Streets paved with soccer | Atlanta-birthed grassroots program teaches game and life in ‘Soccer 101’

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The documentary Soccer in the Streets follows a “Soccer 101″ football immersion at Mary McLeod Bethune Elementary School in Atlanta’s Vine City neighborhood in 2003. (© 2004 Journey Productions, Billy Hazzard Productions)

We are grateful for the biweekly indulgence, from the north Atlanta studios of WGSR, of speaking to soccer-impassioned people about soccer. Today we featured Soccer in the Streets, part of the streetfootballworld network of some 80 football-based social-development initiatives aimed at communal and personal transformation.

Executive director Jill Robbins and rising high school senior DeAndré Harrison, 17, a Soccer in the Streets alumnus and summer intern, speak of their lives in soccer. Harrison recalls his adjustment period with uniform shorts—he started with Soccer in the Streets at age 8—only to rise to representing the program last summer at the Copa Andrés Escobar, part of the streetfootballworld festival in Berlin. He was the team’s youngest player. (See the festival website at

DeAndré Harrison and Jill Robbins, 10 Jul 07.

Robbins addresses the role of Soccer in the Streets in filling the need in America’s soccer culture for playing space, coaching and direction for children outside the network of elite clubs and academies. Soccer in the Streets emphasizes service to the African American and Latino communities of Atlanta and has piloted the conversion of moribund tennis courts into street soccer “boxes” on which children learn the small-sided street game. (For photos of a 2004 “street-box” tournament, see our Flash presentation.) If the suburban and predominantly white soccer training centers represent the grassroots of U.S. soccer, Robbins says, then Soccer in the Streets is the “dirt.”

It essentially is a street game. It’s about creativity. It’s about innovation. It’s about letting the kids express themselves and not overstructure and overmanage, and give them ownership of the game. … [The street boxes] open their minds to any space becoming a pitch. It doesn’t have to be 120 yards long and 60 yards wide with grass and lines and goals. It can be your garage floor, it could be your back alley, it could be your front yard, it could be a dirt space. It doesn’t matter. I tell people I could teach soccer in a phone booth if I had to, because it’s just that kind of game.

“I loved … going to the boxes,” says Harrison of his soccer upbringing.

About the Author

John Turnbull founded The Global Game in 2003. He was lead editor for The Global Game: Writers on Soccer (University of Nebraska Press, 2008) and has also written on soccer for Afriche e Orienti (Bologna, Italy), the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the New York Times Goal blog, Soccer and Society, So Foot (Paris) and When Saturday Comes. His essay "Alone in the Woods: The Literary Landscape of Soccer's 'Last Defender' " in World Literature Today was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also for World Literature Today he edited a special section on women's soccer, "World Cup/World Lit 2011," before the Women's World Cup in Germany. The section appeared in the May-June issue. His next project is a book on soccer and faith.

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  1. [...] Global Game blog discusses Soccer in the Streets, a grassroots program to bring soccer to the inner-city in Atlanta. They also have a podcast with [...]

  2. [...] she has helped bring soccer to urban neighborhoods as a volunteer with Soccer in the Streets (see Jul 7 as well as the Black Athlete Sports Network interview with SITS executive director Jill Robbins, [...]

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