by Mark Asher Goodman
“We’re not a club like the others”, Mark Taylor tells me. In my attempt to begin to understand the nature of the youth soccer scene in the Pittsburgh metropolitan area, I had assumed all the clubs in town fit into the standard cookie-cutter description of the way traditional football clubs arranged themselves. Pay a little, put your kid in recreational soccer once a week. Pay a little more, get soccer two days a week with a coach. Pay a lot, put your kid in soccer every day of the week, with travel to tournaments across the region and fancy uniforms and scouts and websites and the whole deal. For most clubs, that’s how it works.
That’s not how Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community works, though.
Club co-founder and Director of Operations Mark Taylor explains: “We’re more of a non-profit that uses soccer as an experience to help kids.”
Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community was created in 2004 by Taylor and his friend James Meara. Taylor and Meara created PSC because while soccer existed in Pittsburgh, there was a gap in who the sport reached – it reached certain populations, but missed others, particularly those in the heart of Pittsburgh. “We both came over from England. We noticed there really was a lack of soccer in the city. It seemed like soccer over here was an upper-middle-class pursuit mostly in the suburbs.”
So they brought soccer where it wasn’t.
Taylor explains, “We put together a pilot program with the Kingsley Association (in the Larimer neighborhood), the Hazelwood YMCA, and the Salvation Army in Homewood. We combined soccer with lifestyle seminars. An hour of basic soccer, and then an educational seminar about making positive life choices. And then the guest speakers come and play with the kids.”
The program started as a soccer program at local neighborhood community centers with an enrichment component. But over time, PSC has evolved to be a component of a series of already-existing youth programs – to give kids in urban neighborhoods without much exposure to soccer a chance to experience the sport.
“We work with a lot of like-minded organizations that basically run camps.”
The program has not only evolved, but expanded. You can find PSC and their stable of passionate, experienced soccer coaches in Hazelwood at the Center of Life; in Lawrenceville at Arsenal Elementary and the Boys and Girls Club; at the Community Empowerment Association in Homewood; and in other youth community centers in Northview, Wilkinsburg, and the West End. They work with youth of all ages, from four-year-olds up to high school kids.
Taylor is particularly proud of a program that began to serve refugee kids, but over time eventually morphed into an entire adult league all it’s own.
“The first program we did with the refugee group was back in around 2008 when we did a summer camp at the Arsenal middle school in Lawrenceville in conjunction with Lawrenceville United. This is where we first met the Somali Bantu group and from there they eventually formed a team which evolved into a multicultural pickup night at our facility in 2011.
The club has also run a soccer component for PRYSE Academy, a summer camp in the West End that provides supplementary English training, life skills, and academic readiness “aimed at shaping refugee youth into engaged and successful members of the Pittsburgh community.” PRYCE is an acronym for ‘Pittsburgh Refugee Youth Summer Enrichment’.
One participant of the first refugee program that PSC ran is Haji Muya. Haji was so taken with his soccer experience with PSC that even when he ‘aged out’, he didn’t want to leave. Muya, a Somali immigrant, was involved with Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community at a camp, and then joined their newly-formed pickup soccer night back in 2011, when he was 16 years old. He went on to help organize the pickup footie into a proper adult league. Today, Muya runs the league for PSC. It has eight teams in the league, each representing a different immigrant or refugee community that has settled in Pittsburgh. There is a Somali team, a team of Bhutanese emigres, a Colombian team, and a team of ‘refugee all-stars’ from around the globe. There are still enrichment programs for the adults that are meant to use the sport as a way to help assimilate refugees and immigrants into Pittsburgh society.
Taylor explains “We bring in experts to come in after the matches to talk about fitting into Pittsburgh culture and American culture.” The price to play is incredibly low- just $100 a team- and is meant just to make the players feel a need to commit to showing up regularly.
“We’re really trying to use this as a positive tool for social inclusion and social interaction. Things like this are important, where we break down barriers and we try and unite people through their similarities. A lot of the kids that went through our youth program are now playing in the league.” PSC is clearly experiencing success in two directions at once- both helping ease the transition for the newest Americans into their adopted homeland while simultaneously instilling in them a life-long love of football.
PSC is able to offer quality soccer instruction due to developing their own stable of excellent coaches, both paid and volunteer. They also have their own indoor turf field, which they share with The Neighborhood Academy, a private school, in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh.
Although PSC might want to put a high-level team into one of Pittsburgh’s competitive youth leagues at some juncture, right now the focus is still on soccer as a mechanism for personal growth and improvement. Taylor told me “We’d like to get to a stage where we’re forming teams in leagues.” In lieu of that, Taylor is involved with Pittsburgh’s Arsenal FC, and a motivated player who wants to develop might be passed along to them. “If we come across a kid that has a level of talent, we think they have potential, I’ll recommend them to Arsenal.”
Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community is a non-profit 501c3 organization. They are funded primarily through grants and donors. For the youth players and their families that play soccer through PSC, there is no charge.
PSC isn’t a club like the others, as Mark Taylor said. The soccer is free. The players don’t have an end goal of a spot on the academy team or an NCAA scholarship. The club is focused on changing people’s lives rather than collecting trophies. Instead of being such an outlier to your average youth soccer club, perhaps all the other clubs in town should strive to be a little more like Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community – building better and more confident individuals and making the world a better place, one footballer at a time.
Club Name: Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community
Contact: Mark Taylor, firstname.lastname@example.org
Ages/Genders: 4-18, boys and girls, plus an adult league
Location: City of Pittsburgh; Lawrenceville, Homewood, Hazelwood, West End, Stanton Heights, and Wilkinsburg
Cost: For youth: Free, through local neighborhood youth afterschool programs or summer camps. Adult immigrant/refugee league: $100 per team.
This article is part of PittsburghSoccerNow.com ‘s ongoing series, Youth Soccer Spotlight. For more articles on youth soccer clubs in the Greater Pittsburgh Area, click here.