Ethics to Athletics: How Soccer Transforms Children’s Lives

By: Isabelle Mokotoff

Editor’s Note: Prior to the school closures and social distancing, the Oracle staff was working diligently on a set of articles. One of the articles that went unpublished at the time is this piece by Isabelle Mokotoff.

While the U.S. Women’s National Soccer team, reigning champions of the World Cup, used their platform to combat gender inequities, the next generation of athletes was conquering a different challenge — developing themselves as human beings. 

Prio to the outbreak of COVID-19, at Downtown United Soccer Club (DUSC) in Manhattan, children were not only cultivating their soccer skills, but were also honing character traits like commitment, respect, and resilience. 

When a player becomes a member of DUSC, they receive a handbook. From cover to cover, this guide clearly details DUSC’s mission — fostering holistic growth within its players. A mantra written on the inside cover of the handbook perfectly encapsulates DUSC’s attitude toward the game of soccer, as it encourages players to “grow and hopefully become the best you can be, both on an off the field.” 

The rest of the handbook is laden with quotes paying homage to successful soccer stars, word puzzles, and hard-hitting questions like: “Who empties your backpack after games and practices? Who cleans your shoes?” No doubt about it, DUSC kids are encouraged to constantly examine and better themselves.

Bianca, 15, is a beloved counselor who has served at DUSC’s summer soccer camp. Wherever she goes, her children would trail after her, sheepishly asking to sit on her lap or challenging her to a one-on-one match. Bianca is a second-generation DUSC member; her father is also part of the community. She smiles widely as she talks about the bonding moments they’ve shared through soccer, recounting fond memories of DUSC’s annual Fathers v. Kids Game.

“It’s so fun to see from year to year how our skill sets have evolved,” says Bianca. Her love for soccer is more than just surface-level; she truly appreciates the familial bonding which soccer brings into her life. 

“We really just learn from each other,” Bianca gushes, “and of course it is great to feel closer to your family because of soccer.”

Alice Harris, 7, was eager to preach the merits of soccer to anyone who would listen. The consistency of the manners appeals to her: “You always play fair, shake hands, and say good game,” says Harris, in reference to the etiquette she was taught at DUSC. “…Even if you lost, even if you won, even if it was a tie.” 

Friends Julian, 10, and Javier, 9, play soccer on a rooftop field with a picturesque view of the city. “The fields are beautiful,” notes Julian. “I come here to play with my dad even on the days I don’t have practice.” DUSC’s fields are accessible to all — yet another testament to their virtues of inclusion and openness. The NYC community is provided with a pathway to get involved with soccer and develop their skills along with their character.  

Javier attests to the empathetic nature of DUSC community members, vouching that, “when somebody is hurt, [people] go over to them and ask them if they’re okay.” 

Head Coach Adam Norse is unvacillating on his approach to the sport: “It’s not about winning the game, it’s about instilling a winning mindset in the kids.” 

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