When Tim Adams first founded Free Footie, an inclusive after-school program designed to reach marginalized youth in Edmonton, he settled on a name that had a double meaning.
“The intent behind the name Free Footie was primarily to communicate that the program is free, but I also wanted to free the game. The original name for soccer outside America is football, and I wanted to free football and give that name back to the people,” Adams told Sport for Life.
“It was a pretty simple concept, making the sport inclusive and for everybody, but from that one idea this little program absolutely blew up.”
Free Footie is now 11 years old, and has grown from one team to nearly 60 during that time. Additionally, the program now offers basketball, street hockey, American football and a small rugby pilot. Partnering with schools, the program uses a social vulnerability index provided by the local school boards to determine which schools would be best suited for a partnership. They also utilize data from immigration services to identify newcomers, refugees and other populations who could benefit from some time on the turf.
It’s a little more complicated than just providing a field and a ball to play with. Adams also needs to source the right mentors, create relationships with communities and develop organizational capacity. Then there’s the whole question of funding. It can be a time-consuming process, and sometimes stressful, but it’s beginning to show results. Recently he travelled to the annual Sport for Life Canadian Summit in Gatineau to share some of his successes as part of a keynote panel.
The stories he hears from parents are the fuel that keeps him going.
“I had a parent call me recently to say their child was involved in some gang life, and she was worried about where he was going. She knew he liked soccer and convinced him to go, and that simple act got him on the right path,” he said.
“Now he’s hanging out with more positive peers and engaging in family activities. These stories come out pretty regularly. Sport enables true emotional health, and we always talk about the athlete but we should be talking about the kid and the impact this program can have on one person’s life.”