This past spring, the Carnegie Mellon University men's soccer team had the pleasure of partnering with Justin Forzano and Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community to launch yet another successful community service project. Throughout the semester the team worked closely with Arsenal Middle School, one of the many local public schools in the area, helping run their youth soccer team's practices once or twice a week, over the course of roughly six weeks. Six or seven of the varsity players not only helped run the practices but also participated and challenged the Arsenal students with some solid competition.
"Working with the CMU men's soccer team for the third year in a row is a great pleasure," siad Forzano. "What started out as one or two visits to a practice during the season has turned into the beginning of a full-fledge mentoring program where young people from very diverse backgrounds come together, united around the global game of soccer. Alex Dziadosz and a few of his teammates took the lead to ensure a quality program ensued throughout the middle school soccer season. I know Coach Leem appreciated CMU's involvement and I don't doubt the players did as well. Looking ahead to next academic year, we're excited to grow the program and get started in the Fall by bringing the boys team to CMU's campus to watch a match at the very least, and hopefully get a feel for what it means to combine passion for sport with success in school."
A recap of the project by sophomore Alex Dziadosz:
The first session we ran, we administered a multi-station skills test that was provided to us by Justin and the Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community program. We ran five different stations consisting of juggling, dribbling through gates, passing to hit cones, footwork, and shooting. We recorded the scores of each Arsenal player to develop a basis for what each athlete was capable of and track their progress over the next six weeks.
After the skills test session, the next six weeks were full of energetic scrimmages, competitive drills, and lots of game-play simulation. Week after week we, the CMU varsity players, would rush out of our last classes of the day, grab soccer balls, cones, and pinnies from our locker room, and head over to Arsenal. We would round up the kids and run them through a basic warm-up: high knees, shuffling up and down the field, various stretching, etc. Afterwards, with some direction from the Arsenal Middle School coach, Coach Leem, we would run some basic drills for about 30 minutes or so. Whether it was passing lines, dribbling through cones, or working on one-on-one break-aways towards goal, we always made sure it was energetic and kept as many of the antsy middle schoolers engaged. Once drills were finished, the real fun began: SCRIMMAGES! Coach Leem would help us break the kids into small teams of seven or eight players, start playing music on the stereo that he always had handy, and we would play for as long as we had left in practice, which was usually about 45 minutes or so. Each team would usually have one or two of us CMU guys mixed in, which the Arsenal students really enjoyed because playing with college athletes is a rare opportunity for them.
Once 4:30pm arrived, we would settle down the scrimmages and do a quick cool down. Coach Leem often handed out juice boxes or water to the players and would occasionally ask us to speak briefly to the Arsenal students about studying hard in school or what it is like to be a college soccer player and how we got to where we are today. Lastly, we would give high-fives all around as we said our good-byes and headed back to Carnegie Mellon.
Our last session of the year we ran the same skills test that we administered during the first session, we recorded the scores of each student, and tracked their progress. We saw some pretty great progress across the board, some more than others, but nevertheless we enjoyed running this program immensely and would love to do it again next year. But, of course we could not have done this alone. Justin and Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community were fantastic facilitators who made our jobs easy. They provided us with the skills test, met with us to sort out dates that we could volunteer, and consistently stayed in touch with me and Coach Leem over the course of the spring.
This was our second year working with Arsenal Middle School and I was very excited when Coach Velotta and Coach Bowman asked me to take the lead on making this community service project happen. Working in the communities surrounding Carnegie Mellon's campus is always a fantastic experience. For many of us students, we sort of get trapped in CMU's bubble, always on campus to keep up with our academic, athletic, and extracurricular responsibilities. As Carnegie Mellon students we are often so busy juggling our own obligations that we rarely get to explore the areas around our beautiful campus and engage with the people who live there.
Working with Arsenal Middle School is always very rewarding and eye-opening. The area around the school is not the greatest, not all of the students have their own cleats to play in, but they are always so energetic and happy to see us when we arrive to play with them. Each practice we get to bond with the students, listen to their stories, and give them advice on how to achieve their goals. Lots of them want to be college soccer players just like us, and lots of them want to go to a great school like Carnegie Mellon one day, so they truly look at us as role models, and that is a fantastic feeling. But, that also comes with a lot of responsibility. Each session we attend we have to make sure we are setting the best example possible, whether that is portraying a positive attitude on the field or talking about how valuable it is to study hard and pay attention in class, because the Arsenal players are absorbing all of that.
Lastly, I think that we get as much out of working with Arsenal and Pittsburgh Soccer in the Community as the students/youth players do. Playing with them and teaching them everything we can week after week is a joyous and humbling experience that many college students do not get to have on a regular basis. The athletic teams here at CMU have done fantastic things for the surrounding communities thus far and I am sure that we will continue to do so.