"I was born in Austin, Texas, but grew up in Falls Church, Virginia. I started playing soccer at age seven. That was the earliest you could play soccer then. Now it is three years old. I grew up in a neighborhood where everyone played in the street. I started playing recreational soccer and then went on to play on travel teams, including the Virginia State Team. Sports was pretty much all I did growing up. Sports is and was a large part of my identity.
"My college decision was 100 percent informed by soccer. I went to North Carolina State and loved it. The college athletic experience for a non-revenue sport was very familial. I had this group of 20 women who were my best friends, and we spent 40 hours a week together. After college, I coached a lot of youth soccer while doing a number of Master's programs. After my second Master's program, an opening came up at Bryn Mawr, a small Division III women's college, to coach. The college is not exactly an athletic bastion of talent, but it was fun. I felt that my challenge was to harness their natural instinct to be competitive with their moderate soccer ability, to create a fun and competitive experience on the soccer field.
"After Bryn Mawr, I moved to D.C. because my husband, who is from D.C., was living here and I got a job with DC SCORES. D.C. SCORES is one of the largest after-school programs in D.C. We have about 730 kids in our program. Our goal is to get students involved in school and physically fit through soccer, and to bring up their self-worth and sense of belonging in the community. There is a natural complimentary skill set between a sport like soccer and self-expression. When kids trust each other on the soccer field, they feel comfortable to write about their communities, share stories about their lives, and work on group projects to figure out how to change their communities.
"One of the interesting things about working here is seeing how soccer is viewed differently in different neighborhoods. In Columbia Heights, some of these kids grew up around soccer, but have never played in an organized league. East of the river, many students have never heard about soccer before they join our program. Some of the coaches at those schools have basketball and football backgrounds and are new to soccer, so they will tell the kids, 'Okay, you've got the ball. It's like you're the quarterback, go boost the ball.' 'Quarterback' in soccer? 'Boost' the ball? But it works and the kids really love playing."
Amy Nakamoto is the Executive Director of DC SCORES.