It is often assumed that youth in all communities have access to organized sports, a critical component for developing healthy habits. However, youth in low-income, underserved communities often do not participate in organized sport leagues for three main reasons: cost, parental work schedules, and lack of transportation. To overcome these barriers, Balón USA partners with schools and communities to offer free soccer programming at local elementary schools.
Balón USA provides soccer programs to elementary school children who would otherwise not have access to these opportunities. Every season, we partner with the Positive Coaching Alliance to offer social emotional workshops where families learn about their role in youth sports as a positive supporter. We focus on youth development, health, sportsmanship, and empowering communities by partnering with schools, parents, and community-based organizations in the areas we serve.
Our survey data shows that for around 70% of participants, this was the first time they engaged in an organized sport. Our surveys show that families are grateful to have this opportunity for their children to interact with their peers outside and get exercise in a safe and supportive environment. Because we do not focus on winning, all children, regardless of experience or ability, are welcomed and supported in our program. We typically see a huge increase in players self-confidence, teamwork, and friendships as the season progresses.
Balón USA keeps equity at the heart of all we do. We are proud to bring health equity to communities where there are few resources, but we know we do even more than enhance health. We develop community leadership by engaging parents, teachers, and community members as coaches. Having bilingual/bicultural coaches instills pride in our participants as they see their own parents serving as leaders. Former players in our program are now referees or coaches, which gives them an avenue to develop leadership and job opportunities. Partnering with other organizations allows us to bring many other resources to the community while the children play soccer. All of our communication is provided in Spanish and English. Equity, health, cultural responsiveness, and community development are core values of our organization.
"It was close and convenient. The level of challenge was a great intro to sports. It gave my daughter something to earn that she could be proud of."
"My son learned new skills and made new friends. He had fun and never felt pressure to perform a certain way. This is exactly the type of program we wanted and I am very grateful that we had the opportunity to be a part of it."
"Just an overall fantastic program. The help that was given to parents about how to support children on and off the field and encourage them at all times was very helpful."
The mission of Balón USA is to provide high-quality, low-cost, after-school soccer opportunities for students. Our vision is to eliminate the opportunity gap that prohibits under-served communities from participating in organized sports.
Balón USA developed out of a grassroots soccer program started by our Executive Director, Germán Zárate-Bohórquez, in 2009 at Foster Elementary in Arvada. He noticed many students playing soccer on the playground, but few were on real teams. Zárate-Bohórquez began with one team at the school and engaged other teams in non-competitive games around the metro Denver area. Over the years this community-based movement grew by engaging volunteers and other entities, until Balón USA was formed as a non-profit in 2019.
Balon USA served between 90-150 students in Jefferson County each year from 2018-2020. During our 2020-2021 season in Jefferson County, we partnered with Edgewater Collective to bring gift cards, library books, internet hotspots, tutoring, STEM and art activities during practices.
Balon USA expanded its programming to the south Thornton area during the summer of 2021. Adams 12 Five Star Schools brought information to families at the games about COVID vaccine sites, registering students for the upcoming school year and assisted families to fill out forms for free and reduced lunch. The City of Thornton was another important collaborator and used the soccer programming as a way to engage the community in other City events and resources. Together with the Jefferson Center for Mental Health and other psychologists, we offered social emotional workshops for parents every season. Parents learned about child development and how to support their child in positive ways.
In 2021, we served over 400 students from Title One Schools in Adams 12 Five Star Schools and Jefferson County Public Schools. In 2022 we expanded to serve over 800 students. We now partner with the Positive Coaching Alliance to offer coach and parent workshops to maintain a positive and encouraging environment for our players at all times.
Our goal is to serve 800-900 students in under-resourced communities in 2023. We will continue to focus on the whole child, and to use soccer as a platform to better connect communities to their schools, cities, and to each other.