As part of our research, we looked at outreach programs sponsored by North Carolina FC (NCFC), which has programming for everything from player development to youth academies to community outreach. Four such programs in particular stand out for their attempts to use soccer to build community among residents of North Carolina’s Triangle Region.
TOPSoccer focuses on developing players up to age 18 who have physical, developmental, or intellectual disabilities. TOPSoccer is open to players of all skill levels and one of the hallmarks is that the program assigns buddies–NCFC Academy players, coaches, or volunteers–to work one-on-one with participants throughout the season.
The Durham Police Athletic League (DPAL) is another NCFC outreach program and began in the fall of 2018. The league is composed of elementary schoolers from Durham’s underserved communities and the goal is to prevent juvenile crime by building connections between youth and cops, with the latter serving as coaches.
La Liga Del Sol is intended to serve the area’s Latin American community with a recognition that American soccer has too often been inaccessible for the country’s growing Latino population.
And NCFC’s After School Program provides opportunities for youth from underserved areas to play after school through practice sessions and game days.
There are often concerns about the viability and sustainability of new programs such as these. These four opportunities are contingent on available funding (since fees are so low to make them accessible). Thus, without donations, they cannot stay afloat. However, aside from monetary concerns, there are few downsides and significant potential upsides. Each of these four programs can attract players who might not participate in NCFC otherwise. They can provide a sense of community and team camaraderie without requiring families to spend the thousands of dollars necessary to participate in travel leagues. And they can play a role in mitigating some broader social challenges such as juvenile crime and inequality of opportunity. Whether they can build community is uncertain, but it is likely that they can create the kinds of social ties and mutual trust that are essential for healthy and thriving communities.