Before the World Cup trophies, Olympic gold medals, and countless goals, U.S. Women’s National Team captain Carli Lloyd was just like, well…most American kids. She discovered soccer as a five-year-old playing on a co-ed team in her hometown of Delran Township, New Jersey. She went on to sharpen her skills throughout her youth, during high school, and in college at Rutgers University, and it was these early experiences that helped set her up for success, as Lloyd described at a recent Sports Matter event in New York City where she and other noteworthy names in sports discussed the benefits of youth sports and funding issues facing teams nationwide.
“Youth sports laid the foundation for my professional career,” says Lloyd. “Not every kid is going to become a pro athlete, but [sports] instill values: hard work, discipline. They taught me to respect my teammates and coaches and taught me life lessons I would not learn in the classroom,” she says.
Not all young athletes have that chance. A growing number of children drop out of sports by the time they reach adolescence, but organized sports are often a motivator for children in school. For Lloyd, soccer provided an incentive to do schoolwork.
“School never came as easy to me as soccer did,” she says. “I had to work really hard at it. So I was competitive because I wanted to get good grades, and I didn’t want to upset my parents. With soccer, I’m competitive as well, so I learned how to balance the two lives together. I would come home from school, get my homework done, and go on to soccer practice.”
Excelling on the field and in the classroom can lead children to greater education opportunities in the future. According to the U.S. Department of Education, student athletes are four times more likely to attend college, but budget cuts and a lack of funding have endangered many school sports programs.
From 2009 to 2011, $3.5 billion was cut from school sports budgets, according to Up2Us Sports, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of America’s youth through sports. That staggering stat means an estimated 27 percent of U.S. public high schools will not offer any sports programs by 2020—just five years from now.
Without sports in our schools, kids all over the country could miss out on the opportunity to realize their potential and accomplish their goals. Lloyd is living proof that with hard work and determination, dreams can come true.
“You have to work toward it each and every day,” she says. “And that’s my message: You have to spend hours upon hours every single day honing in on your craft, whatever that may be—violinist, scientist, professional athlete—you have to work hard each and every single day. But if you work toward those goals every day, you can do something big.
How big? Well, for Lloyd, it’s scoring a hat trick in the first 16 minutes of the Women’s World Cup final against Japan and leading her team to victory. It’s earning the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player and the Silver Boot as the second highest scorer. It’s scoring the game-winning goals in both the 2008 and 2010 Summer Olympics and becoming a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
Youth sports opened up a world of experiences to Lloyd. “The World Cup, The Olympics, traveling the world, meeting different people, the struggles and the obstacles—it’s all about the experiences and the lessons that you can extract, persevere, and build from,” she says.
Now Lloyd wants to pay it forward and help America’s youth have the chance at those experiences as well.
If you’d like to donate to a team in need, head to donorschoose.org. The DICK’S Sporting Goods Foundation will fund 50 percent of denoted projects up to $1.5 million in donations to public and charter school sports teams in communities across the country if the team can earn the other half of the goal. Visit sportsmatter.org for more information.