Oakland Roots in partnership with Anthem Blue Cross has launched a new player development program focusing on holistic wellness, performance and education about global, national and local issues seen through the eyes of the community.
The ‘Nurtured Roots’ program is intended to help players thrive on and off the field by connecting with their individual purpose, support their journey as athlete activists through inspiration, education and resources and create lifelong ambassadors for the Oakland Roots who are better prepared for life after sports.
“It’s important to develop athletes in ways where they are prepared just as much off the field as they are on it, and to assist them in finding their identity and purpose outside soccer. We often look at athletes as strictly performers in the moment, and forget that they still have their whole lives in front of them after their short careers are over,” said Roots Assistant Coach Nana Attakora.
“I have seen the same story too many times when athletes aren’t prepared for life both during and post-career because, when you are playing, topics such as mental health, nutrition, financial literacy, and career planning are rarely discussed. By the time they are done playing they don’t have the necessary resources or education to successfully manage and cope.”
Nurtured Roots was born from conversations about how the club could best support the players during the protests for racial justice in 2020. The program will focus on performance-related topics like nutrition, sleep and healthy behaviors as well as purpose-related topics like creativity and self-expression, racial and gender equity, allyship, activism and voting rights.
The program will also focus strongly on mental health, which led to the Roots hiring Lisa Bonta Sumii as the Club’s first Mental Health and Sports Performance Specialist.
“Mental health is still painfully stigmatized and misunderstood in many populations and communities – athletes and communities of color included,” said Bonta. “I am honored to be part of a Club that isn’t shying away from bringing visibility to its athletes’ mental health.”
Nurtured Roots will also focus on preparing players for a life after sports, with topics such as wealth management, entrepreneurship and financial literacy all on the agenda.
The program will also draw on Oakland’s rich history and the Roots’ extensive network of community partnerships to bring the program to life and give the players insight into what it means to represent the Oakland community. The brand new squad of players assembled for the Club’s debut season in the USL Championship have already begun their Nurtured Roots journey, with an ‘introduction to Oakland’ workshop led by local journalists from KQED and Oaklandside and a Scavenger Hunt that saw them traveling across the city learning about sites of historical interest.