what, really, I'm interested in doing together with people on this call, is creating a platform for this type of work, which doesn't really exist, because I would say to US Soccer that they don't support this type of work. They should, but they don't. They create a lot of assists, a lot of subsidies for a whole different system, and they ignore this segment, which is 13 million kids who live at or below the poverty line. So I think we need to invest in a platform for us to share best practices, for us to build an infrastructure that would be local tournaments. So you just take out all this travel out of the equation entirely. Even on the competitive level, there's no reason to believe that we couldn't field a competitive national team from the New York metro area.

We worked with the players' union in Spain because I was curious what was going on there because the players' union got together and they funded and ran programs to the communities that the players were from because they typically come from, quote-unquote, underserved communities. These kids grow up and enter the professional league and La Liga and they've never left the districts of Madrid because they create a sustainable, affordable system to play that's local and pretty low cost, and they take all these challenges and barriers that totally exclude our kids and make them feel uncomfortable and they just take it out of the equation. So there's a total way to do this, but we need a platform so that ... It's not right that I haven't met Chris or Nicole or Mutanda before this. We need to connect as a group because there are a lot of like-minded people.

Skye:
Yeah. Go ahead.

Mutanda:
Yeah, no, I'm just smiling from ear to ear, and Nicole knows because we actually just spoke about this not even a week ago maybe, about what you were just talking about, Lawrence, with a national coalition of people doing this work and how we need to be connected. I couldn't agree more. The thing is with what happens in US Youth Soccer, we treat this issue as charity and not our duty as part of a wider community. Really, I just want to make the point, Lawrence, as you were also talking, I kept thinking about ... We are in political season, of course. We know what's coming up here soon. But what we're talking about is this is an issue that impacts every segment of our society because when we talk about city and community and all this, we can't talk about improving the accessibility of footballers if we don't talk about education, if we don't talk about what certain kids have access to when it comes to that.

Lawrence:
Health disparities, et cetera.

Mutanda:
Nutrition, everything that you're talking about. So it's a question of do we value the kids enough to do it because we all know what it is, and that's, I think, the big barrier in terms of the will to do it. That's why I agree with you, Lawrence, that we need a nationwide coalition and movement so that we can create a new system.

Nicole:
And I think it can be done easily. We know where all the clubs are pretty much across the country that are working outside of the US Soccer. They all play their games in-house, and then they're going overseas and beating Man Cities and PSGs, kicking their butts, and they're doing it outside of the US Soccer system. So we know where it is. And I'm actually supposed to be on a US Youth State Association call right now because part of the conversation that they're having is how can they fill in these gaps. I talk to them about it all the time, that we have a problem here. Well, not we, because we'll find a coalition that's going to deal with it, but you, US Soccer, have a problem here. We have so many players who are signing to play for different national teams, Trinidad and Tobago, the African continent, because they're being excluded. For me, I'm telling them, "You guys have a responsibility to make sure that you're serving these populations that live right here in this country but are being excluded but are top talent, and you have no idea."

The fact that people are saying that Black and brown people do not play soccer tells me how unaware you are. Black and brown people play soccer in this country. They play soccer in every country. You are just out of touch if you think that. We know where they are, we've identified them, and there's some top players who you're just not going to know about until it's too late. So I would prefer for a lot of these people to stay here and play in the States so we could continue to have an amazing national team, but there's going to be some repercussions if we don't really clean this up and we don't clean it up quickly.

Skye:
Yeah, I've been a part of some conversations with some of the US Club, US Youth Soccer, some various leaders, in this space, and the conversation keeps coming back to, "How can we get them into our pathway?" That, to me, seems like, well, that's kind of part of the problem because the pathway that suits my family is not the pathway that's necessarily going to suit the children that we're talking about. And to make the assumption that we can insert them into this is just fundamentally wrong to the conversation to begin with. So, Lawrence, you are in this space. You have thousands of kids that are registered at Street Soccer that are operating in leagues. They're competing and playing against each other, yet you're operating totally outside of the US Soccer structures. None of your players are technically registered with US Soccer. How important is it that you be part of that process and that you be a part of the US Soccer family, so to speak?

