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Soccer in the streets: These inner-city programs are empowering youths

Soccer is a sport available to anyone. With just a ball, cleats or no cleats, anyone can play the game and shoot on a goal that is either real or imagined.

Some of the greatest footballers of all time grew up in neighborhoods and amidst circumstances where soccer offered them the biggest, and only, hope available. And their talent and work ethic were all they needed to compete.

But in the United States, the youth are often confronted with the obstacle that is the pay-to-play system. Rising to the top of soccer academies often feels like a mirage of suburbia, like a luxury only afforded to the middle and upper-classes.

The United States men’s team, most epitomized by its failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, constantly underperforms globally in soccer, and it all starts with how the youth programs operate.

The women’s national team currently ranks number one in the world, fresh off its 2019 World Cup victory, yet there is still work to be done with regards to inclusivity in women’s football as well.

We wanted to take a look at clubs and programs in this country that offer opportunities to inner-city youth to play soccer, pursue their passion, and grow their game.

There needs to be a shift in youth academies for football, and these programs are setting the bar.

Soccer in the Streets

Soccer in the Streets is a non-profit organization that operates throughout metro Atlanta and affects the youth players in its communities.


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Founded in 1989, the core of Soccer in the Streets is providing access to quality soccer programs for all kids and preparing them for future employment opportunities.

Soccer in the Streets holds a program called “Positive-Choice Soccer,” that educates kids on how to build a positive foundation based on important life skills and accompanying soccer skills.

Soccer in the Streets believes children are given so many “DON’T” messages: “Don’t do drugs,” “Don’t smoke.” So they flipped the script and made a subtle change, giving their children positive messages instead: “Do get an education,” “Do participate in healthy outlets, like sports,” etc.

As stated on its site, Soccer in the Streets “has a vision that all children will have the opportunity to succeed.” The Atlanta-based organization focuses on leveling the playing field for all, regardless of race, gender, religion, or socio-economic background.

Beyond the on-the-field work comes the small-group classroom sessions where the youth engage in hands-on activities and participate in youth-leadership councils.

Soccer in the Streets is setting the standard for quality soccer instruction, inclusiveness, and positivity for the youth.

FC Harlem

FC Harlem is a club that operates in Harlem, but accepts players from all across NYC.

FC Harlem was recently the subject of a mini-doc by UNINTERRUPTED, where we had the chance to peep the club in all of its glory.


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FC Harlem implements a program called L.I.O.N.S (Leaders In Our Neighborhoods) for talented and committed youth of color ages 10 to 19.

These children of color are not often given opportunities to pursue soccer development at the highest levels.

The program consists of top-tier coaches and trainers who “use the small spaces of the inner cities, immigrant culture, and creativity of the neighborhoods to develop dynamic soccer players.”

FC Harlem is an amazing model of a melting pot of cultures, communities, and backgrounds combining to share in each other’s soccer skills and create the highest level of unique football.

Durham Inner City Soccer Program

Triangle United is working with Durham elementary schools for the second year in-a-row to create the Durham Inner City Soccer Program.

The Durham Inner City Soccer Program is free for participants and aims to encourage elementary kids to get active and engage in the world of soccer.


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With help from the community, theĀ Durham Bulls Youth Athletic League (DBYAL), and the Police Athletic League (PAL) of Durham, this program is possible and flourishes.

The program is smaller-scale than the previous two listed, but the goal of it is the same: get inner-city youth to play the most globally-recognized sport and learn larger life lessons in the process.

Red Bulls Urban Soccer Program

The New York Red Bulls Urban Soccer Program is an outreach initiative for inner-city communities in the tri-state area.

Red Bulls, a club in the MLS with a strong reputation for its academy, is broadening its reach with this program, seeking to find the best talents in the tri-state area and cultivate each player’s unique skill sets.


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Red Bulls’ urban soccer programs are offered at no cost for organizations in economically disadvantaged communities.

Professional trainers are available to teach the players soccer skills as well as larger lessons like discipline, confidence, and team chemistry.

Akron Inner City Soccer Club

Akron’s inner city program hosts a diverse group of coaches that are from all over the world. Players are taught different styles of play and all are encouraged to participate.

Since 1999, Akron’s year-round and after-school Youth Development Program has served the inner-city children, boys and girls, ages 5 through 14.

The Akron Inner City Soccer Club has served over 10,000 urban children since its inception.

Consistent programs that work for the youth within inner-city communities are instrumental for children’s growth.

Learning soccer skills is just part of the effort, but learning life lessons is what sets programs like these apart in their impacts.

These inner-city programs and efforts ultimately lead to children growing up matured and experienced, inside and outside of soccer.

The chance to play for a soccer team should be available to all children, regardless of race, socio-economic status, or any other identifier.

We commend the clubs and programs that make it easier for inner-city children to get involved with the biggest sport in the world, and hope that the trend continues.