As the summer winds down, parents and children begin to turn their attention toward the upcoming fall youth sports programs offered in schools and local towns. While football dominates the professional sports landscape in the fall, families continue to choose youth soccer programs as a great way to get their children to exercise and meet new friends. A strong example of youth soccer’s popularity can be found in Charlestown, where their relatively young but extraordinarily successful youth soccer program has strengthened community ties while providing a previously unavailable athletic option for children of many ages.
Local parents founded the Charlestown Youth Soccer Association in 2007 in response to the growing demand for youth athletics in Charlestown and simple lack of a viable option for youth soccer. The program started as an in-house league (meaning games are played only against other teams within the Charlestown league and not from other towns) with about 144 participants, only to see itself grow exponentially over the years. In 2009 the program started its first travel teams and joined the Middlesex youth soccer league in order to start competing against other towns. After starting with only three of these travel teams in 2009, the program now boasts fifteen travel teams consisting of approximately 180 children. Combined with the 250 children paying in the still strong in-house program, the Charlestown Youth Soccer Association will have a total of over 400 youth soccer participants.
Yet this extraordinary growth would not have been possible without Charlestown families recognizing the great local schools and the positive community environment, all while resisting the urge to follow the traditional route of moving their family to the suburbs. As the President of the Charlestown Youth Soccer Association Gerard Kennedy explains, the parent’s choice to keep their families in Charlestown has expedited the program’s overall growth, “as we started to get that critical mass of young kids and adults that were interested in soccer, that’s how we started to grow, and a number of parents caught that wave and the program has grown exponentially since then.”
Now that the program has such a strong core group of participants, coaches and players have focused on improving each player’s technical skills and the overall quality of the program. The program now has its first ever division one team at the U10 (ages 10 and under) level, and the U14 boys recently won at their divisional level in the Commissioners Cup. Competing against more skilled opponents has continued to give the Charlestown players confidence that they can compete with anyone, as Gerard points out, “I think we’ve seen the standards and the skills of the kids improve.” Along with improving the overall quality of the program, Gerard wants to give the kids in Charlestown “the chance to play soccer as much as possible,” and to support that claim the program has entered three teams into the Massachusetts Futsal Association (an indoor, winter soccer league) to “give the kids who wanted to play soccer in the winter and who aren’t playing other winter sports a chance to play soccer.”
Finally, Gerard hopes to continue the strong relationships the program has built over the years, specifically with Bunker Hill Community College for providing their soccer coaches for the program, the Charlestown Neighborhood Council, and the Massachusetts General Hospital for their generous funding. Gerard views this “strong support within the community and development of good partnerships key to the past and future success of the program.” Moving forward, Gerard must tackle the challenge of finding enough field space for the program, a challenge that he gladly welcomes and one that points to the remarkable success of the program since its inception.