Helping The U.S. Soccer Foundation in Its Quest for Healthier Outcomes for Children

Soccer for Success provides activity and health education for more than 40,000 children in 130 different communities in 26 states. The U.S. Soccer Foundation started the program in 2009 to use soccer as a vehicle for social change and provide communities with the same opportunities for soccer that other organizations provide for various youth sports.

Soccer for Success partner organizations — a diverse collection of non-profits, professional soccer teams, and youth organizations — facilitate the educational and activity components with the support of the U.S. Soccer Foundation.

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Program partners include Boys and Girls Clubs, YMCAs, community groups and youth soccer clubs. The U.S. Soccer Foundation provides curriculum and equipment to the program partners, financial support for coaching, and help in collecting and reporting youth participation information.

Soccer for Success strives for lifelong change in lifestyle choices for children. The program often serves as an after-school activity and a way for coach-mentors to reach not only youth players, but also their families with health and wellness information. The U.S. Soccer Foundation would certainly want lifelong soccer fans out of the program, but their main goal is to elevate healthy habits associated with an active lifestyle and teach critical life skills that help youth succeed on and off the field.

The U.S. Soccer Foundation approached Measuring Success to assist in gathering and understanding various data points to ensure the programs continue to be as effective as possible for the young participants, their families, and their communities.

“In today’s nonprofit world, data is essential not only for us to monitor the impact of the programs that we’re making, but to show the work to key stakeholders,” said Zach Riggle, senior program officer with the U.S. Soccer Foundation. “There’s a real appetite for the hard data.”

Collecting information not only allows them to see if what they are doing is working in different parts of the country and among a mix of organizations, but it also allows them to uncover success stories they might later incorporate into future Soccer for Success training.

The data collection and management can also help grow the program. The ability to monitor outcomes is important to any franchising effort — whether a business, non-profit or volunteer organization — because quality can slip if there isn’t adequate support and oversight.

Measuring Soccer for Success

Through Soccer for Success, the U.S. Soccer Foundation aims to introduce children to healthy living, provide mentor relationships between coaches and players, and use soccer as a tool for building strong communities. Participants in the program get a uniform and a ball; they agree to play 75 to 90 minutes of soccer, three-days-per-week for 24 weeks of the year. Some of the partners offer the program twice a year. After the program ends, they anticipate that the children will have adopted healthier lifestyle habits.

During the program, children get accustomed to intense physical activity (running around a soccer field is a powerful cardiovascular workout). The curriculum also includes lessons on eating right and teamwork.

“There’s obviously a big health component, there are social outcomes that we’re interested in getting, so we needed mechanisms to track that in all the places where our program is happening,” Riggle said.

The overarching questions the U.S. Soccer Foundation wanted to have answered are how well the program achieves its goals and whether the lessons the player learn on the field return home to affect the family’s day-to-day lives. What happens during the weeks when the Soccer for Success program is not taking place in their community? Are the children exercising, eating healthy, and having positive interactions with others? Are parents encouraging these positive behaviors?

“The Foundation wants to improve the lives of children and their families,” said Daniel Kapavik, project manager. “Our role was to support them — to help them continue on the right track.”

Measuring Success’ team got to work by helping to guide Soccer for Success in posing the right questions to the right people at the right time.

“We needed help developing questions and getting an expert to build those out,” Riggle said. “We also needed the consultative piece to figure out how we are going to collect data and continue to do high-quality measurement and evaluation when Soccer for Success went to scale.”

In much of our work, we guide survey development, implementation methods and analysis of the data. In this instance, U.S. Soccer Foundation served as the survey facilitator.

Javier Ruales is program associate at the U.S. Soccer Foundation. He is responsible for implementing the survey, collecting the data, and getting back to the partners with the results.

“The partners like everything. They like the successes — they definitely like to hear when something is working, they love that,” Ruales said. “But when something is not working or some answers are not as positive, they also like it as an area for improvement.”

The U.S. Soccer Foundation sought outside help because they wanted to make sure their youth program continued to develop and progress into a sustainable and innovative driver of health and wellness for children and their families.

“We have a pretty good framework and mindset on how we need to scale this program from a measurement and evaluation mindset moving forward,” Riggle said.

Using data to refine the mission of Soccer for Success is another way Measuring Success is helping those who do good do better with data.