The 1994 World Cup will be remembered for many things: the GOAT Maradona playing (albeit briefly) in his final Mundial, the dynamic duo of Bebeto and Romario leading Brazil to the country’s fourth world title, the awesome uniforms, and, of course, it was the first World Cup played on U.S. soil.
Football Soccer in the United States changed forever after that summer. In fact, in order for the States to host the World Cup, FIFA asked the U.S. Soccer Federation to create a legitimate professional soccer league, leading to the formation of Major League Soccer.
But U.S. soccer wasn’t done there. Using some of the additional funds from the World Cup, it also formed the U.S. Soccer Foundation.
After writing about the future of U.S. soccer (and the role of Latinos in it), I was interested to learn more about the role of the foundation. As I learned, the organization’s intentions weren’t in elite player development, but, arguably, something even more important.
“The mission of the U.S. Soccer Foundation is to enhance, assist and grow the sport of soccer in the United States with a special emphasis on under-served communities,” said Krista Washington, marketing and communications coordinator for the foundation. The foundation aims to meet these goals through programs like Passback, The Urban Soccer Symposium, and their flagship program, Soccer for Success.
Soccer for Success is an after-school, soccer-based program serving 8,000 kids in 10 U.S. cities (the foundation looks to expand to 19 cities serving 16,000 kids in 2012). It focuses on four key components: physical activity, mentorship, nutrition, and family engagement. The program runs for 24 weeks – 12 weeks in the fall/winter, 12 in the spring – free of charge to families and kids that attend.
“One of the hardest things to break for us, culturally, is our eating habits,” says Hector Avila, program director of the Soccer for Success site in Houston (where 97 percent of Soccer for Success students are Latino). “I call them the three T’s: tacos, tortillas and tamales.”
A native of Houston himself, Avila understands the pressures that kids like him face, not only in the kitchen, but also from the outside community. “As a kid I was a part of the Houston Parks and Recreation soccer program (the predecessor to Soccer for Success), and now I’m in charge of the program that helped make me a better person.”
There’s no doubt that the Latino community faces some serious issues when it comes to childhood obesity. This is why programs like Soccer for Success are so crucial for our kids. It gives them an opportunity to be active and practice healthy eating habits, all in a safe environment.
At a time when kids as young as seven are being signed to professional soccer clubs, it’s refreshing to see a soccer program where kids can just be kids.
So even if the U.S. Soccer Foundation is the last thing you think about when World Cup ’94 is mentioned, just know that it’s changing the lives of thousands of kids across the country .
For more information on Soccer for Success, or the U.S. Soccer Foundation, visit www.ussoccerfoundation.org