Photo by Drew Brown
Article by Dallas Taylor
“The value that sports create when done with the specific intent of caring more about developing young people than about the outcome of a game is immeasurable,” said Algonquin Sports Executive Director, Anna-Lesa Calvert.
If you take a trip to visit one of Buffalo Soccer Club’s practice sites on a weekday evening in the summer, you’ll find coaches serving as mentors, and children at play where their only dilemma in the world is getting a soccer ball into a goal. They’ve forgotten about all that’s happened throughout the day and they’re not thinking about tomorrow. They’re only here to play and be physically active in a safe space.
That’s the culture that Algonquin Sports has cultivated for ten years now. A culture where all children, regardless of background, sports experience, or socioeconomic status are welcome to play together.
It all began in 2007 when Algonquin Studios, a locally-owned and operated company in the city of Buffalo, redirected some of its annual charitable contributions to create a not-for-profit entity called Algonquin Sports. Buffalo Soccer Club is Algonquin Sports’ pilot program, offering soccer-related activities including after-school activities and recreational level house leagues tlocal children.
In 2012, Algonquin Sports partnered with the Independent Health Foundation and the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County to begin the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s Soccer for Success program. Soccer for Success is a free afterschool program that uses soccer as a tool to address children’s health issues and juvenile delinquency, while promoting healthy lifestyles in underserved urban communities.
Today, through this program and other soccer-based programs, Algonquin sports serves over 2,100 youth from the city of Buffalo annually, and has proven results – recording statistically significant changes in BMI and cardiovascular endurance for children in the program. During the summer and fall, programming is run all over the city at JFK Park, Durant Park, Moreland Park, Roosevelt Park, Waterfront Park, Houghton Park, and JH Williams Field.
This summer, Algonquin Sports launched Racket Up Buffalo, which introduces racket-based sports including tennis and squash to children. This opportunity for youth will build on Algonquin Sports’ mission to provide access and opportunity in sports for youth across the city of Buffalo.
Algonquin Sports understands that getting youth involved in sports keeps them active, and exposes them to positive character traits and life skills. These skills allow youth to interact with each other, grow and become leaders in the community.
“I liked the exercise my children were getting,” a parent said. “My daughter has become much much healthier during this time through scrimmages, confidence building exercises, and nutritional guidance. My children seemed to have blossomed overnight.
“I am so grateful the program was free. As a single mother, that was a blessing.”
Anna-Lesa Calvert, has seen the impact of this programming first hand; The structure of holding practice three times per week, the positive coaches that serve as mentors, the goal at the end of the day of having every child leave with a smile on their face.
“By training and providing coaches who serve as mentors, our program is looking at ensuring everyone has access and opportunity to make an impact in Buffalo as the community changes and grows.”
Buffalo Soccer Club trains their coaching staff on empathy. Many of the students they work with are dealing with trauma, issues at home, and countless other life situations, but when they are playing soccer or tennis, they have the chance to just be a kid.
Recently, Calvert was coaching a group of students from a Buffalo Public School. Since the program runs over 12 weeks, the coaches have an opportunity to really get to know the players in the program. There was one student who consistently came to practice excited and ready to play. Until one day he didn’t.
“During a water break, he angrily told me he was going to quit,” said Calvert. “I sat him down to find out why. He told me that his mother was sick, he and his very young siblings were being split up and it was his responsibility to take care of the family.”
He was 11 years old.
“He talked and I tried to listen as much as I could, not sharing advice, but trying to show him that I cared. In the end, I told him that I hoped he would stay with us in the soccer program because his mom probably likes knowing he is safe.”
After practice, the young man told Calvert that he would stay with the program for his mom.
This isn’t necessarily a normal conversation between an athlete and a traditional coach. Buffalo Soccer Club coaches not only take on the role of being a coach but also a positive adult figure which helps in creating that safe space.
The impact of this program is felt when the kids learn more than just soccer skills. It’s felt when they leave with a smile on their face and they keep coming back. It’s felt when the kids show up and are excited to see their coaches.
“This program allows caring adults to play a role in a child’s life,” said Calvert. “A child who someday may be a doctor, teacher, or maybe even the next Mayor of Buffalo.”
Algonquin Sports is always looking for donations to assist in funding future programming. You can visit the Algonquin Sports GiveGab donation page to donate. Buffalo Soccer Club also hosts an annual fundraiser, 716 Champions League, in the fall. Designed similar to a corporate walk, individuals will sign up to represent an English Premier soccer team and compete against other teams for the fundraising title. Teams then take to the field to compete for the 716 Champions League title. All of the proceeds will go towards future programming for Buffalo Soccer Club.