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Youth Boys Apr 20, 2012

Urban Soccer Symposium inspires, informs, unites participants

By Charles Boehm

The U.S. Soccer Foundation’s Urban Soccer Symposium wrapped up in Washington, D.C. on Thursday as representatives from a diverse array of soccer clubs, non-profits and other community-based organizations departed the nation’s capital with a wealth of useful information following four days of meetings, seminars and advocacy capped by a Thursday morning spent lobbying members of Congress on Capitol Hill.

After engaging and connecting on a range of topics in workshops at the Georgetown University Hotel and Conference Center from Monday through Wednesday, symposium participants walked the halls of Congress to spread awareness about their projects and lay the groundwork for future support from their politicians.

It was a fitting way to conclude an event which highlighted the rapid growth of soccer-based social work and community development efforts in often-overlooked, blue-collar areas around the United States. It’s an approach which has been used in other nations for decades and is finally gaining both traction and respect here.

“[The symposium is] bringing all these different network members to the table to use soccer for social good,” Jill Robbins, Executive Director of the Atlanta-based Soccer in the Streets, told The Soccer Wire on Thursday. “And it’s really a recognized field worldwide, sport for development – the U.N., UNICEF, even FIFA has its own football for growth movement. So you have a huge body of work that justifies and promotes itself in the global arena.

“But in the U.S. it’s not taken as seriously, even though there are literally thousands of organizations doing sports-based youth development, or just development through sports – community, family, social. It’s only beginning to become a field of work that is worthy of academic recognition and study. They’re starting to document it and aggregate the data, and it’s becoming more evidence-based. We believe it, we know it instinctively, but now there’s actually data to support it.”

The symposium also represents a critical networking opportunity for participants, who shared experiences, effective practices and encouraging success stories.

“Great to see people come together around passion for football [and] social change,” tweeted another participant, Jürgen Griesbeck. Griesbeck is founder & CEO of streetfootballworld, an organization which, in its own words, “supports a worldwide network of organizations that use football as a tool to empower disadvantaged young people by engaging private and public partners to create social change.”

Robbins, who has spent more than two decades in the field, returned to Atlanta encouraged by the spirit and effectiveness of the Urban Soccer Symposium, as did her colleague Jason Longshore, Soccer in the Streets’ deputy director.

“You’ve got organizations that are faith-based, or that are non-faith-based. You’ve got organizations that are strictly soccer, and ones that are multi-sport. You’ve got small non-profits, and you have United for D.C., [New York] Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union – the MLS outreach programs are starting to take notice and learn from what some of us have been doing for a while,” said Longshore. “It’s been cool to see that grow and grow.”

Many in this field believe urban soccer initiatives are not only laudable charity work, but also a crucial means of growing the nation’s player pool and broadening soccer’s fan base in the U.S., areas where MLS and U.S. Soccer stand to benefit greatly.

“Long-term, I think, as with a lot of things, as much as MLS and U.S. Soccer get on board with these types of projects, it’s only going to benefit everybody,” said Longshore. “If [underprivileged groups] have greater access to player development, then there’s going to be more players. If they work with an organization like us that focuses on referees, there’s going to be more referees out there that are available. Coaches, front-office staff – it’s going to come out of what we’re all doing.”

[ +Learn more about the Urban Soccer Symposium at the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s website ]

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