Lawrence:
I don't know. This is not something we really preoccupy about. This is something that, at some point, will need to be addressed, but I don't want those goals or twisting in pretzels to figure that out to ignore much more pressing issues on a day to day basis that confront us. It would be great for the federation to see a need, and we'd love to be part of the solution and expanding it. We'd prefer to be part of the system than be outside of it. There's really no desire to stay outside of it, but I don't feel like beating my head against the wall.

So we have leagues and all these things, but you wouldn't call them a league. Our street leagues are like if you come, then you play. We keep score on the neighborhood level as opposed to the team to team level, so we don't do standings, but we do neighborhood standings. So you just wouldn't recognize it as a formal league's way, the other folks' way. But, yeah, we sign people. We keep a pretty tidy database. In certain markets, we've created some behavior tracks on kids and are able to do some comparisons with totally qualified health centers to identify some gaps and make connections for the kids. We do the registration, parents sign off, and sometimes the kid runs behind a building and comes back with a piece of paper signed, and that's okay. I think it's okay. I shouldn't say that probably. We try to not put barriers up between having kids play.

Skye:
Yeah, yeah. Nicole, how important is it to you, do you think, that US Soccer be open, this sense that if you are a lover of the game in America and you're a kid that you belong with US Soccer? Is that an important narrative?

Nicole:
I think we just have to look at the world as an example. All of the best players were impoverished, they were poor, Messi, Ronaldo, some of the best players. There's a different type of grit with kids who have struggled a little bit. They play differently. We have our Friday Night Lights, and my kids are the best of friends, but when they're playing games, it's brutal out there because they just want to win. They play differently. I've played very high level. But there is a different type of killer instinct in many of my players that I just love to see when they compete. So I think we're missing some of that. I go back to when we didn't make the last World Cup. We're watching players get piggybacked over a puddle, and we were just lacking that edge. I think some of that is because we're not seeing kids from other demographics.

But I think another important narrative to say, and we're always remiss with this, is that we have kids from rural communities, too, and even suburban communities that we often overlook and we're just saying, "Inner city, inner city, inner city." But I just know, for my league, I've seen more suburban kids and more kids from rural areas who are coming out, and the best thing about it is that we're able to create a place where everyone plays for free, so whether you're rich or whether I have to give you pair of cleats before, no one knows it. Everyone's on an equal playing field. Everyone has an opportunity. There aren't those barriers. But US Soccer, I think, needs to really start thinking about the fact that the rest of the world is doing this differently and we may need to think about the fact that we would have a better national team if we were really able to reach all of our kids, the entire demographics. We would just have such a better national team. We're already good. I don't ever want to downplay our country with soccer, but we could be a lot better.

Lawrence:
Just to piggyback on that, Skye, I do want to say, we have a plan, we have a blueprint, and we can execute on this tomorrow if US Soccer wants to fund it or anybody, for that matter. I'm not counting on US Soccer. And we're making progress towards it. So this isn't just like, "Hey, it would be" ... We actually have thought this through, how to replicate, how to make it sustainable, how to keep it locally determined but have a national support system in place to make the game more inclusive. That's what we're building, kind of a Girl Scouts of soccer, if you will, that it's ... I say we. It's inclusive. You join us. We are supporting all the existing programs to help them be [crosstalk 00:31:19]-

Nicole:
It's funny that we're all doing it separately because Mutanda and I, we have a group of people, we're building something, too. So it's cool. But we all got to connect on some of this stuff.

Skye:
Well, I think that that connection is essential, and I love the fact that you all are talking about building a national coalition and that conversation's happening because if you're talking about solving a complex problem, you have to have leadership. There's many different silos that are involved here. Maybe, Chris, the work that you're doing is a little bit different. Maybe the work that existing clubs are doing to be more inclusive is different as well. Obviously, the work that you all are doing at Street Soccer is different. But there's many people that are operating in these silos, and to bring you all together is essential. If US Soccer's mission is to be the preeminent sport in the United States, then it certainly means that they would be serving all of the people that are participating in this sport, so obviously it makes sense.

