Chicago Fire using soccer to teach at-risk youth life lessons

The Chicago Fire soccer club is launching a new goal this week to reach as many at-risk Chicago youth as possible.

The organization is working with hundreds of middle school students this semester, using soccer to teach life skills.

Students at Chicago's Casals School of Excellence are learning what it takes to play with the Chicago Fire.

"Teamwork, I usually don't really like to work in a team. I usually think that working alone gets the work faster but like teamwork also does to," said 5th grader Samuel Martinez.

The lesson hasn't just helped Martinez on the field, but it's helped him in the classroom as well.

"When they gave you the form, it says if you have a D or an F that you're out of the team. So I always try to keep all my grades because soccer's my favorite sport, I want to keep on playing it," Martinez said.

Martinez is one of 400 Chicago Public School students at 12 different schools, taking part after school in the "Participate-Learn-Achieve-Youth-Soccer" program or ‘PLAYS' for short.

It follows a curriculum that uses soccer to coach better classroom skills.

"The principals are really excited about seeing the kids go through the program, what's happening in class when it comes to participation, attendance, a sense of teamwork," said Chicago Fire chief operating officer Atul Khosla.

Chicago Fire forward Harry Shipp is a Lake Forest native. He participated in the Fire's Youth Academy and knows how important a program like ‘PLAYS' can be to future soccer stars.

"Being in a professional environment before going off to college, that's something that's invaluable, and I think since I was in it, they're going younger and younger which gives more kids exposure to kind of make professional soccer, to one day make more of a reality," Shipp said.

The ‘PLAYS' program has Martinez set on improving his grades, and one day bending it like Beckham, or in this case, Harry Shipp.

The coaches that are used for the after school program are teachers that work in the school. Chicago Fire trains them and then sets them free to tweak the curriculum for their particular set of students.

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