Soccer as a Vehicle for Social Change

Being recognized by the White House as a “Let’s Move! and Physical Activity Champion of Change” has made me reflect on all my past mentors and the impact of their positive role modeling in my life. It has also made me aware of the importance of my work through the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, and the lives we change every day through sports activities. My mentors taught me the importance of community work and the impact you can make through inner-city youth sports in low income communities. I believe youth sports are a tool to build communities and to unite people for a common purpose. They have given me a chance to become a role model for young people. The sport of soccer has changed my life and the lives of the young people who take part in the City of Houston’s Soccer for Success program.

When I was 16 years old, a coach from Houston Parks and Recreation Department gave me the opportunity to play in the only City-sponsored soccer program.  Houston was the first city offering soccer programming for free to all participants. When I was 18, I took a job with the City and began teaching soccer to young people, who like myself, were looking to sports as a way to a better life.  Fourteen years and hundreds of children later, I look back at my life and remember the opportunity that soccer has given me. I think of my mom raising her family of 16 and the difference soccer has made in my life.  I hope that now as a soccer coach and youth mentor I can pass on the opportunity I was given to another child. I’d say I’m blessed to have had the opportunity to learn soccer when I was 16 and to have made that my career. I want to continue my work through soccer and positively impact the lives of young people in Houston through Soccer for Success.

Soccer is a sport that encourages good sportsmanship from players, coaches, officials and parents at all times. It provides an opportunity to learn, have fun, and respect others. It helps children control their temper, resist the temptation to retaliate, and always exercise self-control. I feel that these sports ethics are key to becoming a successful and productive adult.

Today’s economic times threaten the availability and access of free soccer sport programs for low-income communities. Government agencies are being forced to look at their budgets and set priorities that tend to leave out community recreational and sports programs. I commend the U.S. Soccer Foundation for their efforts in keeping the soccer program alive through their Soccer for Success initiative. The partnership between the U.S. Soccer Foundation and the Houston Parks and Recreation Department makes soccer a priority for our children. The program involves communities and their schools through volunteering and other important resources that ensure access to a quality soccer program, free of cost to all participants. The program is blessed with many volunteers and staff committed to a common goal: to use soccer as a vehicle for social change.

For more information about the U.S. Soccer Foundation and Soccer for Success, please watch this video.

Hector Avila is the Program Coordinator for the Houston Parks and Recreation Department (HPARD) Soccer for Success program.

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