Lawrence, can you talk about ... Because that's something that I find really exciting about your program, is the way you built it around people. Can you just explain ... Because I think this is an important solution for people that are considering programming. Just talk about the way you hire and support and train the people that are working in your programs.

Lawrence:
Sure. From a, what do you call it, company culture standpoint, one of our principles is we like people who come from us or come to us. Our first preference is always if we're ever going to hire a coach or anything, really, we always look internally and into our neighborhoods, and there's always a preference for folks that, quote-unquote, come from us. The other thing is the people that just beat down our doors and really want to work here, want to be a part of it. We have an open mind to them. But we don't really go out and look for people. They come to us. That's one perspective. For the way our programs, to keep the cost down, right, and for the programs to be effective, our coaches need to live nearby or be from the places we work. Otherwise, in most cases ... It can work, and we certainly have people that don't fit that strict definition. But that's what we do, and that's what works for a number of reasons.

One, they have a lot of knowledge to bring to bear that you just can't replace. In that sense, right off the bat, they're more qualified than anybody else. Two, just logistically travel-wise. It's economical. I can stack up hours for them. We've done this sometimes for coaches, where we just said, "Hey, you're coaching for all these clubs or Super Soccer Stars or whomever. You have more hours with them, but they're all over the city. I'm going to stack up your hours, and let's look at the total hours travel time. Actually, I'm paying you a higher rate if you look at the real time. This is going to be better for you because I can give you 20 hours and give it to you stacked up and the travel." So we try to create little efficiencies like that that makes us actually ... In that case, I'll compete for a pay to play club for a coach in real dollar terms, and we want to do that if we can.

Another thing is our model is not ... I think what the typical model is, is it's very German, right? It's like what is soccer? Soccer is show up, soccer delivery, leave. That's soccer practice, right? But our whole thing is more important than the soccer delivery is the period before practice, the period after practice, the being available on the phone call, it's everything around the practice. So we actually put our money where that is. We pay our coaches for the time before and after practice, the ones that we pay. We do a site manager and a coaching model where we have volunteer coaches. But, at a certain scale, you have to pay your coaches so much, somewhat, and you want to have quality. Frankly, paid coaches are by and large better quality than other ones.

We try to get the skill transfer. A lot of folks that we hire, their first ever paycheck comes from Street Soccer USA and now they have something on their resume, and it's building towards their career. From a funding standpoint, when we go back to our city council or whomever it is and we can say, "Oh, remember that money you appropriated to us? Yeah, it actually went to train and hire constituents of your district to get their first ever job from us," that's a pretty good virtuous cycle that they feel good about. I can sell that time and time again.

Skye:
Yeah, yeah. Chris, we talked about people as well, when you and I were talking. I was referencing this quote or thinking about this quote from Margaret Mead, who's an anthropologist, who said, and I'll just sort of paraphrase it, but you never doubt the power of a small group of people to be able to change the world. How is that relevant to the work that you're doing to really bring soccer to your community in West Virginia?

Chris:
Well, it's actually been paramount to it. The first thing that ... So my wife actually does this with me. As most people who volunteer a lot, you have to have a good duality going on here because if you're doing this all the time and your significant other isn't helping ... Whatever. So we started this by finding people who agreed with what we wanted to do in our network of people. She's awesome. She's involved with HR, so it's sort of like her job is to find people. We used our network to find people to bring them in that were willing to volunteer. Whether or not they were soccer people, air quote, soccer people, they were people who were committed to making our community better, to making our neighborhood better because we can always help you become a soccer person, but we can't make you become a community person. So we brought these people in, and as it's come along, they've grown to love the game the same way that I have, or some of them actually already loved it and it was easy to sell them on it. And that's where it's been.

They've been committed in the same way that we've been committed to helping the kids in our neighborhood. If it wasn't for them volunteering their time and being just as committed to helping these kids and helping grow the community, helping save lives and everything, it wouldn't work. So the number one thing you have to do if you're starting a new program or you're trying to change a program or expand a program is find people who are just committed to the same vision that you're committed. Lawrence has been able to ... If I could pay people, God, it would make this so much easier, but I can't pay people because our budget isn't there. So it's just super important for us to go and find great people who are willing to dedicate the time for the same vision that we are, that don't have the ulterior motives behind, "I want to win," or, "I want to whatever." It's about all the kids being the best that we can in everything. I think that that's just such a key element that we can't overlook.

