‘Into the Net’ scores goals in the community

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The organization partners with local organizations to offer inclusive and equitable soccer sessions 

High School students Sophia Zhou and Miranda De Olden have spent two years building community around the game of soccer through the organization they co-founded, Into the Net Soccer.

For their efforts, they won the President’s Volunteer Service Award through IMPACT Youth Club, a subsidiary of International Musicians Performing Arts Culture Troupe (IMPACT), a student-run youth volunteer group nonprofit that was formed in New Jersey in 2013, according to its website.

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Into the Net Soccer, which is sponsored by IMPACT Youth Club, provides a fun and inclusive environment that promotes teamwork and supports diversity in sports, Zhou and De Olden said.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INTO THE NET
PHOTO COURTESY OF INTO THE NET

The passion of the game is 100% genuine for the two teens. Zhou has been playing soccer since she was little. De Olden – a left-footed Latina – also started the game very young.

It was during the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two realized how important it was for kids and teens to be outside exercising and socializing.

The pandemic suspended most athletic programs and most of the time was spent on screens.

Post pandemic, Zhou, a rising junior at Princeton Day School and a player for PDA (Players Development Academy) South, and De Olden, a rising sophomore at The Lawrenceville School and a player for FC Bucks, wanted to get kids off the screens and out playing sports and exercising.

“We accomplish this by teaching soccer skills that we’ve learned in top soccer programs to kids in Mercer County who are interested in learning the sport,” Zhou said.

According to De Olden, “throughout our experience at top soccer clubs, we noticed there was very little diversity in local soccer teams, especially when we looked at girls teams. We also realized that soccer clubs are very expensive and unaffordable and we wanted to make learning how to play soccer an inclusive and equitable experience for kids in our local community.”

Insert Into the Net Soccer. They have partnered with various nonprofits across Mercer County, including Boys & Girls Club of Mercer County (BGC Mercer), Salvation Army Trenton, and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer County to provide fun, face-to-face interactive sessions where kids have a good time building community around soccer and learning skills and techniques at no cost to their families.

“It means the world to us to share our passion for soccer and at the same time give back to our community,” De Olden said.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INTO THE NET
PHOTO COURTESY OF INTO THE NET
PHOTO COURTESY OF INTO THE NET
PHOTO COURTESY OF INTO THE NET

This year, Into the Net Soccer have run weekly sessions at the BGC Mercer Centre Street facility in Trenton, as a part of their Super Saturday, a program that provides BGC members with fun and engaging activities each weekend throughout the school year.

De Olden and Zhou were joined by student volunteer coaches Saboor Qureshi and Ziyang Li, both freshmen at Princeton High School, and Charlie Ewing from Princeton Day School.

PHOTO COURTESY OF INTO THE NET
PHOTO COURTESY OF INTO THE NET

“It’s great to see the personal commitment that the coaches have to the kids’ learning,” said student volunteer Abigail Leonardi who manages social media for Into the Net.

Weekly sessions usually include a warmup session, individualized dribbling exercises and activities to develop technique, relays, contests and a scrimmage game, which the coaches said, “the kids truly enjoy.”

“Partnerships with organizations like Into the Net not only help our Club Kids learn athletic skills but also reinforce our values and mission by promoting responsibility and teamwork,” said Reginald J. Coleman, president and CEO of BGC Mercer. “Into the Net provides an invaluable service to BGC Mercer, the young coaches provide inspiration, support and also make learning fun.”

Into the Net has also hosted sessions at Salvation Army Trenton as a part of their Vacation Bible Camp, outdoor sessions at Princeton’s Farmview Fields, and collaborated with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Mercer County to hold events where mentors and Into the Net coaches teach skills and play scrimmage games with kids.

Into the Net Soccer is inviting kids to join their 2023 Summer Program as well as calling for high school volunteers who would like to coach.

“It’s amazing to be able to give back to our community with our own experience in soccer,” Zhou said. “Just one high-five can immediately put a smile on a kid’s face. We really hope to expand the impact and reach ‘Into the Net.'”

For more information to participate in the free soccer sessions or volunteer as a coach
this summer, reach out to intothenetsoccer@gmail.com.

For more information visit Into the Net at www.intothenetsoccer.org.

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