Soccer has deep roots at Ciudad Nueva
Youth-serving organizations have long known that soccer is an excellent tool for connecting with kids and teaching them important life lessons. Christian organizations are no exception, with many churches and faith-based nonprofits sponsoring youth sports leagues as a way to help introduce kids and their families to the life-changing person of Jesus.
It’s no surprise, then, that a youth soccer team comprised of middle school kids from Ciudad Nueva would form shortly after the organization’s founding in 2004. Tom Beeman, a Ciudad Nueva volunteer for fifteen years, was the team’s manager and coach at the time. But while “coach” and “manager” may have been his official roles, it was his unofficial role as mentor that had the greatest impact on the members of the team. “Some of the kids would tell me that if it weren’t for the team, they would have gotten into drugs, gangs, or the wrong group,” Tom says.
For a variety of reasons, the team eventually disbanded, and several years would pass before another team was formed. This time, however, instead of creating just one team, Ciudad Nueva would start an entire league.
Building community through soccer
Sami diPasquale, Ciudad Nueva’s executive director, not only wanted to bring soccer back to the kids at Ciudad Nueva, but also to the entire Rio Grande neighborhood. As a result, instead of having Ciudad Nueva form a team of kids to play in a city-wide league, Sami approached Bruce Meyer, a long-time member of Ciudad Nueva’s development committee, and asked him to start a soccer league through Upward Sports, an organization that “helps church leaders leverage the power of sports to connect with families in their community. [Their] mission is promoting the discovery of Jesus through sports.”
Sami’s vision is for the league to help further Ciudad Nueva’s mission of building community in the Rio Grande neighborhood. The league is a collaboration of Ciudad Nueva, St. Clement’s Parish School, and the Church of St. Clement, with First Baptist Church and El Paso Downtown Church Connection serving as special partners.
The new league had its inaugural season last year. Led by Bruce, the league consisted of ten co-ed teams across three divisions. Seventy-seven kids participated, ranging in age from kindergarten to fifth grade. True to Sami’s vision, the kids came from all over the Rio Grande neighborhood — and even from other parts of El Paso — to play with one another on the soccer fields at St. Clement’s. During the 2019 season, which runs August 27 to October 26, the league will expand to include sixth-, seventh-, and eighth-graders.
Soccer changes kids’ lives
As was true when Tom Beeman coached Ciudad Nueva’s first soccer team, the time the kids spend on the field teaches them much more than how to play soccer.
Gustavo De Los Rios, one of the league’s three commissioners and Ciudad Nueva’s Youth Programs Assistant, illustrates this fact by sharing a story about a group of three boys from the Launch Pad program, which serves kids in grades three to five. “They were always fighting with one another and with other kids, but they were amazing at soccer,” Gustavo says. “They were much more receptive to learning lessons about life through soccer than they would have been otherwise.”
Gustavo, who works full-time with Ciudad Nueva’s programs for middle school students, found his time on the field with these three boys to be so productive that he started volunteering regularly with the Launch Pad program just so he could keep working with them.
Teaching the gospel above all else
Bruce is quick to point out that the success of the league is not due to his efforts alone. “I depended on three commissioners last season: Fr. Travis King, Dave Garcia, and Gustavo De Los Rios. They are critical to the success of the program.”
Equally as critical are the league’s coaches, who consist largely of Ciudad Nueva parents and volunteers. “We even had some Border Fellows last year who helped,” Bruce says. “They had both played soccer, so they knew what they were doing. They were amazing!” Even though the league didn’t have a team for middle schoolers last season, some of them participated as assistant coaches.
Coaches are trained and are given a coach training guide and playbook. Midway through each practice and game, coaches hold a team huddle that includes a five-minute devotion. The coach playbook includes a script for the huddles, which are designed to teach the character of Christ through the virtues he modeled. Last season’s huddles were focused on the virtues of humility, generosity, and forgiveness.
Coaches and referees are expected to model the virtues they’re teaching during huddles through their actions on the field. Toward this end, coaches ensure that every child plays for half of each game and that the starting line-ups are rotated each game. The kids play on a small field to allow for lots of touches, and the importance of keeping score is minimized. When referees call a foul on a player, they explain why they called the foul in order to ensure that the kids understand and learn what to do differently next time.
“We want to make sure the coaches and refs are good examples,” Gustavo says. “We want them to teach the gospel to the kids.”
Of course, everyone involved wants to make sure the kids have fun as well. “For a lot of them, this is the first time playing for a crowd,” Gustavo says. “It’s fun to seem them in uniform with their loved ones cheering them on. They get super excited. Those are good experiences to have.”
Help change kids’ lives this fall
You can help children from Ciudad Nueva, the Rio Grande neighborhood, and other areas of El Paso experience the life-changing love of Jesus through Upward Soccer. Sign up to coach one of our teams this fall! Call us today at 915-521-2951 or contact us online.