Soccer for Fitness and Belonging
At the age of 5, I was introduced to the game of soccer at my neighborhood recreation center in Washington, DC by Coach King. He hailed from the island of Trinidad where soccer was his passion. He wanted to instill this passion into a bunch of neighborhood kids that had nothing to do during the summer months and he did just that for me. Because of the introduction to the game, soccer has been a vessel for me to experience a wide range of opportunities. I was able to win several state and regional championships while being named a Parade All-American in the process, all while discovering the importance of living a healthy lifestyle. It has taken me to other countries with the US Youth National Teams and gained me a scholarship to Georgetown University.
Because of the positive effects that the relationship I had with coach King and the positive lessons I learned through the game I really wanted other young people to be afforded the same opportunity that I was. After Coach King was long gone I returned to the same recreation center to continue the great work he started, volunteering during the summer months, introducing the game to a demographic that would never play otherwise. To this day it continues to be my passion and life work at DC SCORES.
As the Athletic Program Director, I have had the opportunity to create and run DC’s only public elementary and middle school soccer leagues, consisting of 1,000 athletes and 67 girls and boys teams from 36 schools, located in predominantly low-income communities. I strongly believe that students from low-income communities should have the equivalent playing experience as students from surrounding middle and upper class neighborhoods. I also believe that no matter your socioeconomic background, you need to be physically fit and have a safe place to play. Above all else, I strive for the players involved in DC SCORES to have fun and gain healthy life skills that carry beyond the playing field.
DC SCORES provides hundreds of students each year the opportunity to be on a team and to be physically active through the game of soccer. For many of our students, it is the first and onIy time they’ll play on a team. Through DC SCORES I realized that I could open the door for thousands of children from the city I love to play the game that I learned so much from growing up, I joined the DC SCORES staff and we have created DC’s largest nonprofit afterschool program with a dual focus on physical fitness and academic enrichment. Students in DC SCORES receive six times the physical activity students receive during the school day. Over the past three years DC SCORES students, through playing soccer for over 30 weeks of the year, have shown statistically significant improvements in cardiovascular health and body mass index.
I am thankful for the opportunity to create a positive space for kids to learn about the game of soccer and healthy living. Sportsmanship, leadership, and teamwork are the key components I work to instill with our students. When you have hundreds of children getting active at this level each week who otherwise would not have structured fitness opportunities DC SCORES is crucial in instilling a love of sports and physical activity. DC SCORES has afforded me the opportunity to introduce the game of soccer to thousands of kids in my home town. To learn more about DC SCORES please visit our website, www.dcscores.org.
Kenneth Owens is the Athletic Program Director of DC SCORES.