Skye:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So-

Nicole:
Chris, I want to ... Skye, can I ask a quick question? Because as Chris was talking, I just started laughing because what happens sometimes, too, is that when people see this untapped territory, I know we have so many new families coming in, you have these people who come in with the wrong intentions. How do you guys deal with that? Because sometimes we have people who are like, "Oh, look at this. You should be doing this. You should be doing that. We'll be dominating this and that." How do you guys deal with those people who come in and want to change your culture because they've discovered something?

Chris:
Well, so we actually do so much more than just the game. 11 different clubs are in our league, right? Me and Skye talked about this the other day. Everybody's community is different, and the way that it's going to be served is different. So every neighborhood in a two-county area here has its own club. Basically, every high school and sometimes every middle school has a club in its neighborhood. We actually go and play against the other neighborhoods. It's not like the whole city comes to one place.

Nicole:
Oh, okay.

Chris:
Right. We are able to build upon something that a lot of other places aren't able to because we can sell to the families, and it's not a hard sell, that, "Hey, this is going to make your high school team better. This is going to make the middle school team that your kids care about." It's really easy to care about school sports when school sports matter to the kids. So we're able to sell that to the families. We know that that's the easy sell, so what we do is then build around that with ... When we have all the other teams come and play with us, we have these big free cookouts, right? We just feed all the kids, all the families. We have this gazebo with the field, and we just fire the grill up and cook hotdogs and whatever, and it's a potluck dinner. We'll have a couple hundred people there, and everybody's eating and everything. That's when we use that as community-building. So then we'll bring in outside people, whether we'll do voter registration or the library will come and sign all the kids up for library cards or whatever.

We've built this culture around the club of it's more than just the soccer. So it's going to be really hard for somebody to come in and say, "Oh, what you're doing" ... We already have a good plan, so the people that come in and want to be involved, they're like, "Oh, I don't know anything about the game, but I really want to help you raise money because I think that we should donate a bunch of food to the food pantry," and we go, "Okay, well, you're in charge of raising money for the food pantry drive," and, boom, that's how we get them involved and then they're in. So it's just about this community-building aspect, and that's why what Lawrence said earlier, I want to just bring it back, soccer is about so much more than just the game. We've used this, soccer, as the tool to bring kids in, surround them with caring adults, and to show them that they're a part of this broader community and our club and our community and our kids and our parents, we all matter and we're going to show everybody that we're an important pillar of our community.

Nicole:
Yeah, love it.

Skye:
Rob Holliday from Mass U Soccer was asking a question that I think is relevant for people that are trying to think about putting in some new programming in their communities. He asks, "How do you collaborate with other local charities, not-for-profit organizations who operate in similar space to you? There are many wonderful organizations who are often unwilling to collaborate with one another for fear of losing funding permits, participants, et cetera."

Nicole:
Who wants that one?

Chris:
Well, okay, I can take that one. I had 10 years of experience working as a 4-H agent or almost 11 years, which, if y'all don't know, 4-H is the largest youth-serving organization in the world. It's in every county in the United States and on every military base in the world, right? So I had a lot of experience with this building collaborative networks and finding funding and all these things. Actually, it brings back to something that y'all were talking about earlier about creating these giant networks, and that was what we did. So I had a lot of experience and a lot of built-in connections where I'm able to go into these spaces and talk to these things. One of the things that I think is the most important thing is building actually collaborative programming. It's not like, "Hey, what can you do for me?" It's like, "Hey, I can do this for you, Nicole, and during this process, you'll help me do this." So we're going to help each other both accomplish our mission.

I understand that a lot of places have a lot more pressure for permits, for facilities, and all those things that maybe don't happen in a smaller city like ours. But you have to develop this give and take where everybody gets something out of the relationship or relationships are never going to work. So that's the number one step you have to take, is how can I help you help me?

