More Than a Place to Play is where you can grow up and be a community; people can have a good time with whoever it is and do anything.

My name is Alyssa Flowers. I’m 17 years old and live in the Orange Mount neighborhood, about 10 minutes from The Heights and Treadwell Park.

I started playing club soccer pretty late, in fourth grade. I joined a team full of my middle school friends and two girls I didn’t know. It was tough. I joined this team because it was the only place I could afford to play, and some of my school friends were on it.

I clearly remember my first practice. I felt intimidated because all the other girls had been playing longer than I had. But I was surprised by how quickly I adapted. Before I knew it, I was genuinely excited and ready to do my best.

I certainly wasn’t the best player out there, and I often rode the bench, working super hard to get a starting position. However, I was determined because I believed I could do it, and my parents always reminded me I was good enough. So I just went and showed it to the coach. 

I wanted to secure a position, and I felt very accomplished when I finally got it. But the real battle was keeping that position and consistently growing.

By the time I got to Play Where You Stay (PWYS), I had been in three different clubs but always played with the same players. A new environment was scary.

I joined the team in the middle of the season. Luckily, the transition was impossibly easy. I felt so welcomed and a part of the team so quickly. You would think I had played with these girls for years.

Friends on the team had been talking to me about how amazing it was. So I decided to give it a try. During the first practice, not only my friends but also those who didn’t know me were eager to welcome me. It was a very smooth transition, almost like I had always been part of it. It was an environment where I felt I could express myself. 

My family and I have always looked for this kind of community and acceptance in my soccer experience. We believe it’s important that I can be myself wherever I am and that my parents can be comfortable with whoever they are on the sidelines. We like to be part of a community we can support and feel supported by.

At this point in my soccer career, I had almost always been the only Black girl on my team. Although I didn’t face any discrimination, it felt incredibly warm and welcoming to be surrounded by other girls of color and even to have a Black female coach.

My race has always been something I thought about when I looked at myself and soccer. It was disheartening to always play on majority White teams with only one or two Black girls.

I understood the sacrifices my parents were making to have me on my team in the first place—time and, mostly, financial. Teams were expensive, and many people were trying to get on them. So getting me into one was a priority, and ensuring I was also succeeding meant investing time and money.

Soccer can be expensive. I couldn’t imagine the financial strain on other Black girls on expensive teams. I always thought about how many talented girls could succeed if this sport was cheaper.

Through Treadwell Park, we’ve created a space for others to grow, and knowing I might be a role model drives me further.

So, my parents and I fell in love when my friend told me about PWYS and its pay-what-you-can model.

From the beginning, the cost has always been something to consider when my parents and I talked about playing soccer. Whenever my dedication didn’t seem right, they would come to me and say, “If you’re not having fun or enjoying it, or you don’t want it, let us know because we have paid for it. Before we pull you out, we need to discuss it with you.”

In all honesty, they had no clue what they were doing, but they knew that the price needed to equate to commitment, which unintentionally fostered an undying love for the sport.

Their support has kept me going since the beginning. My dad was willing to practice with me at local parks in the early morning—he would get up early on Saturdays to mow the lawn so we could play in our small backyard. My mom consistently picked me up and dropped me off at practices. My parents’ support has driven a large part of my soccer career.

But it wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Neither of my parents played a sport, let alone club soccer, in their childhood. They were learning along with me, which meant arguments and differing opinions on what I could have done better or what needed to be done to get me more playtime.

Arguments are always a roadblock that any family with a child athlete will encounter. Luckily for me, it was never an issue we couldn’t move through and turn into a learning experience.

Not many people understand the learning curve from being an only child to playing team-centered sports. There’s so much to learn from a game like this.

I’ve learned from soccer with the various teams I’ve played on. Getting mercy ruled and losing game after game, no matter how hard you try. Having winning seasons where you’re on such a roll, nothing can bring you down, feeling like the whole season is a cakewalk. And the rollercoaster seasons where every win is a struggle, and every loss is taken very hard.

If soccer, my parents, and my teams have taught me anything, it’s that humility is an important trait and foundation for people to have. I must be an example of what I want to be on and off the field. I had to be the only Black girl on the team to show others that it was okay. I have to create my own community and space so there’s room for others when they grow up. And the realization or thought that I may be watched and looked up to drives me even further. 

My message to other Black girls who might face a similar experience is: Don’t let race stop you from playing soccer or doing something you enjoy. Find your passion. Race should never stop you from doing what you love.