LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB) — With the Women’s World Cup now in the knockout stage, one organization is supporting the next generation of girls soccer stars right here in Western New York.

Girls in the Game is all about mentoring and encouraging young women to pursue their dreams. It is part of the Soccer for Success program run by Independent Health and the U.S. Soccer Foundation. The program develops critical skills, partners players with mentors and even provides them with free gear and coaching.

“Soccer gave me so much in life and to just give back some of that brings chills,” Head Coach and Mentor Maddie Sowinski said. “I’ve been with the program almost a year and just the way I’ve seen the confidence and even the soccer skills with the girls I started with a year ago to where they are now, it’s just amazing to see.”

The program empowers young women while developing social-emotional skills through the game of soccer. It is designed for players in the third through eighth grade, and it is completely free. When enrolled, players receive a jersey, soccer ball, shin guards and a girls empowerment kit with clothing items.

“You get all the stuff you need, so you don’t need anything. So just show up to practice and have fun,” Adrianna Donhauser, 10, of Elma said.

It teaches girls about self-confidence, nutrition and of course, soccer.

“I think the growth that I’ve seen in her is her self confidence, her self esteem, her interactions with peers. As she’s getting older, you have peer pressure, you have social media. I’ve seen a change in her since she has been 7 and now she is 11,” LaTarcia Daniels, mother of Angel Perkins, a player in the program, told News 4.

Perkins has participated in the program since she was in elementary school. She says she enjoys playing with other girls on the pitch.

“It’s fun. You can interact with other people and try to get along,” Perkins said.

The program runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays through September. During Thursday’s practice, the girls played a variety of games, had time to journal, and they scrimmaged, which is a highlight for many players. The program supports young women beyond the game with coaches serving as mentors to the next generation of players.

As this program continues in Lackawanna, women are competing on the biggest stage at the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, sharing the beautiful game with young girls around the world.

“In the Morocco game a couple of days ago, it was the first time a woman with a hijab played in the World Cup. Just to be able to show these girls they have someone just like them playing and they could be at the same level one day is just really great,” Sowinski concluded.

The program in Lackawanna runs through September 7.

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Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.