Field of Dreams: The Rising Point Brings Soccer to Disadvantaged Youth

By Katharine Strange

  The field at Van Asselt Elementary

The field at Van Asselt Elementary

For many middle-class parents, it seems like the weekend is dominated by kids’ sports, soccer being the most the most popular. While middle-class parents bemoan their kids’ crowded extracurricular schedules, many kids living in high-poverty areas don’t have access to sports leagues. The cliche of the soccer mom or the minivan big enough for the whole team is usually the realm of the White middle class; the reality for marginalized people looks very different.

The average upper middle-class family now spends seven times as much money on extracurricular activities as low-income families do, meaning that the education gap doesn’t end when the school bell rings.

In high-poverty areas, a lack of resources can make accessing sports very difficult. While coaching children’s sports can be very rewarding, it’s also a large time commitment. In communities where parents are struggling to make rent every month, volunteering to coach soccer or little league might not be feasible. Add to that a lack of available playing fields, and the situation feels impossible. In space-challenged cities like Seattle, bigger clubs with more money can book fields reliably. Smaller leagues have to take whatever time slots they can manage.

Mutanda Kwesele hopes to change all that. As the founder and director of non-profit The Rising Point, Kwesele aims to bring high-quality soccer coaching to marginalized communities. The Rising Point was born in 2016, when Kwesele, his brother, and a friend of theirs brought an outdoor soccer camp to Rainier Beach Community Center during Winter Break.. When asked what he learned that week, he replied. “It sounds cliche, but ‘if we build it, they will come.’”

While Kwesele provides extensive soccer know-how and proven coaching strategies, it’s not about necessarily turning these kids into future MLS players. “We always start with joy,” he explained. Besides having fun, Kwesele uses the beautiful game as a way of teaching resilience, self-regulation, and autonomous decision making, the effects of which carry over into the classroom.

While speaking of that initial camp, he said, “The fact that we showed up and provided them with a place to be, with gear to use, and took the time to form relationships with these kids, they really appreciated that.” The students had fun, they improved in their sports skills, and they formed strong bonds with their coaches and each other. But what struck Kwesele most about this experience was how hungry these kids were for mentorship. At The Rising Point, soccer isn’t just a sport, it’s a way of building community. “That was the best feeling: all of us being there, playing and learning the game together.”

The Rising Point now operates in three schools and has a goal of forming an equitable soccer academy in Seattle’s south end at Van Asselt Elementary, affordable enough for low-income students to participate in. (The current fee is $25 per term, with scholarships available.) Playing in the Van Asselt gym, Kwesele has room for only 16 students, so the long-term goal is to renovate the playfield. Once they have a reliable outdoor space to play in, the program could serve many more children.

To reach these goals, The Rising Point is soliciting volunteers, donors, and those willing to spread the word about the program and the gap in extracurricular activities between rich and poor.

Want to get involved? Contact The Rising Point to volunteer or donate.

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that at the original Rainier Beach Rising Point camp, the kids played Futsal, when they actually played outdoor soccer.