Apr 13, 2010

"Soccer son" does good

It's nice when one of your kids can articulate a lesson learned. And it's even nicer when he is prepared to take that lesson and impart it to others.

Like one of my board members told me, after reading the testimonial, "If you never get any other reward for your work then this would be a great."

I wish I could be satisfied with that. It is some consolation, but given my "Joan of Arc" nature, it is just not enough.

Here, you can judge for yourself.

How Soccer in the Streets changed me?

Soccer in the Streets came into my neighborhood and took interest in some kids who know one else cared about. These people knew nothing about us. Yet they believed in us more then we believed in ourselves.

Soon they rubbed off on us and some of started to even believe that maybe we were worth being saved. A lot of organizations showed up and left just as quickly as they came. When you are expecting someone to leave you do everything possible not to let your guard down and be disappointed all over again. How does the saying go, “fool me once, shame on me”? We used ask each other; Why do they stick around even though we give them our best shot? Why is this organization different from the rest?

Then we came to realize they were just weird and out of the norm. Who were these people and why are they not just trying to make a buck off of us? Maybe they are just police officers undercover and we’re just pawns in another bust. We were always used to being abandoned or used. The only people who cared in our life were our family and they were kind of stuck with us.

Well turns out they really just cared about our well-being and they were in it for the long haul. One day I asked Jill what the worst part about coming in our type of neighborhood. I was sure she was going to say the possibility of being shot or maybe mugged. She told me that the worst part was that she knew she wasn’t going to be able to save everyone.

Soccer in the Streets came in and taught what it meant to be humane and what was right from wrong, they taught us that there was more outside of Keystone Apartments and that we had a right to it just as much as anyone else did. Now I’m older and have decided that it’s time for me to start my own organization and start teaching people the same principles Soccer in the Streets gave me. And to think this all started with an old baseball field and a soccer ball."

Mar 30, 2010

The trap

Some of our kids participate in your traditional youth soccer leagues in the spring and fall. Every team presents its own challenges and adventures. I'm coaching two teams this spring, one at KIPP South Fulton Academy for the 7th & 8th graders and our U19 Soccer in the Streets Estudiantes. The two teams could not be any more different.

At KIPP-SFA, nearly all of my kids have never played soccer outside of school. We play in a league with other school teams at a similar skill level. It's been fun to watch this program develop. When I started there in 2007, soccer was a total afterthought. Basketball and flag football were much more important to the school and the kids. However, something happened when we missed out on the playoffs that first year. Some of the kids actually cried after losing our last game. They realized that they did care about soccer. Most of that group came back in 2008 and we made it to the championship game before losing. Last year, we won our first title.

This year has been like starting over, I only had three 7th graders on last year's team. We've tied both of our games so far 1-1 and play the top team in the league tomorrow night. The commitment level is starting to come around, but I'm not sure just yet.

With the Estudiantes, commitment to soccer isn't the issue. Most of these kids will play on as many teams that will have them. It's getting them to prioritize, that's the tricky part. We've had good progress this year though. After tying our first 2 games, we won 2 over the weekend by 4-0 and 3-0 scores. It's some of the stories about their lives off the field that get to me.

Riding back from the game on Saturday, one of my new players talked about how his father would get aggressive with him when he was drunk. It's tough to hear stuff like that. These kids, actually young adults, live in some tough situations. Based on their surroundings it's real easy for them to choose a destructive path. That's what they see everyday.

I also heard about one of my former players who been in and out of jail. This was a kid who's had a tough upbringing, but soccer was something that kept him motivated. I actually helped get him re-enrolled at his high school after he had dropped out. Unfortunately, once he found out that he wasn't going to be able to play soccer for the school team because of his lack of credits, he eventually dropped out again.

When I hear stuff like that, it makes me want to do more. For a lot of these kids, soccer is what drives them. I could hold practice sessions every day with them if it was feasible. Unfortunately, we can't be there holding a soccer ball every day. Sometimes the kids are faced with tough decisions and pressure from friends and family members. I always hold out hope that the kids will remember what we talk about and what's truly important to them.