Team USA didn’t pull off the victory they had hoped for at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup, losing to Japan in a dramatic shoot out in Sunday’s championship match. But despite the loss, there’s little doubt that the women of the pitch likely inspired children across the country to kick around a soccer ball.
And those kids might even get a little healthier doing it.
Encouraging a love of soccer is the aim of the U.S. Soccer Foundation
, which was formed after the 1994 Men’s World Cup to promote the sport among young people. Today, an estimated four million children in the United States play organized soccer — and the foundation is aiming to encourage more youth, especially in low-income areas, to pick up the game.
Tied into the foundation’s promotional efforts is an ambitious childhood obesity prevention program, aiming to encourage physical activity and nutrition in young people, says community outreach and development coordinator Sarah Pickens.
The foundation’s signature program is called “Soccer for Success,” a free after-school program that offers soccer programming at 60 sites in five regions, reaching more than 4,000 kids.
Along with learning the basics of the game, the new players are given health and nutrition information, including the importance of drinking water and eating fruits and veggies. “It’s quick simple messages for the kids that they can kind of pick up while they play,” Pickens says.
Plus, just participating in the program ensures the kids get the recommended 60 minutes of vigorous activity three times a week.
Soccer is a great sport to introduce kids to because anybody can play it, Pickens says. All you need is a ball and a little bit of room.
“There’s no discrimination on size or gender or anything like that. You can have a tall skinny kid playing. You can have a short, like myself, kid playing,” she says, laughing. “It’s the kind of sport where the diversity of different people brings something new to the game.”
to learn more about the U.S. Soccer Foundation.