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Commentary: Improving Youth Sports Participation

Alexandria Soccer’s commitment to access and quality.

A recent study by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association and The Aspen Institute found that kids from households which make $25,000 or less participate in youth sports half as much (just 19 percent) as kids from households which earn $100,000 or more. Additionally, participation in youth sports is down overall and those that are involved are experiencing more and more “professionalized” experiences with expensive and demanding training schedules.

At Alexandria Soccer Association (ASA) we’re developing a model that provides an alternative to the growing inaccessibility of youth soccer and we’d love to see other organizations do the same. We started with a simple mission — offer the highest quality soccer programming experience at every level to any kid that wanted to play.

Since founding our scholarship fund in 2011, we’ve provided over $500,000 of support to more than 5,000 scholarship registrants. In the past six years we’ve seen a 177 percent increase in overall participation from 1,800 kids annually before the creation of the scholarship program to nearly 5,000 annual participants in 2017. Individuals and small businesses in the greater Alexandria community have contributed generously to sustain the scholarship fund which now supports over 25 percent of our participants. In addition, the ASA board of directors recently approved a long-term commitment to resourcing access to the game in our community through a long-term sustainability fund.

Our program partnership with Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) and the Alexandria City Parks Recreation & Department (RPCA) offers after school leagues and clinics at no cost to participants. These school programs remove cost and transportation barriers and introduce kids to soccer (and in turn, an active healthier lifestyle). Additionally, we support and invest in the city’s facilities in partnership with the RPCA to ensure our community has safe places to play. Thus far, we have invested in improvements by funding goals, buying training equipment and sponsoring the creation of multiple new neighborhood futsal courts set to open later this fall.

By working alongside our Alexandria city partners and schools we are able to provide a more inclusive and accessible soccer opportunity for all kids. Our current participants include 50-plus nationalities, represented from all corners of our city.

We’ve invested in bilingual staff members and provide Spanish literature to help communicate with our diverse community. Coaches for every program are trained and certified internally and/or externally by ASA technical staff and US Soccer educators to ensure a quality experience for every kid.

As some organizations have turned their focuses exclusively to higher level development academies and travel teams (as such, eliminating recreational options), we’re committed to providing equal access and quality experiences to all our programs regardless of a child’s interest or ability. We’re as committed to providing a scholarship to a 3 year old in our “Tots” program as we are to providing a 16-year old player, on a pathway to a professional soccer career, a scholarship on one of our nationally recognized travel/academy teams.

We believe that focusing on developing healthy and active kids at the recreational level is as important to our community (if not more so) than developing national team players in our competitive futsal and soccer programming.

Studies like the one mentioned above reaffirm our mission of providing a quality soccer experience to every kid who is interested, from toddler to national team player. With so much focus on the drop in participation in youth sports we wanted to tell our story with the hopes that others share our commitment to quality and access.