The “Beautiful Game” just got a lot more beautiful, with the participation of Covenant House youth.

A recent UBC Medicine study demonstrated that players who participate in the Vancouver Street Soccer Program gain friends, get better housing, build confidence, reduce substance abuse, get healthier, increase contacts with medical supports and decrease contacts with police. Covenant House’s soccer initiative works with the Vancouver Street Soccer League to maximize the soccer opportunities for youth.

For kids who are marginalized, Covenant House soccer can be a chance to shine and get something positive out of the day. You may have been the kid who didn’t get picked to play in the past, but now you can. The staff and coaches insist on a supportive experience and most of our young people help us to create and enhance this environment.   We take soccer seriously.  A famous Scottish coach once said, “… soccer isn’t a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that!”

Soccer can be a microcosm of life: on Thursday afternoons at Andy Livingstone Park, many things can happen. When you get into an argument at soccer, it is less dangerous than on the street, but it is real and can be highly charged. With the assistance of staff and coaches, solutions can be worked out and the game continues with no hard feelings.  Slowly, problem-solving skills are developed, teamwork is tested, and friendships blossom.

Leadership skills are encouraged by letting the youth run parts of the training session, captain a team, referee, or assist on tournament days. We ask for respect for all and encourage the youth to be helpful – pleasingly, without any prompting, they volunteer to carry the gear, clean up after the session, thank the staff and the coach, and generally are a delight to be around. 

A recent UBC Medicine study demonstrated that players who participate in the Vancouver Street Soccer Program gain friends, get better housing, build confidence, reduce substance abuse, get healthier, increase contacts with medical supports and decrease contacts with police. Covenant House’s soccer initiative works with the Vancouver Street Soccer League to maximize the soccer opportunities for youth.

For kids who are marginalized, Covenant House soccer can be a chance to shine and get something positive out of the day. You may have been the kid who didn’t get picked to play in the past, but now you can. The staff and coaches insist on a supportive experience and most of our young people help us to create and enhance this environment.   We take soccer seriously.  A famous Scottish coach once said, “… soccer isn’t a matter of life and death, it’s more important than that!”

Soccer can be a microcosm of life: on Thursday afternoons at Andy Livingstone Park, many things can happen. When you get into an argument at soccer, it is less dangerous than on the street, but it is real and can be highly charged. With the assistance of staff and coaches, solutions can be worked out and the game continues with no hard feelings.  Slowly, problem-solving skills are developed, teamwork is tested, and friendships blossom.

Leadership skills are encouraged by letting the youth run parts of the training session, captain a team, referee, or assist on tournament days. We ask for respect for all and encourage the youth to be helpful – pleasingly, without any prompting, they volunteer to carry the gear, clean up after the session, thank the staff and the coach, and generally are a delight to be around. 

Our approach is professional and the youth recognize this and feel part of something that aims to be first class. We don’t simply throw a ball down and let them chase it.  There are warm ups, drills and we pick balanced teams, identifying the teams with shirts to ensure everyone plays and gets involved in the game.  Whenever possible, we enter tournaments.

Of course, not everyone wants to participate fully. We recognize that some are just not used to joining in, but we are patient. We hear many versions of “Tell me to run around the field again, and I will tell you where to go and help you on your way”.  This attitude doesn’t throw us. Let him (invariably it is a male!) cool off and get back to us when ready. We are looking for small improvements and a chance to reinforce them. A quiet word afterwards and agreement (even if reluctant) to do better next time is a victory. Our hope is that as the weeks pass, a better attitude will emerge. You know what? It usually does.

As well as participating in many local events, we hope to send two Covenant House youth (one male and one female) to the Homeless World Cup in Mexico City in October 2012. This tournament started in Austria in 2003 and has been held in Paris, Milan, Edinburgh and Rio de Janeiro. From small beginnings, it now has almost 1,000 players participating.

The “Beautiful Game” was never more beautiful than last Thursday when 20 youth (men and women) turned out for a session at Livingstone. We practiced and played for two hours in the sunshine (usually it is raining, of course), and no-one wanted the session to end.