In the United Kingdom, it's easy to find young athletes in green and orange vests playing ball in neighborhoods, parks and streetside lots.
These kids aren't part of a formal league or pub-sponsored team. They are among more than 100,000 young people playing for StreetGames, a charitable program that brings sports into communities that are enduring economic hardship.
The idea is to promote healthy lifestyles and good decision-making and to forge new bonds within sometimes tempestuous environments. From football to cricket to track, StreetGames is an achievement some six years in the making.
"The first sports sessions were delivered in 2007," says Ray Vince, UK operations director for StreetGames. "The charity grew quickly. It has grown from being a national alliance of five projects in England with a turnover of £300,000, to a UK-wide charity that supports a network of over 275 projects with a turnover of £4.5 million."
It is also now part of a
Coke joined the StreetGames effort in 2010, creating a multiyear deal that has helped propel the UK charity's programs into more neighborhoods, serving more youth in more ways.
"StreetGames came to our attention through some publicity about their first birthday," says Liz Lowe, citizenship manager at
Out of that friendship,
"The way the Olympic team got behind StreetGames was fantastic, and we've built a genuine legacy from our partnership," Lowe says, citing top
Lowe says that the StreetGames concept is sparking the imaginations of the executives at Coke.
"What I've seen, as I've led and developed the partnership, is that by showing people what StreetGames can do — by getting them personally engaged, by going down to projects and sports sessions in the community centers — people really get enthusiastic and passionate," she says, regarding "how right it is for our business to support them — and how good it is for the young people and their communities — fostering self-esteem, keeping young people out of trouble, helping them make friends [while] healing rivalries."
"And so we've managed to get a lot of senior-management support for StreetGames and our partnership," says Lowe.
From billboards featuring the faces of the program's rising stars to the connections StreetGames participants made inside the London Olympics, the effect on Great Britain's communities has been profound.
Take Kevin Samuels, 17, of West Bromwich.
Samuels watched his friends and his older brother stray into trouble when riots swept the UK's West Midlands in 2011. It was Samuels' involvement with StreetGames — and the fact that he'd become a rising star in the 200m with the help of StreetGames — that kept him away from the unrest, he says.
While some of those who chose otherwise spent their summer behind bars, Samuels was in London during the Olympics for a special evening session with Coke. He credits StreetGames project leader Rus Smith for his turnaround.
"I’m not going to lie, I probably would have been in prison now if Rus hadn’t taken me in and asked people to give me a chance," Samuels says. "I’d have been arrested for doing bad things, fighting, crime and all sorts on the street, but I’ve turned away from that now and I’m on the straight line. Rus is my man.”
Casey Lashley was another StreetGames participant picked to work with the charity alongside the London Olympic and Paralympic teams as part of the
"I've never received an opportunity like this," Lashley says. "So it's also given me a lot more motivation to work toward my goal, which is to work in the sports industry."
However dynamic StreetGames has become, the partnership's work still comes back to the concept of "doorstep sports."
"That is, to provide sports and activities that young people are interested in, at the right time, in the right place, at the right price and in the right style," says UK operations director Vince. "It can literally be on their doorstep, perhaps in a cramped local community hall, a car park or even a tranche of waste ground."
The future, from Vince's point of view, is to continue the momentum of the partnership and the expansion that came with the Olympics. New academies are training the next generation of coaches, and the UK is taking notice.
Evidence of that came in January 2012, when StreetGames was announced as a new central component of the DCMS/Government’s New Youth Sport Strategy. As a result, Vince has confirmed that the charity will be trialing doorstep sports clubs across England beginning this fall, with the hope of a national rollout over a four-year period commencing in 2013.