It was early morning on October 11, 2017, and I stood frozen in place in the middle of my living room, eyes glued to the TV, with a dropped jaw. But it was right there in front of me. The score read Trinidad and Tobago 2, United States 1.
Professional Soccer gap in America
The U.S. Men’s National soccer team had failed to qualify for the World Cup the night before. Sports anchors and commentators discussed the shocking loss in disbelief. There was a common theme: “We have to do something about USA Men’s Soccer! We need better training! We need better outreach. We need more talent. We need better players…”
What makes this so interesting is that one of my colleagues told me about an innovative youth soccer-training program less than 48-hours before the disappointing loss. And then it hit me! There are so many kids who have talent but may not play soccer because they don’t have the money or the opportunity for exposure to the sport.
Soccer provides tools and life lessons
Creative Player Sports Foundation started four years ago. It began with the observation that there was a need to try and help underprivileged kids participate in organized sports. This nonprofit provides opportunities for children to learn life lessons and has a meaningful and positive impact on the lives of the young and great soccer players of tomorrow.
“The vision was always to use the soccer ball as a tool of education and opportunity for them,” says Daniel Araujo, founder of Creative Player Sports.
“We needed to do something to help the kids who can’t play due to the costs of the local clubs. So we started the foundation and began bringing kids from underprivileged neighborhoods, schools, and different locations around the Charlotte area and beyond,” Daniel recalls.
“I come from Uruguay, a small country in South America. My parents didn’t even finish elementary school. We were very poor. I barely finished high school and didn’t go to college, but I had the opportunity to play professional soccer. Soccer was my opportunity to see the world and make a living. I know where those kids are coming from.
The program, which partners with three Charlotte Mecklenburg schools annually, has grown to 75 players participating yearly, whose ages range from 5-18. “You have kids that naturally have a lot of talent, but they don’t have the opportunity or money to participate in sports. American soccer is a country club. If you don’t have money, you cannot participate, period. So we bring these kids and help them first with academics, which is the most important thing. Academics go hand-in-hand with sports.”
A Coach’s Philosophy
Norlin Ochoa, 17, a player who has trained under Creative Player Sports Foundation, verifies Daniel’s philosophy:
”Coach Daniel would always say that school is always first, and it always is. He always says that a soccer ball is a tool of education. That a soccer ball helps you have discipline, respect, and determination. It’s also helped me find my voice. In my school, I’m now recognized as being a great leader. Something I’ve learned is the more you talk and speak for those who are afraid to speak, the more you inspire and motivate others to do things that have a positive impact, just as Coach Daniel had an impact on my life.”
“Our foundation program is free of cost for the participants. Usually, our program cost is $105 per season per kid, but sponsors and donors cover that cost so the kids don’t have to pay. We make sure everyone is covered and not worried about transportation, cleats, uniforms, or monthly fees. We just want them to focus on playing and academics. That’s what we want, and that’s what we do”
Daniel and his staff routinely talk to parents, teachers, and counselors. They work with kids who may have discipline, behavioral or academic challenges. Before the kids are allowed to start training, they have to demonstrate academic success in the foundation’s afterschool program. “Creative Player Sports Foundation sets high expectations and rewards them with training, playing, participating, and exposure. “It’s amazing how many kids raise their grades from C’s to B+’s or all A’s,” Daniel adds.
Daniel understands what many of the kids in his program go through because he experienced the same growing up.“I come from Uruguay, a small country in South America. My parents didn’t even finish elementary school. We were very poor. I barely finished high school and didn’t go to college, but I had the opportunity to play professional soccer. Soccer was my opportunity to see the world and make a living. I know where those kids are coming from. I can speak their language. I know they’re coming from the streets. I know what it is to be over there. That’s why I do this with passion, and I love to do it because I know soccer can help.”
Breaking down barriers
In addition to helping athletes hone their skills to elite levels, Creative Player Sports Foundation is also helping to break down cultural and socioeconomic barriers. They make sure players have opportunities to play against teams of diverse racial and cultural backgrounds. This opens their eyes to a world beyond what they’re accustomed to seeing.
“They get integrated with local American kids whose parents can afford to let them play. Typically, upper-middle-class families. Our program integrates instead of segregating. In American soccer, you need to pay in order to play in a club. So instead of us forming teams of just Latino or African American kids, we insert these kids into the American culture to share and interact with kids their own ages and from other ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds,” Daniel.
The best part of all of this is that Creative Player Sports Foundation is able to assist and train these players at no cost to them or their families. In a normal scenario when you factor in club fees, travel, and equipment, you could be looking at costs between $2,000 to $4,000 per year, per kid. Thankfully, people and sponsors in our community make it possible for this program to continue and change so many kids’ lives.
Blue Cross NC thanks Creative Player Sports Foundation, for its impact on the lives of children. As a Blue Cross NC ‘Month of Thanks’ recipient, the Creative Player Sports Foundation will receive a $5,500 contribution.