Earlier this month, IS Member U.S. Soccer Foundation and the Congressional Soccer Caucus hosted a briefing on Capitol Hill and Lindsay Marcal from our membership team attended. Congressional staff and staff from several organizations came together Thursday, May 9 at the Rayburn House Office Building to talk about the lasting positive impact team sports can have on youth, and young women in particular.
While the host organizations spoke to the significance of soccer for young girls, the panel contextualized it to show that the effects extend to health, wellness, mentorship, safe communities, and more. The panel was moderated by NBC Capital region reporter Erika Gonzalez and featured five speakers:
- Elisabeth Cardiello, Founder/Owner, Caffè Unimatic; Co-Founder, Legacy Out Loud
- Abbie Evans, Senior Director of Government Relations, MENTOR: The National Mentoring Partnership
- Liana Ponce, DC SCORES Soccer for Success coach-mentor
- Jessica, DC SCORES Soccer for Success participant
- Sarah Pickens, Associate Vice President of Programs, U.S. Soccer Foundation
Along with Sarah Pickens of U.S. Soccer Foundation, Abbie Evans represented an IS member organization by way of MENTOR, an organization Lindsay and Micah highlighted last month in a Q&A with their director of communications, Erin Souza-Rezendes.
The overarching message was that the impact of coaching, mentorship, and team sports can have outsized effects. In fact, those effects can stretch far beyond the scope of the game and last a lifetime. Coaches can serve as mentors to young people, exposing them to the process of setting goals and following through. It’s often the case that as young people are developing as athletes playing a team sport, they are also developing social-emotional skills that will serve them indefinitely and put them on a path to success, personally and professionally.
Panelist Elisabeth Cardiello is both an entrepreneur and a lifelong soccer player. Cardiello’s Caffè Unimatic sells the last original version of a specialty Italian coffee pot. On the heels of its success, Cardiello created a leadership development course (Legacy Out Loud) that prepares and empowers high school- and college-age women to become entrepreneurs. She credits her early exposure to team sports (Cardiello played soccer through college) for helping her “get used to doing the hard things,” and noted that 94% of women in C-Suite roles played sports.
Sarah Pickens spoke about the value of sports in teaching young people how to win and lose with grace, develop resilience, grow through trial and failure, and practice decision-making. Pickens underscored that these intangible assets make it all the more urgent to ensure opportunities like youth sports are accessible. She highlighted U.S. Soccer Foundation’s efforts to increase access to the game and other activities in underserved communities but noted that there’s limitless room for improvement in making empowering opportunities accessible for all young people.
Abbie Evans of MENTOR spoke from the mentorship lens, emphasizing the connections between after school programs that incorporate sports, national service programs, and state- and federally-sanctioned youth mentoring programs of every size—from large efforts like Boys and Girls Clubs of America and Big Brothers Big Sisters programs to community programs that can be much smaller. All can provide structure and role models to help young people in their futures.
Leona Ponce is a coach with DC SCORES, an organization whose work is closely aligned to the overarching theme of the briefing: Soccer is one of many team activities that empower young people with vital confidence and life skills. Ponce spoke of the important role coaches have in encouraging individuals in their strengths and creating a safe space for youth to learn and grow by being part of the team. As an organization that works with all kids, DC SCORES is particularly sensitive to the persistent perceptions that challenge many female sports. Ponce said coaches can play a big role in challenging those perceptions. A DC SCORES youth player named Jessica also joined the panel. Jessica shared her aspirations to play soccer professionally, but said she would also be happy becoming a teacher. Incidentally, before Jessica shared her experience, Ponce confessed that it’s “basically true” that she became a teacher because it allowed her to also coach soccer. Jessica’s commitment and maturity was striking to everyone who attended the briefing. Pairing her with Ponce as a coach brought out the fact that Jessica is learning valuable skills that will put her on a path to success no matter where that leads her.
Two members of the Congressional Soccer Caucus, Reps. Darin LaHood of Illinois and Kathy Castor of Florida, helped kick off the briefing with some opening remarks—and the pun was not lost on moderator Erika Gonzalez as she introduced the lawmakers. LaHood and Castor both shared about their personal connections to youth sports, in both their early lives and now with children of their own. They also invited briefing participants to participate in this year’s Congressional Soccer Match on Tuesday, May 21. The match is an annual charity event, the proceeds of which support the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s programs for youth in underserved communities.
As always, special thanks to Lindsay Marcal for making it out to this member event, and for sharing photos and highlights to help us bring you this installment of IS on the Road!