Making a difference through soccer

With 150 Houston kids and teams ranging from under four to under 18, the All Nations Soccer League is growing their impact every year.

With 150 Houston kids and teams ranging from under four to under 18, the All Nations Soccer League is growing every year in their reach and impact.

Kate Langham, Director of Programming at the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre in Houston, says the league originated in Houston last year, and has spread to other communities in the region since then.

Langham says it started with casual programming two years ago, which had a lot of kids coming out, and then it developed into an official league hosted by the Friendship Centre.

“It really started through a need that we were seeing,” said Langham, explaining that a lot of kids face barriers when wanting to join other soccer leagues.

Darren MacDonald, head coach of the All Nations Soccer League and T.E.A.M. project leader at the Houston Friendship Centre, says the main purpose of the league is removing those barriers, so that all kids have an opportunity to play soccer.

The $50 registration cost not only pays for jerseys, shorts, soccer socks, high-quality equipment and soccer tournaments, but it also generates money to sponsor children whose families cannot pay the full registration cost.

Generous donations from people in the community make up the rest, said Langham.

She adds that kids don’t need to give proof of their inability to pay, they simply need to ask for sponsorship, which in itself takes a lot of courage.

Besides cost, the league also tries to combat other barriers that children often face, such as strict deadlines for registration, parental approval and payment.

Langham says they are flexible and lenient with their registration, and it’s always open for kids who move to town or want to join later in the season.

They’re flexible and they communicate and make arrangements with families about when and how they can make payments, and they do what it takes to help kids who want to play, even going to homes at times to ask parents for signatures of approval.

They also help kids who need it to get gear, such as cleats and pads.

“[The league] keeps Houston money in Houston,” said MacDonald, adding that it’s clear on the field by the quality equipment that they use.

There are 12 All Nations Soccer teams in Houston, ranging from under four to under 18, with nearly 50 kids in the under four group – and MacDonald coaches them all.

Asked what it’s like, MacDonald says it’s a lot, but the breakthroughs he has with kids is easily enough to keep him inspired.

“I see so many kids that it makes a massive difference for,” he said.

MacDonald says his main focus on the field is fun and skill development – teaching young players fine motor skills and footwork.

He tries to get all the players to touch the ball as much as possible, with games such as four corners, where players make four groups at the four corners of the field, and one from each group takes a turn racing into the middle of the field and competing with the players from the other three corners for the ball.

MacDonald says the skill development of his players has grown big time.

“This year, our kids developed more in all of the age groups than I’ve seen kids develop ever,” he said.

But MacDonald says they are up to way more than just soccer.

“Soccer is a vehicle for so much more,” said Langham, listing several things including mental health promotion, good physical health, community building, team building and self-confidence.

“It’s soccer plus. There is a lot of social development that goes along with it, and that’s our major focus,” she said.

Langham says there is zero tolerance for bullying, foul language on the field, or criticism of players or referees.

“We keep it a very healthy, supportive, open atmosphere,” she said.

She adds that for a lot of kids the self-confidence boost is huge and makes a big difference, and for some it is the first time they’ve ever belonged to anything outside of their class at school.

“It’s been really cool to see that develop and kids really come out of their shell and begin to develop good relationships with others.

“Soccer is really just a tiny fraction of what it is that we’re really up to with this program and the work thats being done,” said Langham.

“It’s about soccer, but it’s all about life,” said MacDonald.

The Dze L Kant Friendship Centre in Houston is hosting a World Cup Soccer Camp this summer, August 6 to 10. Registration is available through the Houston Friendship Centre.