July 24th, 2009
10:00 AM ET

Making goals happen, on and off the court

By Caitlin Hagan
CNN Medical Associate Producer

On a hot sunny day, eight men play street soccer on the hard top of a local basketball court. They high-five and laugh while running drills and scrimmaging. Their dynamic is unique because despite their competition, they are also extremely supportive of one another. Friendly trash talk is intermixed with calls of praise that continue when it's time for a break and the men move off the court, into the shade. To an outsider, this group of friends is happy and healthy, enjoying an afternoon in the sunshine.


Street Soccer USA tries to give hope and restore self-worth to homeless men around the country.

No one would ever suspect these men are homeless. In fact, being homeless is what brings them together.
Welcome to the Atlanta Street Soccer team. One of 16 in the country, the team is part of the national program, Street Soccer USA. The program, open to men who are homeless, addicts in a rehabilitation program, or refugees, seeks to use sports, specifically street soccer, to help the players turn their lives around.

When someone is homeless, “you stop thinking about your health and things that make you happy, things that make you want to live, that make you want to be a productive member of society, that make you want to get up and go to work.” Participating in soccer and sports “makes you want to take that next step. It motivates you to want to do better,” says Jeremy Wisham, an AmeriCorps volunteer who coaches the Atlanta team.

Calvin Riley had a job and an apartment before his company went bankrupt and he was laid off. Eventually he lost everything and became one of the more than 2 million Americans who are homeless. “I was depressed…I never thought I’d be homeless. I never thought I’d be down in the homeless shelter.”

A chance encounter with Wisham brought Riley out on the court. Since then, he says, everything has changed. “Playing soccer got me back focused. Being around positive people…helped me to go out and do something.” Riley is now enrolled in college classes with a job lined up for when he graduates in a few months. He has lost weight and he quit smoking. “You know, there’s a lot of running in soccer. When I first came…I was running constantly. I didn’t like the way it made me feel…so after three practices I said, I’m giving it up, man. I am giving it up.”

“Street Soccer is about redefining yourself and setting goals,” says Lawrence Cann, founder and CEO of Street Soccer USA. “The homeless are usually locked out of normal life so a chance to get in and play and be a part of the team…it’s something they can be proud of at the end of the day.”

The 16 teams will meet at the end of July in Washington, D.C., for the U.S. Homeless Cup. From there, about a dozen players will travel to Milan to compete in this year’s World Homeless Cup. “Soccer is the world’s game. It’s the people’s game, and when you’re homeless, you’re so alone…but you become part of a community, the soccer community, probably the biggest community in the world,” says Cann.

Riley believes that support has been key to his success. “When you join this team, it’s like a family. If you need anything, we’ll be there for you.”

Do you think sports could be a solution to homelessness? Has sports ever helped you overcome an obstacle?

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.

soundoff (9 Responses)
  1. Dr.M.S.Ravindra

    Doctor, I see that you dont cover Ophthalmology. I am in Bangalore, and can help you out with q's about eye care. Thanks, Dr.M.S.Ravindra

    July 24, 2009 at 13:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Dan

    If you'd like a tool for setting your goals, you can use this web application:


    You can use it to manage your goals, projects and tasks, set next actions and contexts, use

    checklists, schedules and a calendar.
    A Vision Wall (inspiring images attached to yor goals) is available too.
    Works also on mobile.

    July 25, 2009 at 04:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Lauren R. Wheeling, WV

    Overall, a nice story. Thank you for discussing some important strategies for success. That said, being homeless does not automatically preclude a person from having dreams, aspirations, yes, even ambition. This can be a dangerous presumption, because if a person is thought to be lazy, shiftless, or without ambitions, the chances of them receiving a fair shake drop sharply. I should know. I'm homeless, too, and after talking to literally hundreds of other homeless people I've concluded that nobody who gets to be in our shoes ever thought they'd end up wearing them, either.

    One thing I will say is, becoming homeless is more than about being homeless. I've lived in a shelter nearly a decade, and frankly, I find myself regressing emotionally due to the strain of what I call "outsiders", ie. the "non-homeless". For instance, I cannot get through one week at work without the facts of my homelessness being, again, brought up (it's a small town and this fact cannot be kept quiet). It's pretty terrible, to have to hear the soundtrack of my so-called pity party played over, and over, espcially since I didn't write the word or the music. All I want is to do my job, collect my pay, and live my life like anybody else, and trust me, if I could move out, I would.

