For about four years, the Young Leadership Council (YLC) has hosted the YLC Kicks program, which strives to provide all New Orleans children with the opportunity to play soccer. Run in partnership with the New Orleans Recreation Development Commission (NORDC), the program is a great way to get more kids involved in sports and a healthy lifestyle. And as project leader, Richard Pavlick explains, YLC Kicks’ benefits go far beyond playing a good game.
“I think it’s sports in general,” says Pavlick. “Soccer is just one vehicle.” He explains that youth sports can be an incredibly powerful tool to drive social change. Children learn firsthand skills such as winning, losing, sportsmanship and conflict resolution. These important skills can transfer over to other areas of life, and the soccer games give children a safe environment to learn these values.
Thinking Beyond the Pitch
But YLC Kicks also differs from traditional sports programs in many key ways.
“We really view this as a sports-based youth development program,” Pavlick says. By viewing sports differently, YLC Kicks is committed to making sure soccer is fun, accessible and friendly for female players. Furthermore, even game night at YLC Kicks looks different from most programs. They focus on small-sided games (such as four on four), so every kid is playing all the time.
Overall, the program teaches kids the game and the values that go along with it. Thanks to their dedication, YLC Kicks was recently recognized by the Aspen Institute’s Project Play initiative, which encourages communities to reexamine the role of youth sports and utilize them as a vehicle to benefit children’s health, social growth and cognitive abilities.
Bringing Soccer to NOLA
Although New Orleans is a football and basketball town, soccer’s popularity has been growing. While the early stages of YLC Kicks were focused on growing the game of soccer and introducing it, interest in their program has increased tremendously. In fact, at a recent event at Joe W. Brown Memorial Park, about 90 kids showed up ready to learn more about soccer.
YLC Kicks is a volunteer-run organization. It fundraises to buy equipment and get coaches so that any kid who wants to play soccer can do so for free. At this time the program’s limiting factor is its need for more volunteer coaches. These volunteers, who are typically young professionals, don’t need any prior coaching or soccer experience, and volunteer training is provided. For more information and to volunteer, visit YLCNola.org/display/ylc-kicks, email kicks@YLCNola.org or find them at Facebook.com/YLCKicks.