The crowd’s chants and cheers inside a stadium in Lyon, France, were barely audible over the loud, excited talk inside the Big Play Center of Excellence in Howard Coffin Park.
A group of Coastal Outreach Soccer summer program participants, still wearing their soccer gear from the youth camp they took part in earlier that day, were sprawled out on chairs and bean bags around the television, on which the U.S. women’s national team was one point up in a match against France.
The young players have followed the national women’s team’s progress through the World Cup tournament, which began June 7. And to engage the players further in the tournament, Coastal Outreach Soccer’s executive director Shawn Williams has incorporated a research activity that helps the students learn about the countries represented on screen.
Each student was assigned a country to research. The girls have researched countries represented in the U.S. Women’s World Cup, while the boys researched countries playing in the men’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.
“We’re tricking them into learning, pretty much,” said Williams, laughing. “… They are very interested in what’s happening with the U.S. women’s national team because of their connection to Morgan Brian.”
The research helps the students learn more about their role models, Williams said, and broadens their horizons about the world of soccer.
“It’s for them to understand that soccer is bigger than Brunswick and bigger than just our club — that there are women around the world that are playing this sport,” he said.
A wall of the center has been devoted to a display of the countries and to the students’ research.
Coastal Outreach Soccer is in the middle of its summer program, which runs through July 25. The players, most of whom are in middle school, meet at Howard Coffin Park daily at 9 a.m. and begin the day with high intensity training. They spend the day at the center, alternating between hanging out inside and playing board games, researching their assigned countries and going outside for soccer practice.
Two days a week, an athletic trainer from Southeast Georgia Health System comes by to teach a knee injury prevention program.
“It focuses on them working on their balance, strengthening the muscles in their lower body, so that we’re helping to stabilize their knees with them learning how to accelerate, how to decelerate, some jumping,” Williams said.
Nearly every day, though, the players have been able to watch portions of the World Cup and Gold Cup matches. Watching the professional teams can show the young players what hard work can lead to, Williams said.
“It’s allowed us to talk to them about what’s going on in women’s sports in general,” he said.
They’ve discussed the Jamaican team’s struggle to find funding for their soccer program, as well as the U.S. women’s team’s fight for equality and fair pay.
“This has allowed us to talk about those subject areas and then how those things will impact them,” Williams said. “They’re also our trailblazers for our young ladies. As they go through and they started to accomplish things and do things, they’re going to have some little girls behind them.”
The Coastal Outreach Soccer program aims to offer the players ownership of their growth in the game, Williams said.
“I think we’ve gotten away from what I call ‘pick-up neighborhood play,’” he said. “And that’s what we try to create in the environment that we have here, to just allow them that freedom to continue to develop.”
The U.S. women’s team will play in the World Cup final against the Netherlands on Sunday at 11 a.m.