I am Yuichiro Ohno, a student from Economic Faculty of Keio University, Japan. I am currently completing a six week internship at Soccer in the Streets. Soccer in the Streets is a local non-profit organization that empowers youth in Atlanta through soccer, character development, and employability programs based on the premise that all children should have an equal opportunity to succeed.
Motivation of the Internship
The internship was through the Japan Internship for the Development of Young Leaders (Japan IDYL) program offered by the Japanese Government and Cultural Vistas. I was matched with Soccer in the Streets as a host organization among the numerous organizations spread out all over the States, based on my previous activities such as an internship in Mumbai, a university exchange-program in Amsterdam, and the experience of playing soccer.
My primary goal of the internship was to deepen my understanding of diversity and integration. The life in Mumbai and Amsterdam, known for their ethnic diversity in cosmopolitan cities, allowed me to observe the pros and cons of contemporary globalization. The effectiveness of using soccer as an educational tool was also intriguing for me to look into while being in the U.S.
The Projects at Soccer in the Streets
With the inaugural season of Atlanta United, there is a big wave of soccer coming to the city of Atlanta. As an intern, I was very fortunate to see the expansion of the organization and engage in a variety of projects, which enabled me to gain a perspective of the bigger picture. I would like to introduce three projects that I engaged in during my stay, while also introducing the programs of Soccer in the Streets.
At the Life-Work Programs, we conducted soccer and employability training for the teenagers. For refugee kids especially, joining the weekly program was very rewarding. They needed the appropriate guideline of the life in the States and continuous support for their career. Moreover, the weekly homeless soccer league which just started last month was also impressive to help with. The league has played at the Five Points Station Soccer, the world’s first soccer field built inside a train station. Station Soccer was intended to play a part of the community hubs, where people from different background spend time together. We aimed to provide homeless youth with the opportunity of exercise for a healthier life. By visiting their communities and interacting with those underserved children, I gained a fuller picture of them as a person or friend, rather than a refugee or homeless person.
Hosting an international conference called streetfootballworld Summit in Atlanta was a very exciting project to work on. Leaders using soccer as a tool and working in underserved communities gathered in Atlanta from the United States, Australia, Colombia, Brazil, India, Germany, Kenya, UK, Serbia, Israel, and St. Lucia. In addition to writing a guidebook of Atlanta for the visitors, I played a role in serving as a mentor by installing streetfootballworld method. In the method, participants make the rules on their own with a pre-match discussion, followed by a post-match discussion, where they give an opponent the points based on the rules they agreed upon. As a mentor, it was surprising to see the kids exchange the points willingly. The experience gave me a different perspective of soccer, realizing the inclusiveness of the sport. Of course, competition is a very exciting aspect of the soccer, but what I realized through the event was the power of the sport to overcome the differences of age, race, gender, and culture.
Marketing and Communication
Lastly, I had the chance to get involved in marketing and communications. In order to sustainably continue the free youth programs, Soccer in the Streets made their revenue model along with the grants. For example, we host fundraising events publicly which are open to all of the people of Atlanta. Thanks to understanding and cooperation, the article that I translated into Japanese about our fundraising event was published in the newspaper for Japanese people living in the United States. We also manage the adult soccer league at Five Points Station Soccer to support revenue, while giving them the opportunity to play soccer with easy access and opportunity to meet new people. At Station Soccer, I myself was fortunate to make new friends. Three Mexican guys, whom I met on the pitch, now have become my very good friends. Through the project, I learned the importance of networking with different people and how innovative ideas attract people to gain the necessary support to keep the activity sustainable.
Life in Atlanta
Outside of work, my highlight of Atlanta was walking through Martin Luther King Jr National Historic Site every morning, as the office of Soccer in the Streets is located right next to the site. At the Visitor Center, I watched the video and listened to his words played at his funeral, “Every now and then I guess we all think realistically about that day...we call death...I won't have any money to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that is all I want to say.” Impressed by his words every time, I have tried to commit myself to my projects. The staff of Soccer in the Streets were role models for me. They sincerely have dedicated their life to the future of the kids, believing in the power of soccer. It was such a fortunate experience for me to closely work with and learn the life lessons from them.
Overall, I would like to thank all the people sharing their time with me in Atlanta. It was such a privilege to work with the staff and their hearts of gold. For those who plan to start an internship at Soccer in the Streets, I would confidently say, “Kick Off!!!”