Beyond the Game

Soccer is a powerful vehicle for positively impacting youth. Our Beyond the Game stories recognize people who serve and organizations that inspire economically challenged children to overcome barriers to success.

"Do It From the Heart"

AC Portland Program Coordinator Luis Rodriguez discusses the importance of children having a Safe Place to Play. 

What motivated you to help empower Portland youth to lead healthy lives and succeed academically? How have your previous experiences prepared you for this mission?

The lack of safe places for kids that could not afford to play club soccer, and seeing talent wasted because the kids did not or could not have a role model in their life to guide them in the right direction. I started coaching recreational soccer, then moved to competitive leagues. I soon realized only certain kids were able to have the opportunity to play a sport they love because of socio-economic limitations. It motivated me to find a way to make sure other kids get the chance to experience organized soccer in a safe place.

Why are sports like soccer a powerful vehicle for youth development? How do they improve community?

Soccer gives you the sense of belonging. It shows you discipline, respect, organization and leadership skills. It is important to have mentors/coaches that care and are willing to form relationships in order for these traits to really develop in children.  Our youth are our future. They will be the ones who will take over and later become mentors caring for the next generation.

AC Portland recently partnered with Soccer Shots and the U.S. Soccer Foundation in the creation of a mini-pitch in Gresham Portland. Can you explain how this pitch will further AC Portland’s mission to inspire positive community engagement?

Having a safe place to train and develop your soccer skills is very important as it allows you to be worry free. Having this pitch allows the players in our program to have a space where they know how it feels to play in a setting that resembles professional soccer. It allows them to think and pursue their dreams as a young player.

Long term, what are you hoping to achieve with your work at A.C. Portland? What can we do in the short term to support the cause?

I hope to close the gap between kids who can afford to play and the ones that can’t. I hope to one day see a program that everyone wants to join and will be extremely excited to be a part of.  In the short term, we are currently in need of additional soccer equipment to help run our programs and would ask for supporters to consider making a donation. They can contact us at [email protected].

What simple advice can you give to people who are thinking about getting involved in the social impact arena that will help spur them into action?

Do it from the heart, do it because you know you want to make a difference in someone’s life, and do it with pride and passion.

Beyond the Game Profile: Soccer Shots Bay Area

The Soccer Shots Foundation recently recognized Soccer Shots Bay Area as the 2017 Beyond the Game Award winner for their outstanding efforts to positively impact economically challenged children through soccer. Read below for more on how they are inspiring Stronger Youth, Beyond the Game.

“It was an immediate core-value fit for us” remarked James Evans, owner of Soccer Shots Bay Area. In 2009, Soccer Shots Bay Area was looking for a way that they could extend their reach and impact the local community specific to economically challenged children. When they came across the Beechwood School they were impressed by how intentional the school was in developing high character, educated and community minded youth.

The Beechwood School is a non-profit school community that serves around 170 students and 125 families year-round in Menlo Park, California.  In addition to offering educational classes for Pre-K through Eighth Grade, the school requires their parents to attend classes as well so that they can have the tools and resources to support their children. At the time when Soccer Shots approached Beechwood, the school was running out of a portable building and did not have the resources to afford a soccer program, let alone the staff to manage it.

After getting to know the administration and learning about the culture of the school, Soccer Shots Bay Area decided they had to partner with the school even if they weren’t able to pay the full enrollment costs.

Since then, Soccer Shots Bay Area has supported the Beechwood School with free and scholarship programming to 18-24 children each season, totaling over 330 children to date.

In describing the impact the partnership has had on Soccer Shots Bay Area team, James added, “we have learned a lot by being around a passionate successful school that sees the big picture and are dedicated to building character. From day one of the partnership, our coaches have absolutely loved being there. The Principal and teachers were very respectful and caring and the students seemed to have such a pride about being enrolled there.”

“It was like joining a tight-knit family community that we are proud to support.”


Ricardo Ruiz - Rockwood Initiative

Ricardo Ruiz, CEO of the Rockwood Initiative, discusses his background and how soccer is positively impacting youth in Gresham, Oregon.

The Rockwood Initiative recently partnered with the Soccer Shots Foundation and the U.S. Soccer Foundation in the creation of a mini-pitch in Gresham Portland. Can you explain how creating safe places to play like this can positively impact the local community?

Davis Court is adjacent to Davis Elementary, a school in which 85% of their students are in free and reduced lunch. Many of those kids and their families have been utilizing the space and have shared their appreciation of not having to travel far away. In the neighborhood of Rockwood, there are over 15,000 residents. Out of those 15,000, one-third of them are individuals under the age of 20. The Rockwood community, which is a neighborhood in the City of Gresham holds home to a massive amount of youth who aspire to big dreams in a place of little opportunity. The sport of soccer along with the futsal courts has brought more of a family environment to the local parks. There has also been a decrease in gang sightings, drug use, and violence reports. Many adjacent neighbors have expressed their appreciation of the futsal and soccer projects.

What motivated you to help empower local youth to lead healthy lives and succeed academically? How have your previous experiences prepared you for this mission?

As a kid, my friends and I always asked ourselves why was it that there were no spaces to play or why were there no free youth programs? We struggled with the fact that resources were extremely limited to all our low-income families, but that was the harsh reality. Growing up, we definitely missed out on many different opportunities to play on a team. All we had to settle for was kicking the ball in a parking lot or a torn-up grass field. I lived the challenges and know the feeling of being excluded from all the fun that others had. As I grew up, many of my friends took different routes, some good paths and others took the wrong lane. I was blessed enough to continue my education with the sole purpose of coming back to my community to make things a little better. I know for a fact that kids still struggle with the same issues that I faced as a kid. I felt like it was my responsibility to change this for my local community of Rockwood.

Long term, what are you hoping to achieve with your work at the Rockwood Initiative? What can we do in the short term to support the cause?

We would like to continue to offer programs that teach kids the fundamentals of futsal and soccer. We have seen a demand for these programs and we are determined to offer those in all futsal courts. In the long-term plan, we are organizing an Academy that will reach kids ages 5 – 17. The focus of this academy is to have children play futsal both indoor and outdoor with the mission to build healthy players for middle and high school athletics. All this work ties down to the goal of having our youth pursue higher education whether or not soccer works out for them. We plan to work closely with school districts and local colleges to make these opportunities available. All the youth academy teams hope to feed a professional futsal team that we are planning to bring to the east side of Portland focusing on the cities of Gresham, Fairview, Wood Village, Troutdale, Corbett, and Sandy Oregon. In the short term, every summer we organize competitive futsal tournaments for both U17’s and adults. These tournaments have been catching the eye of many individuals outside the City of Gresham. All funds that we gather from these tournaments go towards the plan to make a youth academy.

What simple advice can you give to people who are thinking about getting involved in the social impact arena that will help spur them into action?

Follow your heart. Always show up and ask the question, what do you need? The community will learn to trust you and will back you up on the things they feel are best to improve their local neighborhood.