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Youth Boys Aug 22, 2012

Guest column: U.S. Soccer Foundation channeling greatness through “Soccer for Success” program

By Ed Foster-Simeon, President & CEO, U.S. Soccer Foundation

As the Olympics came to a close and we considered all the accomplishments of the athletes we witnessed over those two weeks, the term “greatness” has often been used to describe their performances. Nike’s new ad, “Find Your Greatness,” features an overweight 12-year old named Nathan Sorrell, who comes into focus only as he slowly jogs towards the camera down a deserted dirt road at dusk. Nike’s message is simple; we can’t all be elite athletes like the ones we’ve watched in the Olympics, but we can all be great, and inspire greatness, through simple acts like running.

The ad is impactful, no doubt, but the content has generated some debate and criticism. Specifically, critics are concerned that the ad exploits Nathan’s condition and enables further stigmatism. Others believe that just getting up and running, as the ad suggests, won’t solve the childhood obesity epidemic in our country and Nike’s intentions are merely propagating this myth.

As President and CEO of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, an organization whose mission is to improve the health and well-being of children in urban underserved areas using soccer as a vehicle for social change, I have taken note of this particular advertisement, not because of its message but because it has put a spotlight on an issue that requires our immediate attention.

The federal government’s recent release of its “obesity map” and current obesity statistics, which outlines the rates of obesity and how rates in the states compare, further suggests that the problem is serious and isn’t going away anytime soon. Through the Foundation’s Soccer for Success program, we aim to help find a solution to childhood obesity by educating kids about the benefits of good nutrition and exercise in a fun and safe environment.

Specifically, the Soccer for Success program is a free, after-school program that uses soccer as a tool to combat childhood obesity and promotes healthy lifestyles for children in under-resourced urban communities. The foundation partners with community-based organizations across the country to operate Soccer for Success sites – providing thousands of children from kindergarten to 8th grade with free after-school programming throughout the academic year.

In 2011 we served 8,000 children in eight cities nationwide. We anticipate serving over 15,000 children in 20 U.S. cities by the end of the 2012-2013 program year.  Furthermore, we’re thrilled to say that we’re getting great results.  Our 2011 evaluation data revealed:

•    Ninety-four percent (94%) of participants said they try harder in school as a result of this program
•    Eighty-nine (89%) of participants in the overweight and obese categories decreased their Body Mass Index (BMI) percentile.
•    Eighty-two percent (82%) of participants said they make healthier choices about food or drinks as a result of this program
•    Seventy-three percent (73%) of participants reported spending less time watching TV or playing video games as a result of this program
•    Sixty-eight percent (68%) of participants said they like exercising more as a result of this program

If you take anything away from watching the Olympic athletes or the discussion surrounding Nike’s recent ad, I hope it’s that initiatives like Soccer for Success are inspiring greatness everyday by encouraging youth to be more active and eat healthy.

I encourage you to join our effort to fight the childhood obesity epidemic. Together we can take home the gold and inspire social change, one soccer field at a time.

Mr. Foster-Simeon is the president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Soccer Foundation. He is also a board member at the Campaign to End Obesity. He can be reached at [email protected] and @Ed_FosterSimeon on Twitter.