Simplified: Sioux Falls is seeing hundreds more kids playing soccer, and it's largely thanks to community-focused nonprofits making the sport accessible across town.
Why it matters
- Groups like Sioux Falls Neighborhood Soccer and Atlas Academy have sprung up in the last several years in an effort to both create community and give kids an opportunity to play the sport regardless of their socioeconomic status.
- Soccer is also seeing more support from local governments. The Sioux Falls School District added soccer for eighth graders this year, and Mayor Paul TenHaken recently announced plans for at least one new soccer "mini-pitch" – a small, enclosed soccer pitch that'll take the place of an existing underused tennis court at Terrace Park.
- Soccer is a relatively easy sport to make accessible and affordable – especially because all a person really needs to get started are shin guards, a ball and green space, said Leo Diaz, founder of Atlas Academy. And it doesn't hurt that it's the most popular sport worldwide.
"Soccer is a language to a lot of these kids," Diaz said. "So when you give them a ball and an opportunity to play in green space, they go after it."
Tell me more about how soccer has grown
Take Sioux Falls Neighborhood Soccer.
- The group was started by Randell Beck, who, after mentoring a student who played soccer well but didn't have access to a team, applied for a grant to start his own.
- It started as one soccer team with 60 kids at Laura B. Anderson ran in partnership with a nearby church, Program Director Callie Schock said.
Today, there are soccer teams at six Title 1 schools in Sioux Falls, and those teams serve a total of more than 500 kids. At all locations, the schools partner with churches and corporate sponsors to make the program possible.
- Next fall, the group plans to expand to two more elementary schools, and the goal is to be up to 10 schools by Fall 2024.
"Of course, we exist to close the opportunity gap for kids, but we also exist to build relationships between kids, between their families and within the community," Schock said. "We want families to connect so they can strengthen their schools and strengthen their neighborhoods."
And that's just one example.
Atlas Academy started in 2019 with about 20 kids, and today there are about 100, Diaz said.
- The only reason that number isn't higher is because they don't have any more space to practice, he added. It's harder to find indoor space, and Atlas Academy runs year-round.
In its first year, Sioux Falls schools' middle school soccer program – which is only available to eighth graders – has nearly 240 participants.
Schock said she's also seen an increase in kids joining club soccer teams like Dakota Alliance Soccer, a group for which she's been a board member for the last several years.
"There are opportunities across the board that fit your lifestyle, family's schedule and finances," Schock said.
How can I support local soccer groups?
Volunteer or donate.
- Sioux Falls Neighborhood Soccer is always looking for volunteers, Schock said. And if you're interested, you can reach out via their Facebook page.
- Atlas Academy is also looking for financial support, Diaz said. For more information, reach out on at firstname.lastname@example.org.