It has been almost a full decade of existence for Soccer Kids America, the San Diego based non-profit that was founded early in 2008. Since the inception, Founder/CEO Karleen Driggs has shared her vision of creating a fun, friendly and safe environment for young people of all ages and technical levels to advance their soccer skills.
The organization has seen massive growth over the last few years, and Soccer Kids America is now leading the charge for the further development of the game of futsal in San Diego County.
I spoke with Karleen in another special edition of the SoccerNation Sitdown, presented by soccerloco. The conversation looks back at how things got started for Soccer Kids America, and where things can go from here as the tenth anniversary approaches.
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): “Karleen, thanks so much for joining us.”
Karleen Driggs (Soccer Kids America): “My pleasure. Glad to be here.”
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): “So tell us first off how this organization, Soccer Kids America, got started. What was the impetus for the original project?”
Karleen Driggs (Soccer Kids America): “I started Soccer Kids America because I’ve been playing the beautiful game my entire life, and almost all my best experiences in life are either on the soccer pitch or related to soccer in some way. From the friends I’ve met to the places I’ve been, the game of soccer has just been such a positive influence in my life. Back around 2008, something just hit me where I wanted young people to have those same types of experiences. I have been volunteer coaching since I was 15. I’ve always been keen on giving back in life, but it really kicked off when Soccer Kids America got off the ground. Starting my own business was a challenge, and operating to this day can be challenging in a number of ways, but the reward is getting to give those experiences to these awesome kids that are involved with our organization.”
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): “You mentioned the business side of things, Soccer Kids America operating as a non-profit with you as the Founder/CEO. How do you balance the business side of things with the sheer joy that the game of soccer brings you, and of course the kids as well?”
Karleen Driggs (Soccer Kids America): “For me, it all comes back to a passion for the youth. I’ve got so much love for these kids and would do anything to see them happy. It’s not a job at that point. It’s so much more. It’s a passion. We talk about the rewarding side of it all. For me and people who work with the organization, all the coaches and refs, it’s incredibly moving and inspiring just watching these kids grow up. One of our referees used to play in our middle school league when we first started back in ’08. Seeing him now working with us is so cool.
I grew up in Utah, and my first volunteer job was at the Boys and Girls Club. I started coaching soccer soon after. I’ll never forget those early lessons, seeing kids with low self-esteem or with some troubles in their lives, just looking for a path to happiness. I took it as an opportunity to help them rise in confidence, helping them in knowing that they can be proud of who they are. Those were such important lessons that I learned early on, and they stay with me every day with Soccer Kids America. Whether it’s art, music, soccer, etc., helping kids be inspired by an activity can turn that activity into a passion, and in turn help these kids advance in life.”
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): “You definitely have a visionary mind. In regards to Soccer Kids America, how did the project grow into what it is today?”
Karleen Driggs (Soccer Kids America): “It definitely started small and grew from there with some very natural progression. I got a California Business License, then I got bank accounts set up. There are so many logistics that you don’t really think of when you just have a vision. But we got it all rolling. It started as a part time thing, just a little soccer camp back in 2008. Then I was finding myself taking vacation time from my other job to run more small camps and clinics. I saw the direction it was all heading.”
“When I decided to do it full time, it was full speed ahead. Getting involved with the local schools was huge for us. That was how we started the after school soccer programs, one of our most important ventures.”
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): “I understand another pivotal juncture for Soccer Kids America was branching into Balboa Park, specifically the Municipal Gym.”
Karleen Driggs (Soccer Kids America): “Most definitely! When I found out about the Municipal Gym at Balboa Park, that was a huge turning point for us. I’ll never forget walking around North Park just talking with some folks on an average night. I was talking about my love for futsal, and this guy just says “how about the Municipal Gym at Balboa”. I thought about it, then went and checked the place out and realized it would be ideal for futsal. That was seven years ago!”
“That was a big transition and it lead to some very important growth for our organization. There were three full size basketball courts, and we were using one court with twelve teams in our league. At that time, we didn’t have finances to buy goals, so me and my dad went to Home Depot and bought some PVC pipes and orange construction netting. We made our own goals! I had a friend who stepped up as a volunteer and ref’d all the games.”
“It’s crazy to think back on how we started, sort of laughing at the evolution of things, going from most people asking things like ‘how the heck do you play soccer on a basketball court’, to today where there’s true understanding and appreciation of futsal. It’s rising in San Diego and all around the United States. It’s important. When you look around the world and study some of the greatest soccer players, it’s no coincidence that most all of them played futsal at some point in their lives. It’s so valuable in helping young players grow in their technical ability. In addition to the kids leagues, we now have an adult ladies league, an adult men’s league, and a co-ed league! Futsal is on the rise, and we’re proud to play a part.”
“One of my dreams is to have our own futsal facility. We definitely don’t have millions of dollars. We are a non-profit making it happen with sheer determination. But we dream of having our own futsal specific facility. Growing without a dedicated space is difficult, sharing basketball courts with basketball leagues that are playing six days a week. We get one day a week at Balboa. We’re grateful for that one day a week, and you can bet we pack so much into it. But getting a true futsal facility here in San Diego, not just for Soccer Kids America, but for everyone in this community, that would be a dream come true.”
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): “How can people get involved with Soccer Kids America, and specifically with the futsal movement?”
Karleen Driggs (Soccer Kids America): “Well, they can start by going to our website, and there they can find the futsal page.”
“Our Youth Futsal League is $95 per player for an 8 week session, and that includes a jersey that the kid gets to keep. And we offer financial aid and scholarships for any families who might not be able to afford that cost. We are not a club. We are a non-profit organization with a clear motive of helping youth grow and become better people through the game of soccer. Being inclusive is integral to who we are. We are proud to say we’ve never turned anyone away, and we never will. Our tournaments have even taken on a bit of an international flavor, with teams coming up from Tijuana and Ensenada for our most recent event, the Tijuana team representing The First Goal, a wonderful organization that we’re so grateful to work with, founded by our friends Daniel Varela and Laurel Swanson.”
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): “You’ve also got an awesome fundraiser coming up in late July, yes?”
Karleen Driggs (Soccer Kids America): “Indeed! We will be at the Goalkeeper Restaurant & Bar on the night of Thursday July 27th. Goalkeeper is collaborating with us and doing a really cool family night where $2 for every hot dog or hamburger sold is going directly to Soccer Kids America. Come on out, have some food and have some fun!”
(Goalkeeper Restaurant & Bar is located at 5981 Fairmount Ave, San Diego, CA 92120)
Nate Abaurrea (SoccerNation): “Karleen, thanks again for your time, and we here at SoccerNation and soccerloco look forward to following along with the continued growth of Soccer Kids America.”
Karleen Driggs (Soccer Kids America): “Thanks so much Nate, and many thanks to SoccerNation.”