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Using Soccer to Overcome Obstacles. A Sport-for-Homeless Success Story

  • 8/13/2012 2:55:00 PM
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Using Soccer to Overcome Obstacles. A Sport-for-Homeless Success Story

 Adam Cohen, Ph.D


In sports, we often hear stories about the rise and fall of athletes. One minute they are on top of the world leading every highlight show, the next minute the game has passed them by and a new superstar has stolen their thunder. It is far less often that you hear about these athletes rising again. This is exactly what happened, in an extreme fashion, with Lisa, a former Division I soccer player who ended up homeless in Sacramento, CA. Lisa's resurrection through soccer was not in an effort to gain popularity or fans; it was in an effort to save her life and others’ lives along the way. This was made possible by a sport-for-homeless initiative, Street Soccer USA (SSUSA -, which helps the homeless “score goals on the field, and achieve their goals in life." In an effort to quantify the impact of this sport for development program, an ethnographic methodology has been employed to follow Lisa’s experience with SSUSA. A three year period, involving observations and interviews will be analyzed and evaluated. The objective of this research is to share her personal story and evaluate the long-term impact of a sport-for-homeless initiative on her life and the lives she has touched.


            I first met Lisa in Washington DC at the SSUSA Cup in 2010, an annual tournament for homeless participants from around the country. It was hard not to be drawn towards her; she immersed herself alongside her male teammates sporting a Mohawk hairstyle derived from her team's name, the Sacramento Mohawks. During her participation in a focus group, she shared her story and discussed the impact of playing soccer with SSUSA. Back in college, she was a star athlete and the second leading goal scorer in the history of her school. She went on to play semi-professionally until her life fell apart due to drugs and alcohol. Lisa stated that she never expected soccer to be part of her life again. Due to random coincidence, her case manager at her recovery center happened to coach one of SSUSA’s teams. After some convincing, Lisa joined the team and has never looked back.


            Fast forward to the 2011 SSUSA Cup and my next encounter with Lisa. She had a full mane of hair although she did still manage to create a fauxhawk out of it. She wasn't surrounded by male players but flanked by eight other females. These changes were a result of her 2010 experience with SSUSA. She had to change her hairstyle after gaining full-time employment in an office, and the women she brought with her were the result of a year's worth of recruiting and fundraising towards forming a  homeless women’s soccer team. Lisa talked about being so inspired by experience and thankful for the structure the team provided during a crucial time in her life that she felt obligated to return the favor.


            It is this passion and desire to give back to the organization that will be investigated and analyzed. By beginning to discover why this initiative had such a strong impact on her, the message and story can be relayed to other non-profit organizations hope to achieve similar results.



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