Lawrence:
I'll piggyback on that. I like a lot of what Chris was saying. But the relationships are key, relationships take time, and if you put yourself in the mindset of a group that you may think, oh, doesn't want to collaborate, well, why don't you ask yourself why they might not want to collaborate? What most of these people are doing is meeting a community need that is also their need, and who can they count on? Well, they know they can count on themselves, and they probably had an experience of not being able to count on other people that have come in with a big idea, gotten people motivated, it got hard, and they left. So there's every reason in the world why the people that most you should and want to collaborate with might not want to collaborate with you. So you have to prove yourself, and that takes time. I would say, more than anything ingenious that Street Soccer's done to the extent we've been successful, is we've stayed in the game and we haven't gone anywhere and we've been true to our world over time.

So it takes time, and it takes a long term commitment. If you don't have a long-term perspective, forget this kind of work because it's game's over before you start it. Yeah, it's a social change endeavor. It's just going to take time. And I will tell you that we have groups that are part of our street leagues now that didn't want to work with us in the beginning and guys that are knocking on ... Two or three years later, they end up being your best partner. But for a lot of good reasons, you got to prove yourself, no matter who you are, whether you're from the community or outside. I'm not coaching anything now, but I've put my time in the places I've worked. Now, I'm an administrator behind the desk. I'm not doing the hard work anymore. The hard work is being there every day, which is what our coaches do and what these guys on this call are doing. So you got to be prepared for that. Then you'll have collaboration. Then you'll have trust. You build trust through shared experience. You just got to be there.

Skye:
Yeah, thank you. So I want to use Richmond Strikers as an example because I know that there are a lot of people that are on this call that want to help. They want to be a part of the change. They want to start something. I know there've been so many clubs that've said, "We're going to do these little outreach programs, et cetera, et cetera." So let's just dive into this a bit if we can as a group. Using, again, Richmond Strikers, where I coach, as an example, and also where Lawrence grew up, we're a middle-sized city. If we're going to meet the needs of the players that are in the lower part of the economic pyramid in Richmond, Virginia, the Strikers as a club of 3500 players, it operates essentially outside the suburbs, what are the key steps to that process? Mutanda, you want to dive in on that a little bit?

Mutanda:
Sure. It's a tough question, to be honest, because I think there's a faulty premise there, which is that you're already starting from a place where the spaces and where the people are coming from and what they have access to is already exclusive and it's bigger than soccer, so there's that. But I would say and the point I would make is that it depends on the people in the club and what kind of environment that they want and then drastically changing, maybe, the pillars in which the club rests.

One thing that I want to make a point about that we haven't mentioned as much, which I think is also important when we talk about this work, is the empowering coaches and empowering people in certain locations to be leaders in that space. When we talk about quality, and, Lawrence, what you were just speaking about in terms of building relationships, there are a lot of relationships that don't work, predominantly because you have a big suburban youth club that goes into an area and says, "Hey, we're going to provide you with the clinic and we're going to provide you with some coaches." But then what they end up doing is just leaving, where they cherry-pick a couple players, but then they just keep coming back with the same watered-down material, and it doesn't work. Rather than that, I think it also is important that we highlight people who don't have the means, maybe don't have the coaching badges, but who do great work in the community. So, to go back to your point about-

Nicole:
Investing in them.

Mutanda:
... what the Richmond club can do, seek out people in these communities who are working with kids and rather try to get their kids and scholarship them into Richmond, see if you can develop a relationship with them about how you can help them grow their club or grow what they're doing. Then, all of a sudden, not only have you helped someone, right, it's not just out of the goodness of your heart, but you're also potentially creating more kids for the kids at the Richmond Strikers to compete with and against and together. So I think, really, it's about building this relationships.

Nicole:
I completely agree.

Yeah, I completely agree, and there's a term I normally use outside of the webinar that I'm not going to use now. But it happens when you have preexisting programs who are doing the work but, again, we're talking about inclusion, are excluded from the process. Then you have a larger club with ... I call it an affinity bias, where there's certain programs that are able to get to resources and grants a little bit easier, who can come in and rather than take a part of what they've built, they want to take over, and that can be problematic. So I think, again, we've talked about it a little bit, is building those relationships of being able to invest in people who have the right intentions and who are doing the work right now but who do not have the access to the resources to get coaching education and things like that.

