“There are a lot of kids that don’t have the same opportunities.”
Ana Lilia (Lili) Robledo and her family have lived in the Ashland/Cherryland community for 13 years, and for the majority of those years, her sons have participated in the free soccer leagues provided through DSAL and the Sheriff’s Fútbol Club. Lili first learned about these services when her oldest son, Alberto, was five years old and in need of a healthy, extracurricular activity. Initially, Alberto played in DSAL’s recreational soccer league, and now, at age 13, he plays for the Sheriff’s FC. Lili’s eight-year-old son, Hugo, was four years old when he began playing in the DSAL recreational league and is showing a lot of promise in his third season with Sheriffs FC.
Youth sports and structured recreational activities are incredibly important. Kids who play youth sports are healthier and have higher self-esteem, stronger relationships, and fewer behavioral challenges. Unfortunately, the vast majority of youth sports are “pay-to-play” programs that are prohibitively expensive for many households.
This was the case for Lili and her family.
“We live in an area where rent is expensive, bills are expensive, and food for a large family is expensive,” said Lili. “We appreciate the fact that these programs are free because we’ve played at local clubs—or we’ve tried to—but the clubs charge so much money. It prevents a lot of people from being able to participate in competitive programs. We appreciate the fact that there’s a cost-free soccer league with good coaches for our kids.”
Lili recognizes that the skills her boys are developing on the soccer field help them off the field, too.
“In my opinion, we have excellent coaches. These are the best coaches that my kids have had, and they are learning a lot, but not only because of what they teach on the field,” she said. “Because they build relationships with the coaches, they gain the confidence to try what they’re teaching on the field, which also helps them from a discipline standpoint off the field.”
“It’s not easy.”
The COVID-19 crisis is exposing flaws in a lot of our systems in the U.S., including in the play-to-play youth sports model. Because they are funded through club dues and other fees, many pay-to-play leagues have had to shut down operations during COVID, when families need them most. In contrast, DSAL and the Sheriff’s FC are able to continue working with their players throughout the pandemic, through Zoom, online training videos on YouTube and Instagram, and personal visits to check in with players and their families.
“It has been difficult for two super-active kids who do a bunch of different activities to suddenly be shut in,” said Lili. “The virtual training programs have helped a ton.”
“In the beginning (of the pandemic), it was difficult for them to process the virtual stuff, but they’ve adapted,” she said. “Initially, they just wanted to play video games. Now they’re taking the YouTube and Instagram challenges seriously, but there was a huge adjustment period. It has helped a lot, but it’s not easy.”
“Pride and joy.”
Overall, Lili is very thankful that her kids can be part of the DSAL soccer community, and she says they feel “a lot of pride and joy” being part of the Sheriff’s FC and DSAL’s recreational league. But she wishes more families could have the same experience.
“There are a lot of kids in the area that have the ability and interest in playing but they don’t have the support like our coaches provide, whether it’s a Zoom practice or just checking in with them to see that they’re doing well,” she said. “It’s been tough, but we feel supported. There are a lot of kids that don’t have the same opportunities, but I wish they could.”