Increasingly popular at all age levels, soccer has slowly but surely found a place in the hearts of many young Americans.
Cincinnati, being a city that is in the process of getting its own MLS team, is a particularly fertile ground these days for all soccer-related activities. Therefore, it’s no surprise Activities Beyond the Classroom, Cincinnati’s premier extracurricular organization, has been a driving force in bringing soccer to the city.
Through its dedicated Youth Soccer Program, ABC hopes to give young students a taste of what it’s like to be a part of a team. While still presenting kids with the opportunity to compete and develop their physical gifts, soccer is also safer compared to other traditional American sports such as football. It also helps young kids forge bonds with each other, bonds that may very well bloom into friendships down the road.
Playing soccer is an after-school activity that builds character and discourages negative behaviors such as bullying and unhealthy eating. As Ryan Henning, the Soccer Program Manager states, “It is a great opportunity for these kids to know what it is like to learn outstanding characteristics such as teamwork, working hard, commitment and to mentally prepare themselves as they get older and start to understand what it takes to be involved in a sport.”
Kids also learn to respect one another both on and off the field, while their families can take this opportunity to become more engaged with the community. Even if soccer doesn’t end up being every child’s favorite sport, the values that it imparts are universally applicable and will easily translate to any other sport or competitive activity. What’s more, every eligible student is welcome to participate in the program, regardless of their skill or stamina levels. This sense of inclusivity and acceptance is essential during a child’s pre-teen years, a time when building confidence can be quite challenging.
If the past year is any indication, the program has already shown signs of success. “We have noticed a huge difference in our participating student’s attitude towards the school. They get very excited about the program so we have noticed a drastic change in their character,” says Alicia Duque Calvache, the Program’s Soccer Coach.
The ABC program runs six weeks in the spring, and culminates with a multi-school soccer invitational. Approximately 500 kids, ranging from third graders to sixth graders, participate in games twice a week. ABC supplies every aspect of the program to children at no cost. According to Rachel Stallings, ABC’s Program Director, “ABC provides a Soccer Manager to oversee the soccer program, soccer equipment, training, enrollment forms, permission slips, culminating soccer invitationals, scrimmage opportunities, soccer and program support, and transportation.”
At the end of the season, children from every ABC soccer program are invited to participate in a day-long invitational. “The invitational gives the children an opportunity to take a field trip down to the University of Cincinnati and get a chance to participate in soccer activities and compete in Nippert Stadium,” says Henning. “The children get a chance to meet UC soccer club players, FC Cincinnati players, and compete with other CPS schools that are attending. These invitationals are fun, exciting and competitive for the children. It also gives them an idea of what it is like to play on a structured team and experience what it is like to play on a collegiate field.”
Aside from the matches, there are other activities that students can participate in, including scrimmages, bubble soccer and special skill stations. Two smaller invitationals, held in April and May, offer playing opportunities for students who were unable to attend the first invitational.