Photography by Cole Creasy
Ellen Roberds and Jarad Bingham have a 14-year-old son who plays soccer, and they’re well acquainted with the burden it can place on families.
“We became disillusioned pretty early on with how competitive it is, how expensive it is, how it requires flexibility in your job hours,” said Ellen. “You have to have transportation if you want to play at a certain level.”
Soccer families often sacrifice a bunch of time and money to play. If you start out in a church recreational league, it can be a toss-up as to whether your kid is receiving instruction from a qualified coach or from a parent who doesn’t have much experience. If you love soccer enough to want to continue at another level, you pay thousands of dollars to join a soccer club. You’re seemingly always on the run—ending your work day, driving to the Mike Rose Complex during rush hour for games, or to fields in east Memphis for practices, and potentially traveling out of town for tournaments twice a season. Your evenings are monopolized and your kids probably don’t have any time left to participate in anything else.
Ellen and Jarad decided to remove some of the barriers that make soccer inaccessible for many local families and bring back the sense of play. In the fall of 2018, they launched Play Where You Stay.
Play Where You Stay is a co-ed developmental soccer program for children in grades kindergarten-5. The program brings coaches and equipment to a park or a lot in a neighborhood and hosts training sessions five days a week. Families have the flexibility to go anywhere from once a week to all five days. The cost is $10 per week to participate, though no one is ever turned away if they can’t pay. They currently have sites in Binghampton at Binghampton Park, Soulsville at Chandler Park, South Memphis at Gaston Community Center, and Midtown at Greenfield Arena.
Ellen previously worked for ioby and says her ongoing interest in the vitality of neighborhoods and bringing low barrier opportunities for everyone is what led to Play Where You Stay.
“Our model is to bring that to as many neighborhoods as possible and to also begin to outfit fields. Right now, we just kind of show up and play. We bring all of our equipment with us either in the back of someone’s car or they’re at a nearby partner’s closet. We have some ideas of how we can outfit fields with sweat equity and a few dollars, and begin to make a lot very playable for 30, 40, 50 kids. We’re in four neighborhoods and will be in six by next fall.”
PWYS is intentional about working with knowledgeable coaches and compensating them for their time. Maxi Galizzi is one of the coaches and a player for the Christian Brothers University soccer team. He says that where he’s from in Argentina—and in most of the world—there’s a freedom to soccer and that it’s very nature is that it’s accessible and approachable.
“If you compare the sport in this country with the rest of the world, it’s really expensive to play soccer here. That’s a reality,” said Maxi. “In our countries in South America, we play soccer all the time every day on the streets. We don’t have basketball fields or American football fields or baseball fields. We just have soccer. It’s all we do. We play around in some socks and make a ball with socks. When we get a chance to go to a club in our countries, we don’t pay for it. We just go and play and that’s why our countries are really big in the sport. Most of the best players in the world are from South America.”
Maxi says he dedicates his time to coaching because he loves working with kids and wants to share his love of the sport with kids who may not otherwise get the chance to play.
“This chance for the kids to play for a really low cost or some of them not paying, it’s wonderful. The whole idea of the program is what I really support and I’m passionate about it because I’m feeling like, in teaching the sport, I’m home.”
Ellen says that Play Where You Stay currently serves children from a variety of backgrounds and at varying skill levels. Some are connected to the program through partner nonprofits and others simply connect as residents of the neighborhood.
“In Binghampton, they’re from REP [Refugee Empowerment Program] which is an international community, so for a large part, they’re aware of the sport. They may not have been able to access skilled training for it, but it’s familiar to them culturally,” said Ellen. “We have two fields in South Memphis, and it’s mostly not been part of their culture, so when we began last fall we had to start with a broad introduction. We worked with Knowledge Quest at two campuses and every kid from the program came through. Now, we run a club and the kids have the choice to come play.”
Ellen says that they’re still learning new things about the value of the Play Where You Stay model and its potential to even impact communities they didn’t originally have in mind.
“We have kids with autism and Asperger’s and their parents are telling me that not having the straight up competitive piece and not having a team actually makes it a low barrier for their kids. Their kids have not been able to play in competitive sports because of the team aspect that requires a different kind of social dynamic, and then it has games attached to it that you’re always moving towards. Removing those has helped those kids.”
Play Where You Stay is looking to expand to serve more kids in more neighborhoods. They also want to also increase the number of women coaches to make the co-ed program more approachable for girls.
“PWYS is flexible and is growing. We want to match the children’s growth in love for the game. If a group of kids want to train hard and grow their game, we want to provide that for them,” said Ellen. “Our coaches are all in.”
Sign-up is now open for their Spring season which runs March 18 – May 10th. It’s rolling enrollment so you can sign up / show up anytime. PWYS will also come to your community event and set up goals and start games with kids.
“We want to shift the culture to see soccer as a thing you do—so we want Play Where You Stay in the community playing soccer.”