Scoring Success for the Underserved

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Juan Vargas, Salem, leads his team out for pre-game warm-ups at the Mt Hood Challenge Soccer Tournament

Through an innovative soccer club model, the nation’s largest youth organization has scored success for an underserved audience in Marion County.
By Mary Stewart, OSU Extension Service

During the summer soccer season, more than 1000 underserved youth benefitted by playing on soccer teams that are a little out of the ordinary.

The 4-H Soccer Club supports more than 90 teams of boys and girls in the mid-Willamette Valley.  The club gained its Oregon Youth Soccer Association (OYSA) affiliation this year, after proving the 4-H program could meet OYSA’s strict standards for structure and organization. “OYSA recognizes that the 4-H soccer program is of adequate quality coaching and playing to be competitive,” says Cristian Curiel, Oregon State University Extension 4-H youth development faculty.

The teams grew out of OSU Extension’s 4-H Latino outreach program, which strives to build real-life skills in the Latino youth population through informal education in a supportive learning environment. “The 4-H program gives kids structure,” explains Curiel. “Soccer teaches good character and good behavior.”

Soccer is an important part of the Latino culture. Youth grow up playing the game, so it’s only natural that they would jump at the chance to be in a 4-H soccer league. In fact, girls are often seen playing on boys teams up to a certain age, since they have been raised scrimmaging on the soccer pitch (field) with their brothers.  

The 4-H soccer program began several years ago, when an OSU Extension 4-H faculty member tossed a ball out on a field full of kids and said, “Let’s play some soccer!” The idea caught on quickly in the Latino community and when Curiel was hired, he began to build organization to the program.  Soon, informal teams formed and coaches were recruited.

“Without the opportunity that 4-H provides, many youth can’t afford to play soccer,” Curiel points out. Soccer is supposed to be an affordable sport, but when youth join club soccer, it gets expensive. “When I was little, my parents couldn’t afford club fees so I never played club soccer,” says Curiel. “Now there are more opportunities and some clubs offer scholarships, but only for the best players.  4-H provides the opportunity to compete regardless your soccer skills.”

The 4-H Soccer Club provides their U-7 through U-16 teams with OYSA player’s cards, and bright orange soccer uniforms that sport the familiar 4-H clover emblem at actual cost. The 90 volunteer coaches are supported by Curiel, who is an experienced soccer player and coach, as well as a youth development expert. “This youth development expertise sets 4-H soccer teams apart as the developmental needs and skills of youth are integral to how the teams operate,” says Pamela Rose, OSU Extension faculty and County Leader.

“We always need coaches, but we need more resources to pay for the education of coaches. It costs $150 to get the basic ‘E’ license from OYSA,” explains Curiel.  Most of the volunteer coaches have a deep passion for soccer, but they have never been formally trained and their work schedules impede some of them from attending traditional soccer coach training sessions. “My goal is for all the coaches to get licensed.  I am trying to get the state to provide a trainer for all the coaches. I don’t have the funding to get that education,” he adds.  Curiel is working on getting his “A” license, so he can certify the other coaches.

Dean Carpenter, who coached McKay High School girls’ soccer program, invited 30 4-H players to a special Nike soccer camp. He also donated some soccer balls to the teams. "We really appreciate his encouragement and support," says Curiel.

(L) Francisco Uribe and (R) Kevin Garcia stretch out before playing in a U-13 match. The youth learn responsibility.It seems that coach training and soccer balls are not the only necessities for 4-H soccer program expansion. Curiel is looking for a donation of land for a soccer field. “We struggle to find a place to practice because there are not enough soccer fields, especially in winter,” says Curiel. “If someone has the land, we may be able to come up with the resources to make it an official soccer field.”

To make a donation to the 4-H soccer program, and for more information, contact Cristian Curiel at the OSU Extension office in Marion County, 503-585-4969 or cristian.curiel@oregonstate.edu.

As youth train and compete in the 4-H Soccer Club, they grow in self-confidence and have fun, while building their skills.  Some players even develop into attractive recruits for other soccer clubs and high school teams. When it comes to opportunities for underserved youth, the 4-H soccer program has clearly scored a winning goal.
“The 4-H soccer club is open to anyone who wants to play soccer, and not only for underserved or Latinos.” -- Cristian Curiel, OSU Extension 4-H faculty.

Soccer photos by Mary Stewart

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