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Adelante’s Soccer Program: Beyond Recreation and Sports for Youth
He stood there in front of my desk with confidence and an assertive look in his eyes. “I am an excellent soccer player, and I used to play at the professional level in my country. I think I could be an asset to your soccer program,” he said. Having maxed out the number of youth that two people (coach and I) could realistically manage, I regretfully had to explain to him that we were no longer accepting participants. Little did I know that the following week he would show up to our practice dressed in full soccer gear with three friends also in full soccer gear. “We are here because we want to play soccer. We are young people who have the right to recreation and to have access to programs that will keep us away from the streets.” This persistent young man and his buddies are now active participants in Adelante’s summer soccer program.
For the last three months, 30 Latino youth, male and female, ages 13–19, from the Langley Park community and neighboring areas have convened once a week for two hours to exercise, gain athletic skills, and do what they love: play soccer.
At first glance, Adelante’s soccer program may look like your typical recreation or sports program. In Langley Park, however, such a program takes a different meaning. In a community with a large number of newly arrived youth from Central America and Mexico, limited recreation space, and few accessible soccer activities for young people, it can mean the only connection to your identity in a world where you are struggling to assimilate. It can mean feeling powerful in an environment where you are undocumented and/or disenfranchised. It can mean freedom in a community where you find yourself sharing your living space with a large group of people. It can also mean becoming an advocate for yourself.
Adelante’s soccer program is the result of building key community partnerships, which has allowed us to offer the program on a very tight budget, with limited resources, and free of cost to our participants. During the planning stages of the program, we realized we had some challenges to overcome: not having a field to practice on and providing our youth with the necessary equipment to be able to play soccer. As we developed connections with partners, these challenges started to fade, and our soccer program became a reality! Leveling the Playing Field donated equipment and soccer gear to get our program started. Dreamer’s Academy, a parent-led soccer school, graciously allowed us to use their soccer field permit. Adelante’s funding partner, Avance Center for the Advancement of Immigrant/Refugee Health at The George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, donated soccer uniforms so our players could participate in a DC youth tournament this summer. A key aspect to the success of our program was recruiting former Adelante staff Ronald Vega as soccer coach. Ronald not only has the technical knowledge and skill, but more importantly is familiar with the needs and struggles of Langley Park youth. He gives coaching sessions in a friendly and positive environment that is also culturally sensitive. I am incredibly grateful to our partners and to Ronald for making the Adelante soccer program possible for our youth.
While I knew soccer was the sport to offer Adelante participants this summer, the impact it has had on the youth has been beyond my expectations. What was originally conceived as a sports summer program, has become a space where youth are developing positive relationships not only with their peers but also with their families and the community. To some parents, this has been one of the few opportunities to engage in activities with their teens. “My daughter recently arrived in the U.S.,” a mother told me. “We don’t really get along, but because soccer is so important to her, I make the effort to drive her every week to practice so she sees that I care about her, and she appreciates that.” At the community level, our youth have engaged in other soccer-related events, such as one to honor a young girl who tragically passed in a soccer field last year. The program has also been an opportunity to provide individual support and case management to our participants. One of such cases is one of the players who approached me a few weeks ago asking for help to apply for a lifeguard job. He applied, rocked the interview, and is now enrolled in lifeguard training and expecting to be placed in a job very soon!
As our youth continue to play, have fun, and build meaningful connections, the Adelante team is working on building upon our soccer program to continue to use recreation and sports as a tool to empower more youth and their families in Langely Park.
Adelante is a community-based, multi-level intervention to address the co-occurrence of substance abuse, violence and sexual risk among Latino youth in Langley Park. The overarching goal of Adelante is to build community, family, and individual assets as a mechanism for preventing youth risk behavior.
This article was written by Angela Gonzalez and originally posted by the Latino American Youth Center at http://www.layc-dc.org/index.php/news/1203-adelantes-soccer-program-beyond-recreation-and-sports-for-youth.html. Since this was written, the youth soccer tournament has ended. Adelante U15 came in 4th place and U19 finished in 5th place. The Adelante U19 team was given special recognition for being the Most Disciplined Team of the tournament! Youth are being recognized for always being on time, for working hard in the field, and for always following fair game rules. Adelante is the only team who received a special award. Congratulations to the Adelante youth soccer team!