How can you support the person who's already doing the work and link with them that way, in a way that they know that it's built on trust, where we want to work with you to make a difference but we don't want to take over? It's a blood sweat tax, right? It's the time and effort that people put into it. They may not be getting paid for it, but they're so invested in the youth. They're putting everything that they have into it, and a lot of times, they're not receiving any funding, but they're giving everything that they have and they just need support sometimes from some of the bigger clubs.

Lawrence:
That's true, particularly that last point. But, Skye, I don't know if we ... The Richmond Strikers, I don't think you want a charity model. We don't want some benevolence from Richmond Strikers. Who cares? You also can't kid yourselves. I think there are a lot of good intentions. But what is an organization? It's its mission and it's its model, and if the mission and the model, there's no reason why helping another community develop a soccer club is going to contribute to that mission and that model, then they're not going to do it. It's just some sort of marketing or a sentiment that comes and passes and you feel good. It's like a charity. We collect some toys and give them away. That's important, it's good, but it's not creating social change.

So I think Strikers shouldn't kid themselves. They need to figure out, or maybe we need to figure out, what is the shared value proposition, that we are in it together and can then tie our club buy-in to that. Because you don't want to have two people that are self-enlightened running the club and they're dragging all the parents, who really just care about some college dream of their kid ... Then that's not helping anybody because they're all ... It needs to be a united, genuine effort of a shared value proposition everyone can buy into. I'm pretty sure what I know about most big clubs is that's pretty hard to get that level of buy-in across the board.

Skye:
To be clear for those listening ... I know, I'm feeling bad that I used the Richmond Strikers as an example. This isn't a conversation we've had. We haven't failed this. I was just trying to bring this conversation out because exactly what we're talking about, I feel like, is where we need to reframe things. Because I think that those of us that do operate in the soccer world right now in the club structures often think that the solution is something totally different than what it is, and so we do have value as coaches in the game and can support other organizations, but what will serve the needs of those players is not necessarily just replicating what we're doing in a different environment on different fields. I just wanted to highlight that point really, really clearly, that we need to rethink about the way that we can help and the way that we can be involved.

Chris:
Well, I have something to say about it because I can also speak on this as a state association board member and somebody that's been at US Soccer AGMs and whatever, that the Richmond Strikers, I have a feeling, hold a position of power that the other clubs in Richmond don't have. So they could actually do something that nobody else can do to change soccer in Richmond, which is exert political influence to make changes in the local community at the governance level that would change who has access. So, as opposed to what Lawrence said, using this as charity, it's actually they have the power and influence to make structural changes that would allow smaller clubs to participate, and this is something we talked about the other day on the phone, too, Skye, to participate in different competitions that currently they're locked out of or that they're too geographically spread out.

Because when we talk about pay to play, a lot of people focus just on the actual cost of the club fee, when, really, that's just a small portion of what the actual cost is, which is travel, the hotel rooms, the food, the fuel, the taking the time off work and everything, which is massive when you compare it to club fees in general. So if a club, and like we said, we're just using Richmond Strikers, but all of these large, powerful, pay to play clubs exist all over the country, could exert influence to change how soccer works on the competition level, it would allow a lot more people to be able to participate because it lowers these barriers of entry for the parent and for the club and who's allowed to participate.

Skye:
Yeah.

Lawrence:
So you're saying they could change the standard by which any team could play in leagues or tournaments that they have influence over?

Chris:
Yeah. Oh, yeah. Easy.

Skye:
Because, Chris, you were saying you struggle with that. You have these kids that play that can beat other teams and deserve to have not even beating and winning, but just deserve to have additional competition and opportunities to interact with the game, and you can't because you can't afford the club fees or you can't afford the tournament fees and there's a lot of logistical challenges that you feel like these clubs, these larger clubs, could actually be more open to trying to support you with.

Chris:
Well, I think it's like ... If it's a sanctioned tournament, right, then normally we can't play in it or only certainly kids can be in it.

Skye:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.

Mutanda:
Chris, the-

Nicole:
A whole nother-

Chris:
Yeah, go ahead.

Mutanda:
Oh, sorry. The obvious question, then, is if that's the case, why isn't that happening?

