Article republished on businessofsoccer.com
Taking time away from the game and going back to what is most important is a key aspect in growing the game in the United States. As role models and professionals, every player is subject to this responsibility, which should be expected while being in the public eye. Some players excel at it, while others have much to live up to.
Former men's national team goalkeeper and Major League Soccer player, Tony Meola is an exceptional professional. Recently joining Allstate as a part of the company's sponsorship of the U.S. Men's National Team as well as U.S. Soccer, Tony has been given the opportunity to give back to different communities.
While in Boston for the Men's National Team match versus Spain on June 4th, Meola organized a training session for a youth team in Providence, Rhode Island. Through Allstate's campaign, Meola provided the team with new home and away kits, balls, bags, shin guards and more.
"Last night’s happened to be in Providence (RI). We go through a clinic and talk sessions with the kids. This particular group had forty kids..."
To sweeten the deal, the team was presented with tickets to Saturday's match against Spain - possibly the first opportunity for these kids to attend and watch not only their own country play, but to see last year's World Cup champions.
"You have to go and watch; much better to see [matches] live – to sit in the stadium and watch the whole field, but most kids don’t have that opportunity."
Meola emphasized the need to study the game both in person and on television. An opportunity for youth players to see their first professional and international match has the ability to provide the inspiration needed for the next generation of soccer players in the United States.
"When I first [coached] my boys team, I had asked who had seen soccer on tv, and out of eighteen kids I had maybe two raise their hands. They were decent soccer players but they needs to watch and learn – study the game. I tried to all the time but I didn’t have the chance they have."
For full text of the interview with Tony Meola please continue reading below.
tBG: Can you discuss the youth program yesterday that was organized by Allstate?
Meola: Part of the Allstate promotion is that we get to go around the country through the first year of sponsorship with the U.S. national team and during that, there is a series of events that take place.
The night prior to games we go to underprivileged or less privileged programs. Last night’s happened to be in Providence (RI). We go through a clinic and talk sessions with the kids. This particular group had forty kids that had achieved in their program what they had to achieve.
In doing so, Allstate was great – we surprised [the kids]. Their entire program gets full kits – homes and away – practice gear and a whole bunch of different things – shin guards, soccer balls, bags and, ultimately, the opportunity to go to the game today which is pretty neat.
If I had the opportunity when I was eleven to see the U.S. play the number one team in the world, I would jump through the roof.
I take those things for granted because that is what I did [professionally]. I never thought of it from that point of view.
tBG: What does is mean to a player to instill an interest in the sport at that age? To attend such a match seeing your country versus last year’s World Cup Champions?
Meola: You have to go and watch; much better to see [matches] live – to sit in the stadium and watch the whole field, but most kids don’t have that opportunity.
The opportunity is there now. It used to be for me, that I could only see the World Cup every four years (and not every game). Then I would watch on Saturday morning – they would show one English Premier League game – and it was just the English league then – that was it.
Now you can turn on television every single day and watch soccer games, much like baseball or basketball during those seasons - kids have had that advantage for quite a while.
When I first [coached] my boys team, I had asked who had seen soccer on tv, and out of eighteen kids I had maybe two raise their hands. They were decent soccer players but they needs to watch and learn – study the game. I tried to all the time but I didn’t have the chance they have.
tBG: Do you recall your first professional and international match(es) that you attended as a youth? What did it mean to you, having the opportunity to watch players at that level so young?
Meola: My first game professionally; I was a ball boy for the New York Cosmos. I was there with Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, and Hubert Birkenmeier – my role model in goal - guys like Steve Hunt – I met years [later].
I thought that would be around forever – unfortunately that wasn’t the case. That was the team I grew up with and wanted to play for my entire life. That was my first experience seeing a professional game live.