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RECAP: US Club Soccer on the Importance of Diversity & Inclusion in Youth Sport


Marti Reed, PCA’s National Partnership and Marketing Manager, joined US Club Soccer’s Facebook Live webinar on July 16th to discuss the importance of diversity and inclusion in youth sport.

Reed, who manages the partnership that US Club Soccer maintains with PCA, was joined by Chance Daniel, the new Chief Diversity Officer of the San Francisco Elite Academy.  Daniel oversees the reporting system for the soccer club on instances of racism and helps to implement mandatory staff education on anti-racism awareness.

Ashley Lehr, the Operations Manager for US Club Soccer, began the conversation around the importance of developing an inclusive environment and a culture of anti-racism for US Club Soccer’s ‘Players First’ mission.

“We believe that a club’s leadership, coaches, facilities, and club policies set the tone for the club community,” she said. “The protocols, policies, and culture that you create at your soccer club impact the children and families that spend their time, effort, and energy there. A club has the power to determine how situations of racism are handled. The way that we teach players to act at our soccer clubs impacts the way that they act in their daily lives.” 

The conversation then shifted to obstacles that the youth sports community currently faces in regard to race. Reed focused on how larger issues of access impact Black and brown communities as they work on becoming better athletes.

“Youth sports, as we know, is a billion-dollar industry and access to sports is shown to be a large disadvantage in Black and brown communities,” Reed explained. “Access includes quality programming, equipment, and resources. We all know that sports are supposed to be a great equalizer and offer this path to upward mobility and opportunity, but it is not that simple. There is a widening gap as we go from youth to high school sports where neighborhoods that are predominately white have more funding, specialized training, and opportunities and this impacts other communities from being able to produce the same results.”

Reed also emphasized the importance of coaches receiving the proper training and education to truly connect with their players.

“It is not enough to just know the X’s and O’s and the skills and drills,” she said. “It is much more important to help serve the team and nurture each and every player as individuals, with the understanding that each player has a unique set of talents but also a unique set of struggles. Coach education helps coaches understand how their athletes come from different experiences and environments before they arrive on the field so they can provide a safe environment for kids to interact with each other in a positive way.”

Despite the challenges that exist within sports communities and in our nation’s larger social system, unique opportunities exist for inclusion in sports. The sports industry, both historically and in the present day, offers many avenues for people of diverse backgrounds and marginalized groups to excel.

“Sports is a place where people come together in pursuit of a common goal,” Daniel said. “Theoretically, it is a meritocracy so while Black people dealt with Jim Crow laws, which was not that far away from the abolition of slavery, Jessie Owens represented America in Nazi Germany. When he came home, he probably was not allowed to sit at the lunch counter. Historically, sport is one of the first places where Black people in particular were able to earn the respect of white America and where white people began to see their humanity. You start to get recognized for your extraordinary ability, tactical acumen, and mental strength when you join a sports team representing your country.”

Daniel also addressed becoming one of the first Chief Diversity Officers in a US Club Soccer organization as companies work to consider concrete structural changes beyond well-meaning statements on social justice.

“Representation matters,” Daniel emphasized. “I have always told people that one of my larger goals as a youth soccer coach is to be a role model for kids and families who may not have Black men in their lives. Hopefully they get to know me and see the humanity in the people who look like me. I also hope through my work that those players take it a step further and advocate for anti-racist policies and views in their lives.”

PCA also is focused on efforts to generate conversation and change around racism in our workplaces and communities. Reed is the current co-chair for PCA’s ‘Sports Can Battle Racism’ committee and outlined various initiatives that the company is undertaking to help address issues of race and inclusion. PCA is focused on four major action steps as we work to grow as a community.

  1. Curriculum: In line with our curriculum development, PCA is creating a workshop that specifically focuses on racism in sports for the fall. We are also updating our content to include resources and tools to address race, diversity, and inclusion.
  2. Alignment: Another focus is alignment. PCA will intentionally recruit and connect with thought leaders focused on battling racism and provide diversity, equity, and inclusion guides. One of our newest trusted resource partner is RISE, and we are focused on teaming up with people to amplify voices in the social justice space.
  3. Diversity: We are focused on improving all aspects of our PCA community. We want it to be a reflection and representation of the diversity and inclusion we wish to see in our world. We are focused on our hiring practices and our leadership being an example of our values.
  4. Thought Leadership: We are utilizing PCA’s platform to serve as a conduit for important conversations and to amplify our voices to influence change. We are hosting Roundtables that center around race and we started our ‘Black Voices’ series on social media to highlight voices in the Black community that share how sports impacted their lives. We are also posting content and resources on our Positive Coaching Alliance page and on our social media platforms to help coaches and parents conduct meaningful conversations on these issues with kids.
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In closing out the conversation on diversity and inclusion initiatives, Reed wanted to remind parents and adults navigating these conversations to know that they will not always have all of the answers.

“Remember that you do not have to know all of the answers,” Reed said. “Just be willing to lead that dialogue and provide a safe space for others to express themselves and remain open to learning, growing, and listening.”

More Conversation Starters:

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