Chris:
You've hit the nail on the head now. When we talked earlier that there's two radically different conversations that are and can happen, which is what are the systemic changes that we could make that would be radical, that would change how soccer works in this country and changes the incentives that soccer clubs, whether from a local community-oriented club like the one that I run all the way up to the Columbus Crew, the incentives that everybody has to exist and operate, that's a structural, systemic conversation that needs to happen. Then the conversations like we've been having here now and all of us exist and have in our daily operational conversations are how can we better operate within the current system. Those are two radically different conversations that unfortunately we have to have both because we can't depend on the systemic reform to happen and while we're waiting, just continue to do what we do. So we have to have both of these conversations, and it makes it hard to daydream about what could be while we're setting over here fighting what is.

Nicole:
Yeah, we call it an inside-out approach, and it's just really important that for those of our coaches who are inside of the system, who think like us, that we're building those relationships so that eventually, if anyone ever comes around, we're able to step in and help build that. But also, on the outside of it, we got to make sure that we're taking care of people who are like-minded and who want to build something with a new narrative that's an entirely different, with a new eco-structure, that we're able to do that, too, to empower these communities that are doing phenomenal work but are excluded. They're not included in the system.

Skye:
Yeah. Well, guys, we're kind of getting to the end here. My big takeaway from this is how essential it is that we do have a collaboration of some sort of people that are in this space. William Gordon is one of the people listening. He asked about the funds from LA 94 that were put in place after the World Cup and if any of you all are benefiting from that. Quickly, anyone? Lawrence, you are? Yeah. I'm just curious now as I'm thinking how important it is to get this sort of coalition in place now, so when the funds come in from the World Cup, which we know you will and there's lots of talk about us putting in a bid for the Women's World Cup the next year, we're going to have a potential real influx of cash into soccer in America. How important is it to have this organization or an organization of some sort in place to be able to manage the growth that we all hope to have and see?

Nicole:
It's key.

Skye:
Okay. Do you all think US Soccer should be leading that, or should it be an outside organization? Does it matter?

Lawrence:
Leading.

Chris:
Not like having the foundation do it.

Lawrence:
You do or don't?

Chris:
I do because-

Skye:
I was questioning if US Soccer should be leading it, that coalition? I'm just curious where that needs to come from. All right,

Nicole:
I'll take you on a rabbit hole with that.

Chris:
I personally ... Yeah, I personally liked having the foundation, not that I've ever worked with the foundation, but I think that having an organization external to the politics that are behind US Soccer and a lot of the decisions is going to be important-

Lawrence:
Yeah, you-

Chris:
... to make sure that ... Yeah.

Nicole:
They're political, too.

Lawrence:
You're not going to get out of the politics-

Chris:
No.

Lawrence:
I have worked with them. I'm sure that somebody is listening that works at the foundation. But, yeah, I think you need another entity outside of either of those. I think the federation should probably ... I mean, they're going to have to captain. They should hand it off to a different group.

Skye:
Yeah. Originally, I think the foundation started to be part, potentially, of the foundation. So it sounds like maybe this is something that US Soccer needs to put some thought to and come up with a plan in order to-

Lawrence:
Well, we have a plan. They can just call me. I'll call ... I'm-

Skye:
Call Lawrence.

Nicole:
Or Nicole.

Mutanda:
I think educators and activists, for lack of a better term, in areas all around the country need to be heavily involved with something like that. Also, we cannot get away from the fact that there is money already. We don't need to wait for a World Cup. I agree that's important, I'm not going to lie. But the resources are there. It's how they're allocated, and it's how we impact change, especially for the youngest kids. There's one last point. I know we're getting to closing, but when we also talk about this, it's like there's a conversation about, okay, access and inclusion, but then there's the elephant in the room when it comes to competition at the older ages, which is something that deal with, okay, especially someone in my position, coaching at an MLS Academy, which is okay. But some people make the argument, "Well, the kids just aren't good enough in insert area here." But, really, what we see when we watch a game is often, especially with young kids, it's a lack of access.

