Tony Clarke knows what it means to be active as a part of having fun and staying healthy. Clarke has played soccer at an elite adult level for Bellingham United FC and Seattle Stars FC in the Evergreen Premier League. Now he’s helping kids get moving by playing the world’s game.
“I am currently with AmeriCorps working at Washington Youth Soccer specifically for the Soccer for Success program and have been placed here for the past year,” Tony says. “Taking up this position has allowed me to work with kids doing something that I love being around and I get to see the development both in soccer skills and behavioral improvements with all our kids.” Clarke went to Western Washington University. He played for Bellingham United while he was there. “After leaving Bellingham, I took on this position because it allows me to gain experience working in the soccer industry and gaining some valuable experiences for future endeavors. I have been fortunate enough to continue playing in the EPLWA with the Seattle Stars now and be able to work in a field that I plan to pursue in the future.”
Soccer for Success is the U.S. Soccer Foundation’s innovative way of fighting childhood obesity by using sport as a catalyst for change. “We offer the program in 10 elementary schools throughout the Auburn, Kent, and Highline school districts and free to all the players who participate,” says Tony. There are 4 components that the program encourages: Nutrition Education, Physical Activity, Mentorship, and Family Engagement.
“The reason Soccer for Success is unique is because along with soccer, we have our coaches teaching nutrition curriculum throughout the season. This allows the kids to learn about healthy eating and let them bring what they have learned at practice back home. Our coaches also act as mentors to all their players and give them the guidance to know that they can be successful if they put in the time and effort. The teams practice 3 times a week for 90 minutes and learn about nutrition through the drills the coaches set up for them and have each drill working on a specific soccer skill and nutrition topic.”
Last week was a big one for the program. “This past Saturday we had a final Soccer for Success tournament with all 5 of our Auburn schools and over 100 players participating. Steve Zakuani kicked off the event with an inspiring message to the kids about how success comes from hard work and to never give up on your dreams and all the kids took in what he was saying. The tournament itself was a massive success as parents, players, and coaches were smiling the whole time cheering each other on and it was amazing to see how much each player has developed their individual and team skills. Throughout the season, parents don’t get the opportunity to see their kids play because it’s mostly practices, but on days like this they were really appreciative of being able to watch their kids participate and saying how much of an impact the program has made on them.”
Clark knows soccer can reach kids at all age and skill levels. He’s seen the competitive side of the sport. There’s much more to it than that.
“At the end of the day, Soccer for Success is an opportunity for kids to play soccer who might not have the opportunity otherwise. Behavior issues are eradicated throughout the season because these kids have an activity to keep them out of trouble, focused, and having fun. Soccer has had a big impact on my life and keeping me down a successful path for the future. Being able to help lead a program that uses soccer as the tool for them has been amazing. Making kids aware at a young age the benefits of healthy nutrition and hard work can reap massive benefits for them down the line and being able to be a part of that process has been very rewarding. Hopefully the program continues to grow and more people become aware of why Soccer for Success is such a beneficial program!”