Since 2012, Orlando City Youth Soccer has provided Central Florida’ youngest up-and-coming athletes with the skills, direction and environment necessary to thrive while developing a love for the game. The athletic youth organization was formerly Florida Soccer Alliance, a youth soccer club in Sanford. After a deal between Orlando City Soccer and FSA, the professional soccer club renamed the program to Orlando City Youth Soccer. Just six years later, about 4,000 youths have been through the program.
OCYS provides both competitive and recreational programs to serve the interests of all types of players. Through connections with public schools in Seminole and Orange counties as well as Central Florida private schools, OCYS provides soccer training to children of all ages while running various initiatives throughout the year.
OCYS teaches important life lessons through sports, offering multiple soccer programs so that children ages four to 18 of varying levels of ability and experience can find their place. Players learn the fundamentals of the game while donning Orlando City Soccer’s famous purple and gold uniforms. OCYS has succeeded in fostering an environment conducive to friendship, education and athleticism for its players.
“Kids can make friends and learn lessons like commitment and perseverance from learning a skill,” OCYS General Manager Laura Halfpenny says.
OCYS Gives Back
As OCYS has grown, its commitment to teaching its young players about the importance of giving back to the community expanded. Last Thanksgiving, some of the soccer club’s families put together 31 baskets of non-perishable food to donate to a local organization that supports homeless families.
As general manager, Halfpenny is in charge of OCYS’ community outreach initiatives and public service. This allows her to see firsthand the impact of charitable giving on the organization’s players.
“We teach our families and children to give back,” she says. “When we did the baskets and explained it to the children, they were amazed. These children come from good means, and because they live in a certain area, they may not know that within two or three miles, there are children with much less. Once they make that connection, they can have empathy.”
OCYS raises funds annually for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the focus of the organization’s fundraising efforts will turn to Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month this year.
They chose to support this cause in honor of an OCYS coach who recently passed away after previously battling pediatric cancer.
In partnership with the British-American Chamber of Commerce and Knock Out Cancer, OCYS will sell gold training tops sponsored by local businesses on its official Facebook page for the entire month of September. All proceeds will benefit Kids Beating Cancer, a nonprofit organization that assists children diagnosed with leukemia, cancer and other malignant and non-malignant diseases.
“While we’re a youth soccer organization, we’re using soccer to teach lessons in life like thoughtfulness and compassion,” Halfpenny says. “I’m all about winning a game of soccer, but it’s bigger than that. There’s so much more we can do.”
In teaching children about humility, generosity and self-awareness, the league helps its players to develop self-confidence at a period in their lives when it is critical. Halfpenny recalls watching young players become overcome with pure joy and excitement when they are able to grow and succeed under the instruction of their coaches.
“I love to see a kid have an a-ha moment, a moment where they realize what this game is about,” she says. “Those moment when parents and students experience happiness because of the game – that makes it worth it for me.”
OCYS will continue its initiatives to better the community at large through its youth programs and community outreach. With over $200,000 given back to children over the last five years, OCYS isn’t stopping its mission to spread compassion and selflessness any time soon.
“I think we all need it,” Halfpenny says. “Not just the children.”
You can support OCYS and its student athletes in their fundraising efforts for Pediatric Cancer Awareness Month in a variety of ways. In addition to purchasing a gold soccer shirt, attend Family Night at Seminole Soccer Complex on Aug. 30, where having a meal together as a family will benefit Kids Beating Cancer and the many families dealing with the devastating effects of pediatric cancer.