For the past month, the world’s best soccer players have gathered in Russia to compete in the World Cup, representing a wide range of backgrounds, races, and religions. Here in Brooklyn and Harlem, the Success Academy Soccer Program was immersed in our annual weeklong camp for a group of players that is nearly as diverse.
SA’s 115 soccer players at the camp are from families hailing from countries across the globe — like Senegal, the Dominican Republic, and Ghana. For three hours each day, they practiced crisp passing, clean dribbling, and sophisticated defensive strategies. They also imitated their favorite players on the field and bonded with their nine coaches over the global tournament, which looms large in their imaginations now that they consider themselves serious soccer players.
For me, seeing our scholars’ joy as the World Cup overlapped with soccer camp underscores the value of the program’s mission. We’ve built a program to address on a local level one of the biggest challenges facing youth soccer nationally: barrier to entry as a result of the pay-for-play model. Youth soccer participation among low-income children of color, especially in urban centers, has declined in recent years — largely because of skyrocketing costs (most strong development programs are with clubs and academies charging hefty registration fees, not public schools) as well as lack of space to play. American soccer is simply not tapping into the full talent pool of our youth; instead, only a sliver of mostly affluent children have access to the sport at a high level. That group doesn’t reflect the diversity of our country or the world’s top competition. With American soccer doing little to lift barriers to entry, many are finally seeing the need for change.
The goal of the Success Academy Soccer Program is to address this access problem — albeit on a small scale — and our camp helps us do it.
At soccer camp, we provide high-quality instruction, developing our scholars’ technical skills and strategic thinking. But our primary focus is making sure our scholars are having fun! Summer camp is an opportunity to help dozens of younger players — the future of our program — truly fall in love with the game. Ultimately, this is the most important step in cultivating a serious and long-term athletic commitment, and it’s why we fill the camp days with activities that our scholars adore, like one-on-one drills, small-sided games, street soccer, and, of course, lively debates about which World Cup players and teams are the best.
Over the course of the week, it was clear that the love was there — the scholars were not shy about their enthusiasm for the game or about their World Cup-inspired ambitions! Here are just a few of the comments I overheard:
“I love watching Spain play in the World Cup because they have so many good, young players. It’s fun to hear when the announcers say they are full of potential because we are full of potential too.” (David Laryea, rising sixth grader, SA Harlem North Central)
“I love playing in our scrimmages at the end of each day of camp. I’ve been cheering on Senegal with my dad at home — I’m going to play defense for them one day.” (El Hadji Samb, rising third grader, SA Harlem 5)
“At camp, I’m trying to do what Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo do on TV. I’ve been playing soccer for two years and I’m going to keep going until I’m in the World Cup.” (Lamin Bojang, rising third grader, SA Bronx 2)
Earlier this month, FIFA announced the United States will host the 2026 World Cup along with Canada and Mexico. After seeing the level of inspiration and motivation that the World Cup has generated in our scholars — and the amount they have grown in just one week — I wouldn’t be surprised to see some Success alumni in that tournament and those that follow!