Rob Cann, MA Sport Management '11

The Beautiful Game

How Rob Cann MA ’11 turned a soup kitchen soccer team into a national success story

When Rob Cann MA ’11 and his brother Lawrence worked at a soup kitchen in North Carolina in 2006, they coached soccer to homeless teens and young men. The brothers, lifelong soccer players and Division I college competitors, saw soccer as more than a game. For them, it was a tool for learning to work well with others, being accountable, and respecting teammates and opponents.

Those were the lessons the brothers wanted to pass on to the young men they coached.

Over months, then years, the brothers watched their soup kitchen soccer players gain confidence, get and keep jobs, find housing, and step-by-step improve their lives.

USF has one of the best reputations for sport management in the country... USF was appealing because its mission aligned with my values.

Today, the brothers run Street Soccer USA, a nonprofit that conveys life-transforming lessons to thousands of homeless adults and at-risk youth in 14 major cities, from New York to San Francisco.

“One of the best reputations”

Rob attributes much of Street Soccer USA’s success and expansion to his time in USF’s Sport Management program, where he made connections across the sports industry, and learned how to create and implement a business plan and build a brand.

“USF has one of the best reputations for sport management in the country,” says Rob, who enrolled to improve his leadership and business skills soon after co-founding Street Soccer USA in 2009. “USF was appealing because its mission aligned with my values.”

At USF, Rob took classes in sports marketing, finance, and entrepreneurial brand building, and studied with professors who are leaders in their industries, like brand marketer Keir Beadling, who helped popularize the Mavericks big wave surf competition. Rob gained valuable experience and built his network interning with the PGA and the San Francisco Giants, all while continuing to work at Street Soccer USA.

After graduating he started I Play for SF, a nonprofit adult soccer league that contributes 100 percent of its earnings to Street Soccer USA through league events and fees. He expanded the business model to New York City and in 2016 the leagues raised $450,000. League members often become Street Soccer USA volunteers or coaches.

“Street Soccer USA has doubled its annual operating budget each of the last two years,” says Rob, who’s the nonprofit’s chief impact officer and in charge of fundraising and strategic planning.

Job, school, and life skills

Street Soccer USA’s free programs reach more than 1,400 homeless adults, age 18–30, and more than 5,300 children nationwide. In addition to playing soccer, participants learn job, school, and life skills from volunteer mentors and coaches.

Street Soccer USA also transforms empty lots in underprivileged communities into soccer fields.

For Rob, who has been dribbling a soccer ball since he was 6 years old, the reward is watching the game he loves have such a positive impact on others.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about the young adults and kids we work with,” Rob says. “It’s about the smile on their faces, the growth they’re experiencing, and the opportunities they’re having to enjoy the game and be inspired to achieve their goals and dreams.”