Besides allowing millions of boys and girls across the U.S.A. to make friends, learn new leadership skills and stay healthy, can soccer also be leveraged to tackle some of the current most important social problems?
That is a question that I examine on a daily basis, with the rest of the Senda Athletics team, as we build a strategy to provide ongoing soccer equipment to organizations using the game to improve in the U.S.A. So it was extremely rewarding to do that along with almost 100 others on Sunday September 8, in Philadelphia, P.A. as part of the Beyond Sport Summit and Awards at PPL Park, the home of the Philadelphia Union in Major League Soccer.
The event brought together experts from the world of soccer to discuss how soccer can lead the way in the U.S.A. in terms of creating social change.
Beyond Soccer, (powered by streetfootballworld), was the first international event in the U.S.A. focusing purely on the power of the world's most popular sport to tackle social issues like poverty, homelessness and lack of access to education. It was a huge milestone for the U.S. to host such an important event related to soccer and its ability to improve communities! It was a new and beautiful sign of the momentum and growth that soccer continues to experience in this country!
The one-day meeting took place on Sunday September 8th in Philadelphia, P.A. as part of the Beyond Sport Summit and Awards -- an annual event that highlights and reward projects that use sport for social change. The event came to the U.S.A. for the first time. Last year's Summit in London, UK was attended by sports superstars like David Beckham and Muhammad Ali.
The event was kicked off by the best possible speaker, someone whose life had been improved by soccer. This is the story of Chris Lodgson, the keynote speaker at the "Beyond Soccer" summit held at PPL Park in Philadelphia on Sunday.
The beginning of Lodgson's story was not much different from the stories of over half a million other Americans that faced unemployment in January during the Great Recession. What is different is that after accidentally walking into a local soccer match and meeting Lawrence Cann -- founder of Street Soccer U.S.A., an organization that uses the power of soccer to help homeless people transform their lives -- Cann invited Lodgson to join their soccer game, and provide him with soccer equipment.
"It was refreshing; for the first time, I forgot where I was, and forgot who I was. The rest, as they say, is history," Lodgson said, addressing the close to 100 attendees.
Just after a month with the team, Lodgson moved out of the shelter and enrolled in community college to pursue a degree in accounting.
The program staff endowed me with a rich abundance of positive social and cultural capital which I used and used well as a springboard to propel myself forward. Seemingly overnight the resources of football became my resources. The networks of football became my networks. The power of football became my power. Day after day, practice after practice, I began to heal.
This was an invaluable trip for me and Senda Athletics, one that provided many lessons from Sports for Development organizations that shared their own challenges and opportunities using soccer to improve lives. Returning back to Berkeley and sharing these lessons with our team motivated us to keep working hard to support the work of nonprofit organizations using the power of soccer for social good.
Bring football and its power to the huddled masses. Bring football and its power to the homeless and to the hopeless. Lift up the light of the world's game. Give them not rest but resurgence. Give them what was given unto me.
A question that I brought home with me from Philadelphia is: What is the role of Youth Soccer Clubs in growing the movement of soccer for positive social change? Can youth players, coaches, soccer moms and dads be a part of this young movement?
Let me know your thoughts via twitter at @SendaAthletics, use the hashtag #beyondsoccer and take part in a conversation highlighting the role of soccer for social change in the U.S.A. The more people join the conversation and this new soccer movement, the bigger the impact will be!