    Can I say it out loud? EVERYONE, whether they be homeless or not, is already a part of a team. it's called being human, and please stop picking us homeless people last to be on your team. We belonged already.

    With prayers for your continued success,

    Lauren from Just Like Any Other Ordinary Life @ blogger

    July 25, 2009 at 23:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tamiran Irwan

    I think sports is not THE solution to homelessness. I think it's rather a tool to help find a way out of homelessness (or other difficult problems in life).

    You see, by doing sports and exercise, especially competitive sports done as a team for example soccer, people learn the importance of team-work, the spirit to pick oneself up from defeat, and when the time has come, to enjoy the fruit of success and victory.

    If they can function efficiently as a member of a soccer team, those homeless people can begin to build their own self-confidence, which will be much needed to break out of their state of homelessness.
    Obatonline Health Guide http://obatonline.com

    July 26, 2009 at 07:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. LST

    Re: Medical homes. These are not new concepts or entitites. Family physicians have been medical homes for years. The fact that this has been so for so long should point to the value of family physicians as advocates, coordinators and providers of health care. My office sets up appointments for patients, steers them towards the most financially viable options with request to procedures, medications and the like, etc. I receive (in about 95% of the time) responses to my referrals, and if consultants fail to do it, my patients give me feedback. I have medical supply providers who hold free classes for people with chronic medical illnesses such as diabetes, etc. I do not have backlogs of patients to be seen, and my patients know that my office is their medical home. I have patients who refuse to go back to their specialists even when strongly advised to do so because they consider me "their doctor". I would like to think that I have misssed few diagnosis (at least the obvious ones) because I do not treat based on the color of patient"s skin. It is a sad state when new terminologies and new "concepts" are brought out and bandied around just because the political issues of the day demands to be gratified, common sense flies out the window, and human decency gets suffocated by the avalanche of posturing.

    July 26, 2009 at 08:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Jennifer

    Trying so hard to explain the realities of the Canadian health care system. It's not bad, just different. Universal health care isn't completely true. Vision and dental aren't insured. Take my $800 glasses off and I'm disabled.

    One of the biggest problems however was diminishing the number of medical students in the early nineties. Problem – takes at least eight years to get a medical degree, let alone a specialty. Big big mistake on Canada's part.

    Many doctor's have also left Canada to go to the States, often with dissolutionment.

    Ah heck of the most developed nations, the US ranks 35th in the world, Canada 30th. Neither a number to be proud of.

    But it heartens me to know that even a homeless person in Canada can go into a clinic or emergency and receive basic medical care. And I'll admit that I've overheard a docter treating first, no health card for the patient.

    Please do remember as Americans buy pharmecuticals in Canada, they are financed in part by Canadian citizens tax dollars. Don't want to see anyone go without, but ouch.

    July 26, 2009 at 18:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. john

    Hey Sunjay,
    I do not live in the US and watch in amusement how you're all trying to find a solution to your health system, in my opinion there is a very simple solution. The biggest health issues are brought upon by three things and these are 1. Tobacco use 2. Alcohol and 3. the genetically altered food you eat. These are the biggest contributors to illnesses therefore the biggest drain on the health budget therefore the manufacturers of these and not the people should be heavily taxed. These commodities are all controlled my big cooperations who are raking in big profits to the detriment of the peoples health so this is their responsibility .

    July 28, 2009 at 13:15 | Report abuse | Reply


    August 1, 2009 at 02:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Don Kiehn

    About "toning shoes": we know they are very heavy, unstable and extremely expensive, but are supposed to increase strengthening various muscular groups during walking. Apparently this is unproven. For decades, however, running coaches, such as myself, have recognized and taught that running or walking on uneven surfaces, such as grass, forest trails, off-trail and other natural surfaces improves balance and fosters the strengthening of a wide array of muscle groups beyond just those directly involved in the running stride. Of course there is an increased risk of injury with uneven surfaces, as I'm sure there is with these toning shoes. So, why would anyone buy these very expensive, bad shoes just to create instability? Friends, trying runnng somewhere away from the track or in nature. Hey, take a hike!

    August 17, 2009 at 13:06 | Report abuse | Reply

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