Last weekend, I helped coach my cousin’s three vs. three soccer tournament. Since his team was all dressed as Minions, I, of course, had to wear my Minion onesie to maintain the theme.
As I stood on the field, watching children chase the ball like bees to honey, sweating because I was wearing a onesie in Texas, I looked around and appreciated how many people where there.
The complex where the tournament was held had 12 fields; beyond the fields was a bouncy castle and a conglomerate of food trucks.
This massive array of fields was packed with families and teams. Each field was overbooked, causing my cousins team to have to wait for almost two hours after their first game to play again.
Each team also provided a candy station; the theme of the tournament was Halloween, so during the wait-times between games, the kids could go trick or treating at the various stations.
From my experiences playing soccer as a kid, this level of civic community was unheard of. The closest thing to something of this magnitude would be my Little League baseball games. But even then, they didn’t have as many people as my cousin’s tournament.
All around the field, I saw kids playing soccer with each other or watching Fortnite videos on their mom’s iPad with their teammates.
While the kids played, the parents also mingled, discussing — I imagine — work or how ridiculous children are (thankfully, I was the perfect child and never made my mother angry.)
Gatherings like this are essential in creating healthy and vibrant communities. When I think to the future, of what I want my adult life to be, these kind of gatherings — ones where my kids and I can meet new people and cultivate new friendships — are of paramount importance.
Some of my fondest memories as a child were when the park near my house would have neighborhood parties.
I would hangout with my friends and try to uproot trees while my parents would bond with other parents about how their children never seem to stop destroying things.
Creating new connections is made easier by these gatherings. Through these connections, friendships and communities are born.
A term I used before, civic communities, is a term used in political science to describe a collection of individuals’ connections between their family, friends, neighborhood and city. The bulk of the research done on this topic is by Robert Putnam.
He wrote an influential text, “Bowling Alone,” which discusses the importance of civic communities within the broader social health of society and how they have drastically declined in the United States.
The three vs. three tournament I went to this weekend was exactly the type of gathering that Putnam would want to see more of in the United States. Through these gatherings, people can begin to mend bridges, have honest discussions about a range of topics and begin to build a collective social trust with their community.
I noticed, however, that the families in this park were predominantly white. My aunt also informed me that participation in the tournament cost $175 a team. For many people in this country, this kind of cost isn’t possible.
The reason I bring this up is civic communities like the three vs. three tournament shouldn’t just be available to the affluent: they should be available to all. A healthy community is made up of many people ranging in ethnicity, economic station and religious identity among other variants.
In the future I plan to raise my children in, I hope that in whatever they do and wherever I live, there are gatherings with my neighborhood and with the people of the city. I want my children and I to meet people from all paths of life, and to begin the process of mending some of the problems in our society.
I think the first step in the long road towards that goal is by having gatherings of people from the vast cornucopia of people that make up the United States. Building civic trust and understanding through events like the three vs. three tournament is what it takes to mend the bridges that have been burned.