Guest MINDSETTER™ Chris Westerkamp: Providence Recreation - What’s The Matter With Youth Soccer?
Friday, June 19, 2015
Whomever Mayor Elorza picks to clean up the mess that is Providence Parks and Recreation needs to recognize that the City deserves a robust youth soccer program as a part of its offerings.
Soccer is by far the number one sport internationally. It has a huge following in Spanish speaking countries. Based on the demographics of the more than 23,000 students in Providence public schools one would expect youth soccer participation to be in the thousands. As of March 2014 69% come from Spanish speaking households. This notwithstanding, the Providence Futbol Club (PFC) only currently serves between 150 -250 kids. Almost all of whom are in competitive teams age 12 and older. PFC should be one of the premier youth sports organizations in the City and the State. Imagine how many young folks are not getting the opportunity to play competitive soccer. Money is a factor but the big reason there are so few teams is the lack of fields to practice and play on.
To support he kind of youth soccer program the City deserves, Parks and Recreation needs to provide and maintain four to five additional soccer fields. Most of the City’s existing fields are in serious disrepair and are used mainly by adult soccer leagues. Many coaches and parents consider them to be too dangerous for kids.
As is the case with clubs throughout Rhode Island and around the country, soccer clubs support themselves with fees and fundraising. The City does not have to fund club operations. They do however, need to provide and maintain fields.
There is an excellent reason youth soccer enjoys such a high level of support in cities other than Providence. Soccer promotes a healthy lifestyle and teaches life skills for kids starting at age 5. Young people of all shapes, sizes and backgrounds can play safely. Soccer is positive outlet that teaches teamwork and dedication to energetic teens and young adults of both genders. Multiple studies show that soccer programs benefit the community; kids who participate perform better in school, have higher high school graduation rates are more likely to go on to college, and are less likely to get into trouble with the law.
Other cities in Rhode Island manage to support soccer leagues with impressive enrollment numbers: Cranston -1,300, Pawtucket - 930 and Warwick almost 1,900. In the last 20 years youth soccer has exploded in America with an estimated 4.2 million kids participating as of 2014.
There are many areas throughout our parks system where soccer fields can be built. We have the room. We just need the will and leadership from local government. I recognize building new soccer fields and improving conditions of the few we do have will cost money, but the payoff for Providence youth will be well worth it. The bill for supporting soccer is way overdue.
Recreational sports play a key role in development of our young citizens. It’s time for the City of Providence to kick-in some support for the fastest growing sport in our state and the country. (pun intended)
Chris Westerkamp is a former broadcasting and new media executive and serves on the board of the Providence Futbol Club
Related Slideshow: Providence Recreation Centers
Providence's nine recreation centers are in varying levels of disrepair as of June 2015.
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