Connectin' With Kicks
During the last eight weeks, Tuesday night easily became my favorite time of the week for StreetSoccer 945—it is when we got together for our 8 week series called Connectin’ with Kicks. Every week (15-25) volunteers and (15-20) Street Soccer players got together to participate in team building exercises, life skill lessons, relationship building, and of course, soccer. We had over 70 volunteers join us, several on a regular basis and some of their perspectives have been recorded here:
I was raised in a mid-sized town in the South where ACC college basketball was revered. Culturally, soccer was perceived as a sport reserved for those who marched to the beat of a different drum: rich kids riding with soccer moms in SUVs, northerners who refused to assimilate to southern values, and Europeans who insisted they were playing “fútbol,” not soccer. While I cared little about a person’s socioeconomic status or where they were born, I passionately agreed that soccer was a sport for outsiders who couldn’t cut it in the big three: basketball, football, and baseball.
This narrow-minded sentiment was challenged a few years ago when I moved to Charlotte, NC and met a group of people, including Pete Fink and Rachelle Chretien, who felt passionate about all-things soccer. I listened and watched secretly from afar as my friends played in soccer leagues, traveled to the World Cup in South Africa, and started soccer blocs (clubs) at our church—Watershed Charlotte. I was also inspired by Pete’s creative work with the homeless community as the Director of StreetSoccer 945 at Charlotte’s Urban Ministry Center. Pete had a vision that soccer could be used to address homelessness by introducing ideas of teamwork, healthy living, accountability, and setting personal goals.
In the summer of 2011, at Pete and Rachelle’s wedding, I gave in and played soccer for the first time. I was awful—any athleticism I thought I possessed let me down big time. However, in the midst of the awkwardness, there was a sense of connection and camaraderie inherent in team sports. The experience taught me that beyond the competitiveness and physicality, soccer—like any other sport—is a conduit to facilitate the human connection we all yearn for.
A few weeks after Pete and Rachelle’s wedding, friends from the Watershed soccer bloc convinced me to come out and play pick-up with the StreetSoccer 945 players. The idea was to connect players from the community with players from StreetSoccer, and in the process, build relationships, share life skills, and create respect and friendships across outdated social, cultural, and socio-economic lines. This is my second summer playing pick-up with StreetSoccer. The experience has taught me a lot about myself—my shortcomings and my strengths; but most important, I’ve become a believer in the power of soccer to build relationships across class lines. I’ve spent several years working with various community and social justice projects in the Charlotte community, but Connectin’ with Kicks is the first time I’ve engaged Charlotte’s homeless community not as a mentor or as a teacher, but as an equal. Regardless of our position in life, we all run onto the field as equals—trying to do our best to earn respect and trust, achieve our goals, control our emotions, and play as a team. We come with our own unique problems and stresses. We share our achievements and we share our burdens. We communicate, we learn, and we teach. Walls of fear, mistrust, and insecurity come down. Ultimately, we do not show up to win, workout, or improve our skills—although those are positive byproducts; instead, we show up prepared to share life.
I have played soccer for a year now—two leagues and two summers of Connectin’ with Kicks. My foot-skills are still horrible; and I pray when I pass the ball that it goes somewhere near my target. Nevertheless, I approach soccer the same way I approach my relationship with Street Soccer 945 players—one game at a time.
"Connectin’ with Kicks has been incredibly fun so far. Since my first time playing with the 945 Street Team from Urban Ministry Center, it seems like the attendance has nearly doubled. It is understandable since everyone who shows up has a blast, no matter the skill level. All the soccer aside, it’s a really great opportunity for people with different socio-economic situations to get together and share stories, lessons, and realize how we are all in this together. Everyone is equal on the field. The coaches do an excellent job of incorporating soccer lessons into life lessons, and vise versa, while maintaining an easy going and fun environment for everyone who shows up. Plus, everyone learns something and walks away feeling better about themselves and life in general. I am excited to see where this program goes in the future; it has a lot more potential than I thought it would before playing with them."
Thanks for following through with this program, it’s one of the better things happening in Charlotte.
It is hard to put into words what a great feeling it is to be part of the Street Soccer “Connectin’ with Kicks” program. Tuesday night is the evening I look forward to most each week. My first exposure to Street Soccer 945 was this past spring when they won their 7 v 7 tournaments. It was incredible to witness the amount of passion and heart the team competed with and I knew that I wanted to get involved. The best thing about volunteering with the Urban Ministry Street Soccer program is that it feels more like participating then volunteering. There is no distinction or separation; everyone is on the same field playing the same game. It is an opportunity to both better yourself and make a difference in someone else’s life.
At its core, volunteering is simply the giving of your time to a cause. Not everyone has money and not everyone needs money. Time is something we all have and time is something we can all share. Giving your time shows that you are able to put someone else’s needs ahead of your own. Though we may all not have a unique skill or talent to share, we all have experiences and we have all seen different things. No matter how trivial they may seem, our experiences, obstacles and lessons learned all have value. Volunteering your time and sharing your experiences enable everyone involved the opportunity to learn and grow both in the game of soccer and in life. So much can be gained through volunteering, particularly with a cause that is close to your heart. By participating and getting involved, connections and friendships can be made as well as new outlooks and perspectives. The beauty of the Street Soccer program is that it extends past the pitch and beyond the game. It is through volunteering and sharing our time that we are able to affect change and make a difference. Soccer is the vehicle for that change but ultimately it is the connections that are made to everyday life that ties it all together.
Another 8-week Kick Around will be offered in the fall – stay in touch with UMC to get involved. Also, consider joining, or renewing your membership with, the Royal Court, the official fan club of StreetSoccer 945. Your membership helps support the team and keeps you connected to the players who are doing their best to win the small successes in their lives.
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