By Ryan Bailey

Academy Education and Welfare Coordinator Sara Smith provides Charlotte FC Academy players with educational support and tutoring, while overseeing their community outreach efforts. She also manages the Academy Homestay Program.

What exactly does your role with the Charlotte FC Academy entail?

Wow, what a simple yet complicated question! Essentially, my role can be simplified into two categories: educational support and coordinating the Homestay Program. Naturally, there are many offshoots from those categories, too.

What does your typical day look like?

My day always begins with planning, coordinating, prepping materials, teaching myself homework topics, answering inquiries, scheduling, managing projects, and attending meetings.

The second half of my day typically consists of in-person or virtual tutoring sessions. After my last tutoring session, I always try to stop by the practice field. I believe it is important for my students to see that I do not only support them academically, but in their soccer ambitions as well. I can promise you that I have not had a boring day yet.

What kind of tutoring are you providing for Academy players?

Transitioning to a virtual lifestyle has been a tall order. Fifty-eight percent of our students reported feeling negatively affected by virtual learning. When we add in the extra time constraints facing student-athletes, it is not surprising that many students struggle to maintain their grades.

My first priority with students is always to teach them how to study and manage their time better. Every student knows that he has to study—but only a small portion of them know how to study well. There are methods of studying that are psychologically proven to help learners retain information quickly. I want to help the players study more effectively so that they have more time for their families, communities, sleep schedules, and personal development. My goal is to enable each student to be a success in school so that they have every future opportunity open to them.

How important is it to support the developmental and emotional well-being of the players off the field?

The Charlotte FC Academy, from its inception, has recognized the tremendous importance of supporting well-rounded students.

“Progressive, Collective, Ambitious.” These are the core values of the Academy. We want student-players who are constantly improving, players who take pride in and make every effort to support their team, and players who are determined to succeed.

These values should be seen in every player, in the classroom and on the soccer field. I have been floored by the support that I feel from my supervisors and co-workers. I feel confident that we can help our student-athletes holistically thrive.

You have a wealth of experience in teaching English as a second language—are you providing bi-lingual educational support?

My experience as an ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher laid the foundation for me to be successful in this role. My background working with Spanish-speaking students has already proven itself to be useful and I am certain it will continue to do so. I love how diverse our players and staff are.

You are also managing the Homestay Program. Can you tell us a little about that?

Our Homestay Program allows players from other cities and states to live with local families, while they train with the Academy and go to school. You can think of it as a type of exchange program. With the Academy continuing to grow throughout the year, we will be looking for local families who are excited by the idea of hosting one of our players. Hosting applications for the program can be found on the Charlotte FC website.

How are our players engaging in community outreach projects?

Each player is able to choose their own community service project. I encourage all my students to be creative and choose a project that is meaningful to them. We have had students collecting items for charities, fostering puppies and leading book drives.

It is exciting to see the players inspire each other and I cannot wait to see what they all come up with. Our players are able to see the value of giving back to the community firsthand and, as an Academy team, we know how important that is.

We have some great personalities within our Academy squads—how enjoyable is it to work with this group?

We have such dynamic players in our Academy. It has been so fun getting to know them. So many kids associate learning with feeling frustrated and overwhelmed, but I want our players to be encouraged after they leave my classroom. Getting a good grade on a test or assignment might not be as exciting as an epic goal on the field, but a proud moment is a proud moment and I want to help my students feel that.

Finally, are you a big soccer fan?

I was living in Spain when I saw my first professional soccer match. I had been invited to go to a pub, not realizing what I was getting myself into. It was a game between Barcelona and Real Madrid. The focused energy in the room, the speed of play, and the absurd talent I was seeing were transfixing. Ever since then, I have been a fan of the game (and held a soft spot for Real Madrid).

I am thrilled to be in a position to learn more about the technical aspects of the sport. Being surrounded by such highly skilled and knowledgeable coaches and players, I anticipate learning a lot. What’s more, having never seen a live professional game, I am delighted that I can see my first live MLS match next year in Charlotte.