SWAG Soccer Program Supporting Vulnerable Youths in Philly

The SWAG, a fast-growing Philadelphia soccer program reaching over 2,000 inner-city young children of color per year, is
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Photo: The SWAG

The SWAG, a fast-growing Philadelphia soccer program reaching over 2,000 inner-city young children of color per year, is encouraging the City’s most vulnerable youth to develop a passion for soccer which could ultimately lead them on a successful path to a healthier lifestyle, private school, collegiate scholarships, and potentially a professional career.

The program is a no-cost, 47-week per year annual soccer training program for young athletes ages 4-8 in some of Philadelphia’s most neglected African-American and immigrant communities. The SWAG’s programming is specifically centered around areas of Philadelphia where basketball and American football dominate the sports culture; North Philadelphia and West/Southwest Philadelphia.

The SWAG is laser-focused on building and supporting a soccer culture in these communities in hands-on, year-round partnership. Through community days, after-school programs, soccer clinics, and soccer-focused summer camps for neighborhood children, The SWAG is bringing soccer to low-income communities where children have less access to the game.

“American youth soccer participation has historically been disproportionately white and upper-middle-class due to issues with field access, transportation, and the cost of the traditional ‘pay-to-play’ club soccer programs that dominate U.S. soccer, not to mention the lack of popularity in urban areas which are dominated by sports like basketball and football,” said Nick Bibbs, Director of Coaching, The SWAG, and a former soccer standout at Syracuse University and West Philadelphia native.

“This can be attributed to a professional representation issue in the sport, with the majority of U.S. players and coaches being white, presenting little opportunity for young athletes of color to see themselves in the sport or, even more simply, seeing the sport being played in their neighborhood,” added Bibbs. “Space to play soccer in Philly’s under-resourced neighborhoods is typically very limited, and, at The SWAG, we’re doing something about it.”

Launched as a pilot in late 2018 and is expanding throughout the City in 2021, The SWAG was established to help identify, support, and invest in homegrown talent from the City of Philadelphia, creating local superstars of color from Philadelphia’s most under-resourced areas by offering very early exposure to the sport with professional training.

The ultimate goal of The SWAG is to provide young athletes of color from Philadelphia with professional soccer coaching in a fun setting at no cost, accelerating technical skills and development, while creating a home-grown talent pool of professional soccer players capable of competing at the highest level.

The SWAG also sees tremendous potential for new interest in soccer across the country and around the world with the approach of this summer’s Olympic Games and next year’s soccer World Cup. The SWAG hopes participation in the sport will continue to flourish with the U.S. hosting the 2026 World Cup and 2028 Summer Olympic Games.

“Philadelphia is a great soccer city. The Philadelphia Union are one of the top professional teams in the MLS, and the Philadelphia Union Academy is one of the top youth programs in North America,” added Bibbs. “When it comes to following international soccer on TV, Philadelphia is the top market in the U.S. With the momentum of these upcoming world soccer events and the impact The SWAG can make, we hope to one day see a soccer player from one of our city’s neglected parts compete at the highest level in the world and inspire a future generation of Philadelphia-born professional soccer athletes.”

The SWAG conducts regularly scheduled community-focused clinics known as Starter Days to introduce and increase interest in soccer to boys and girls between the ages of 4-8. During the two-hour, free events, boys and girls learn new drills and experience a fun and engaging interactive session with experienced professional soccer coaches. At the Starter Days, boys ages 4-8 who display exceptional aptitude may receive an invite to The SWAG Select for more regular, skills-focused training. Girls of similar talent may be referred to top Girls clubs in the region.

The SWAG hopes to create partnerships to further grow interest in soccer across the region. The SWAG has already established a relationship with the Philadelphia Police Athletic League and is piloting programs with Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, and other local non-profit organizations to help bring soccer to communities that deserve access to the highest quality youth soccer programming. The SWAG is also actively seeking corporate and philanthropic partners to help grow its programming.

The SWAG is a philanthropically funded, no-cost soccer training program targeting young athletes ages 4 through 8 from Philadelphia’s African-American and immigrant communities. Launched in 2018, The SWAG player pool is comprised of over 2,000 young athletes, who are offered soccer coaching and training year-round. Over 95% of The SWAG players are of African descent or from immigrant families.

Learn more at https://www.the-swag.org

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