Sport can help transform lives.
Alan Bates has seen it first-hand many times.
And thanks to that the former Tsawwassen soccer player is in the running for a $10,000 charitable donation to help others enjoy the “beautiful game” and improve their fortunes.
Bates, who attended Cliff Drive Elementary school and graduated from South Delta Secondary, is the Vancouver Whitecaps‘ nominee in the Major League Soccer Community MVP Award, on on-line competition seeking votes from fans across North America.
A resident psychiatrist at UBC Bates founded the Vancouver Street Soccer League for those affected by homelessness.
Every Sunday Bates, who works in some of the medical clinics and hospitals on the Downtown Eastside, leads the practice for Portland FC—named after the Portland Hotel Society, one of the city’s largest social housing providers.
And many of those who show up to kick the ball around for fun experience plenty of other benefits.
“I was never an elite soccer player but definitely recognized the game’s potential to help people with their self confidence and identity,” said Bates, a right-sided fullback who was a member of the Tsawwassen Cougars team that was one of the first Tsawwassen teams to win a provincial title. “And I think that’s why it works with the street soccer players.”
Bates said there has been research done at UBC on the effects of participating in the street soccer league that showed the players ultimately found better housing, got employment, reduced their drug use, made friends and got into trouble with the police less often.
“We’re seeing all of these positives effects of just having friends, a social network, and being part of a team,” Bates said.
Bates, 35, discovered street soccer through Facebook four years ago and volunteered as a coach for Vancouver’s first street soccer team called the Dreamcatchers.
And as he saw the positive affects mount he became more involved with the league and is now its president.
One of those players who showed a remarkable turnaround was Patrick Oldman who captained Bates’ team that played in the Homeless World Cup in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2010.
“He (Oldman) just started playing soccer that year—he’d never played before—and just a month or two ago he completed the Vancouver Marathon,” Bates said. “So, physical fitness and soccer have become an integral part of his life, and he’s really changed things around.”
Bates said seeing the transformation many undergo is “awesome.”
“It’s not only on the field seeing them develop skills and fitness. All these players, men and women, hang out together off the field as well. And when I’m walking through the Downtown Eastside in my job as a doctor I see guys wearing soccer jerseys and hanging out together. And it’s really become part of their identity.”
To vote for Bates in the MLS Works Award competition visit mlssoccer.com/mlsworks/community-mvp/vote.
Bates is currently in third place in the standings. Voting ends Friday (July 13) at 2 p.m.