Sascha Bauer on the CITY Futures Program and soccer for good

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Written by Hannah Boxerman

One of our city’s most devoted changemakers isn’t from St. Louis at all.

Sascha Bauer, St. Louis CITY SC Director of Regional Training and Education, joins the club from Germany. One of his biggest responsibilities—and, he admits, one of his favorites—is to grow the new CITY Futures Program, which seeks to make soccer accessible to all children across the St. Louis region.

The program breaks down the sport in a way that makes soccer welcoming to any child that wishes to play it: practice sessions, regular tournaments, and instruction from local Community Coaches that make the sport fun. But while Coach Bauer is impressed with the kids’ skills on the field, he says it’s what happens off the field that makes all the difference.

“We really want to make sure that we support kids to grow as human beings,” Bauer said. “We see them not only as players, but as human beings first. We promote their personal growth—especially when it comes to emotional and social learning.”

Bauer knows this firsthand. He has over 25 years of experience, coaching all over the world from his native Germany to Mozambique to Brazil. In 2010, he founded Football for Worldwide Unity, a social profit organization that empowers youth soccer coaches with tools to use the sport to drive social change. His coaching journey now brings him to St. Louis, where he’s working to make the CITY Futures Program a best-in-class example of soccer’s power to change lives.

“We’re offering different activities so any child in the city that wants to play soccer has the chance to play soccer with us once per week,” Bauer said. “That is one of the big goals: to grow passion for soccer and give every child the chance to start playing the sport or, to give kids the chance to take their skills to the next level.”

Could those skills eventually take them pro? Certainly, Bauer says. But that’s not all soccer has to offer.

“Besides becoming a good athlete, you socialize with kids around you, you deal with conflict, you learn how to communicate in a respectful way,” Bauer said. “You learn to listen as well, and you grow when you think about difficulties you might face, and you have all these emotions that are involved when you face defeat. You have joyful moments together when you celebrate with each other. You learn to set proper goals. Soccer is a beautiful environment to introduce all this stuff: to learn with the game, become better in the game, and take something into other areas in life.”

That’s why the Bauer-led CITY Futures Program has a two-part goal: soccer for everyone, and promotion of young talent. They go hand in hand, Bauer says, and are equally essential.

Manny Gomez, a CITY Futures Program Community Coach, is already seeing the program’s success.

“The biggest impact that I’ve seen so far is how we’re making a difference in the community,” Gomez said. “We’re reaching out to every kid out there who’s interested in playing, no matter what their skill level is, and I think that’s what separates us from any other sports team or club in the nation. A lot of kids out there don’t have those resources, so they don’t have the opportunity to play at that same level. Those are the kids we’re trying to get and give them a chance to play. That’s what I like the most.”

Other community coaches echo Gomez’s sentiment, with Coach Elena Huffman citing increased playing time as a factor that sets CITY Futures Program practices apart. At the end of the day, she says, the kids just have more fun.

And so do the coaches. Community Coach Yasmina Dreßen, who also hails from Germany, is currently playing soccer at the collegiate level. She loves how the program does good in the community—but it also reminds her to enjoy the game.

“It’s different when I’m the coach on the field,” she says. “I feel the fun more than when I’m playing myself at practice or in a game. For me, it’s most important that the kids have fun during the practice and that they enjoy playing.”

Coach Bauer says this joy means everything. One of his favorite CITY Futures Program stories involves a player at the Bayless High School satellite location who struggled with limited shooting skills. The team had worked on making smart decisions on the field, Bauer said, even if it was scary.

“This player had a shot, blasted one off, hammered it into the net and he was so happy, Bauer said. “He felt like the hero of the day. Those kinds of moments, when you see the impact soccer has on people, make me come to the field. The players may be having the only joyful moment of the day on that field. That’s my big motivation.”

Community Coach Kwame Myton credits Coach Bauer with fostering the type of environment that leads to these little victories—and ultimately, the big wins that make the hard work worth it.

“It’s important that we connect with the community,” Myton said. “If [Coach Bauer] isn’t working with kids, he’s talking to parents. He’s learning their names, he’s learning what they do, and getting very familiar with the community. If you think of the CITY Futures as a blanket, those are threads that he’s creating. Those people are going to keep coming, not only because their children had a good experience, but they believe and trust the Director.”

Coach and UMSL student Mylz Barrington agree.

“We can impact a lot of kids’ lives,” he said. “Soccer is way more advanced now, and the game is more physical, mental, emotional, and socialized. This is what kids need, especially at the ages we concentrate on, and it’s why [Coach Bauer’s] vision is a really good plan for the future.”

The CITY Futures Program is still new, but Coach Bauer says he and the coaches are growing it together. And as for its role in the STLSC Family?

“I think we as a Club have one mission,” Bauer said. “We want to be a community club. That’s what the SC stands for: not only a sports club but the whole soccer community in St. Louis. Every player on the outskirts, every parent, every referee, every coach. We all need to grow together for the benefit of future generations.”

It’s this commitment to community that informs and inspires Coach Bauer’s tireless work; it’s why he hopes the CITY Futures Program can impact the lives of everyone it touches…

And it’s why St. Louis is lucky to have him.