Op-Ed Spotlight: U.S. Captain Explains Why America Needs Soccer

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The U.S. team's loss to Ghana probably put an end to American World Cup fervor, admits former U.S. player and team captain John Harkes in The Wall Street Journal. American soccer fans will continue to ask: "what do our friends abroad know that we do not?" They will continue to hope for "a wider pipeline of players," a greater American soccer system that will produce a winning team. But Harkes says all this talk perhaps misses the point. Soccer isn't just about winning the World Cup, and its transformative power can and should be brought to the U.S.—for a variety of reasons.


Abroad, they know the game is about more than victors and losers. They know the sport has changed lives in the unlikeliest of places. The deep fandom that soccer inspires has superceded racial and ethnic conflict, economic hardship and political strife. We have seen its transformative potential play out in poor communities, bringing messages such as HIV awareness to Africa.


Though the fight against obesity has been waged nationally by powerful people such as the first lady, school districts everywhere are being forced to cut physical education. For children to have a chance at a healthy lifestyle, it's imperative that organized sports like soccer are recognized not just as recreational activities but as educational tools to promote physical health, academics and social skills.


I've seen this strategy in action as a board member of the national after-school program America SCORES, which has been using soccer successfully for more than a decade to empower students in the nation's most under-resourced school districts. The program uses soccer as a method to provide students, ages 8 to 13, 10 times more physical exercise than the national average for their age, improve literacy skills, increase school participation, and spark community engagement by encouraging kids to use teamwork learned on the field to support each other off of it.


Soccer has power, and not just every four years. Programs like America SCORES should be rolled out in every tough town in the country. The social benefits I've witnessed could impact the entire nation.

So let's explore the real potential of soccer today. Introduce soccer to your children. Get out to your next local MLS game. Get an America SCORES program into your kid's school, or better yet, the one down the road that needs it even more.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.