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Dismantling Racism in Youth Sports

Community mural

“Sport has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope where once there was only despair. It is more powerful than government in breaking down racial barriers.”

—Nelson Mandela”

DSAL’s fitness and recreation services provide young people with free sports and fitness activities that improve participants’ lives by developing character and providing healthy alternatives to being on the streets after school. Our fitness programs, which include soccer, boxing, Taekwondo, dance, exercise, and the Rhythm Cadets drumline, serve thousands of participants each year.

While our efforts are geared to providing space, equipment, coaching, and training services, we are also involved in a deeper effort to dismantle racism and class and gender bias in youth sports by demonstrating the benefits of a fully inclusive, non-pay-to-play youth sports program, where the monetary aspect is removed from decision making and children from all backgrounds are welcome to participate.

Youth sports, like so many of our institutions, are led nationally, regionally, and locally by people who don’t always reflect the full diversity of the communities they serve and who can lack a deeper understanding of the socioeconomics and systems dynamics at play. A lack of diverse leadership combined with decades of disinvestment in urban communities has resulted in an unfair system that often prevents equitable opportunities for everyone to live healthy, active lives.

As a result, low income communities and communities of color often lack access to the most basic resources, such as quality, accessible playing fields; affordable equipment; quality coaching and training; and subsequently, the ability to compete.

DSAL’s multifaceted Community Capitals Public Safety model addresses systemic racism in youth sports head on by:

  • Providing free, quality coaching and training services to youth in Ashland, Cherryland, and other unincorporated parts of Alameda County.

  • Because our services are not fee-based, we have been able to provide continued, uninterrupted services during the COVID-19 pandemic through virtual engagement sessions.

  • Building practice fields and facilities, including the DSAL Street Soccer Park at 16640 East 14th Street and our world-class boxing gym and fitness arena at the Hayward Adult School.

  • Leading the effort to build the Sunset Futsal Park, a new, high quality set of futsal courts for youth and adult play next to the Sunset Swim Center in Hayward. Construction of the Sunset Futsal Park is expected to be completed in 2021 in partnership with the Hayward Area Recreation & Park District.

  • Hiring staff that reflect the community with common backgrounds and shared experiences, and developing our staff so they have access to the latest coaching and training techniques.

  • Working closely with parents, community leaders, and our many partners, including Hayward Area Recreation & Park District, the San Lorenzo and Hayward Unified School Districts, the Eden Area Chamber of Commerce, My Eden Voice, the Ashland Community Association, and many others, to raise funds; plan new, state-of-the-art facilities; and instill a sense of pride and empowerment that comes along with having quality facilities and winning teams.

DSAL has been working for more than 16 years to push back against the status quo and create an alternative to the dysfunctional, racist system. DSAL will continue to pursue an improved system that provides equitable access to the physical and human infrastructure that is needed in order to facilitate participation in sports and recreation—and ultimately improved outcomes in public health and safety.

We recognize that systems change also requires holding a mirror up to ourselves, constantly reexamining our approach, and working harder to improve diversity and inclusion in our youth sports and fitness activities.

If you have ideas that you would like to share with us, please email Nick Lusson, Athletic Director, Alameda County Deputy Sheriffs' Activities League / Sheriffs Fútbol Club, at


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