Streets paved with soccer | Atlanta-birthed grassroots program teaches game and life in ‘Soccer 101’
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 festival06.org.)
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.