It's not a lack of the innate ability, right? Because we know, and any coach will tell you, any child development person will tell you, if you don't gain certain skills in between, let's say, the ages of eight and 12 with football, it's very difficult to then step into a competitive environment, if you're so fortunate to do so, and thrive because you haven't been given those skills. So what we do for the youngest kids when we talk about soccer and we talk about education, it's important. It's literacy. It's no different.

Skye:
Excellent. Well, I'll just make this commitment here and then ask for little final comments from you, but I will follow up and continue to follow up with this. It's the power that I have in my platform, whatever that may be. I will commit to diving into this and keeping the conversation going about having a organization lead the silos, if you will, of what's happening so that we can try to solve this complex problem. I'll continue to write and push out information about that. I'd like to take just maybe a final comment from each of you all, just maybe a takeaway from this conversation, what you're hoping to see in the future. Nicole, do you want to start us off, put you on the spot?

Nicole:
Sure, yeah, you're going to see new narratives and new systems being built within the next two years. You will see a collaboration, a very powerful one, that we will be building that is going to impact the game. It's going to impact the game for young kids who are being excluded right now, and that will happen. We will make that happen.

Skye:
Love it. Mutanda?

Mutanda:
Yeah, no, I just want to thank everybody for their time. Thank you, Skye. Chris and Lawrence, this is the first time I'm actually seeing you face-to-face, but it's been a pleasure to talk, and I've been following you guys, so hopefully we get to connect again. Nicole, it's always great to see you. So I'm just excited, and I think it required a multifaceted approach to solving these. We have the guide for people who can't imagine what a different ... Because people get scared when they hear people say, "Create a new structure." But you don't need to get scared because all you need to do is look at the game as a guide. The game teaches us everything we need to know about inclusivity, about community, and about taking responsibility for making our spaces better. So thank you all so much. I appreciate it.

Skye:
Absolutely. Lawrence?

Lawrence:
Just to pick up on that last point, that's right. The ball is the teacher, and the kids have the answers, for sure. Yeah, I think that we're all in it together, and there is that larger value proposition that, if, I think, anybody on this call has anything to do with it, will come to bear and hopefully in the next two years, the next four years. I'm all in on that together with everybody here.

Skye:
Fantastic. Chris?

Chris:
I'd like to just thank you for including me in this conversation. It's been wonderful. I just want to let everybody know that your voice matters. So everybody that's listening, that's going to listen to this, your voice matters. If you feel like you need to speak up or you feel like you want to volunteer, reach out, let everybody know what you think, figure out where you fit in, and go try to help. At the end of the day, we are our communities, and we're who are going to fix our communities, so go ahead and speak up and try to make the change happen.

Skye:
Excellent. There are a lot of people here who are putting in lots of comments like, "I have questions. Where can I find more? I want to be a part of this." I will follow up with you all just with some further direction. So everybody that's registered, just look out for an email. But is there currently a LinkedIn group or a Facebook group or anything, Nicole, that you guys have, anyone, that's generating this?

Nicole:
Not yet, no.

Skye:
Okay. Okay. Well, we'll follow up. I promise you all, just be on the lookout, you can follow up with me. I know you can follow up with these amazing individuals on social channels. They're all pretty active on Twitter, I know. Or Lawrence is kind of, but you're there.

Lawrence:
No, I'm not.

Nicole:
Yeah, I'm not either.

Skye:
You're there. You're there.

Lawrence:
Abandoned a little bit.

Skye:
So, anyway, I just wanted to thank everyone for attending. Again, thanks tremendously to each of you all. I'm so grateful for you and the work that you're doing, and I hope that this conversation inspired people to rethink the change that's possible so that we can provide an experience to all the youth that deserve one. So thanks-

Lawrence:
Thank you, Skye. It takes-

Nicole:
Thank you so much, Skye. Thanks, everybody.Lawrence:
... a person like you to make this stuff happen.

Skye:
Yep, take care, everyone.

Chris:
Yes, thank you.

Mutanda:
Thanks, everybody.

Chris:
All right.



About the Author Skye Eddy Bruce

Founder, SoccerParenting.com Skye is a former All-American goalkeeper, professional player and collegiate coach. She holds her USSF “B” License and USSF National Goalkeeper License and is an active youth coach, soccer parent and coach educator.

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