For an athlete, success is defined by performance on the field — but legacy transcends these simple statistics, weighing instead an athlete’s ability to effect change and transform sports to be more equitable and accessible for future generations. And Ousseni Bouda ’23, former Stanford men’s soccer player, is working to dismantle barriers for underserved communities of color with his new initiative, On The Pitch With Bouda.
Due to factors like the cost of equipment and lack of access to training and mentors, athletes from lower-income backgrounds are often disproportionately deterred from participating in sports. On The Pitch With Bouda partners with the Big Homie Project, which matches East Palo Alto kids with professional mentors and community members to provide more resources to an underserved community. On The Pitch With Bouda also brings families from East Palo Alto to Earthquakes games, which for some, are their first time at a professional sporting event. Bouda also hosts Q&A sessions with the kids.
In addition to pitch interactions, Bouda’s initiative is broadening access to supplies through equipment drives. Whenever he visits his home in Burkina Faso, he brings back gear to give to kids who want to start playing soccer.
For Bouda, community is wherever he goes, not just where he came from. Bouda fervently believes in the power of giving back to better the community that surrounds him.
“As athletes, we have to always think about the broader impacts we can have on and off the field,” Bouda said. “I think if there’s a platform, it’s good when it’s used in the right way. And so I’ve always felt like it’s a duty to try to get involved with the community and get to know people and definitely help in any way, shape or form that I can.”
Bouda’s values of selflessness and gratitude have clear antecedents in the work of his inspirations, one of whom is George Weah.
“George Weah was a Liberian soccer player who was voted best player in the world, [and is] now currently the president of his country,” Bouda said. “George Weah is someone that I look up to because of how he remembers where he comes from, and him wanting to make things better in his country, using soccer.”
Soccer has opened many doors for Bouda, starting from his youth in Burkina Faso. His journey to becoming a professional soccer player has been one of extraordinary hard work and adaptability.
“I was recruited by a soccer academy called Right to Dream, [which moved me to] Ghana. I spent four years there, so between 11 and 13 years old, I had to adapt to a new country and learn a new language,” Bouda said. At 15, he received a scholarship to attend preparatory school in New York, sparking yet another culture shock.
Throughout this incredible journey that continuously tested him physically and mentally, Bouda never lost hope in his dream to play soccer professionally.
“I always felt like it was on me to work hard to make the most out of these opportunities,” Bouda said. “So then when times get hard, I think I always have the motivation. It’s hard to keep working, hard to continue growing. But as long as I do that, I’ll be fine.”
Bouda has a spectacular set of athletic accomplishments. In high school, he was Gatorade National Player of the Year and led his school team to three consecutive championships. While at Stanford, he earned Pac-12 Freshman of the Year and All Pac-12 First Team awards. After just two and a half years, he got the opportunity to go into the draft and join the major league, an impressive and rare feat for an underclassman.
In addition to being a professional soccer player, Bouda was a full time student at Stanford. This past spring, he graduated with a degree in international relations. The importance of education is something that has never escaped him and something he hopes to bring to others through soccer.
Bouda’s humility and earnest affinity to serve the community has been observed by many around him, including Jacqueline Diep, co-founder of the Big Homie Project.
“Ousseni has been someone who is incredibly selfless and willing to help out in whatever way he can,” Diep said. “His humble beginning is something I don’t think he has ever lost sight of, no matter how successful he’s gotten on or off the pitch. His humility is a trait that really stands out to me.”
Bouda has been involved in the Big Homie Project since his freshman year. This project aims to provide youth in underserved East Palo Alto communities with access to a professional network and mentors, whether they be professional athletes or doctors. Throughout Bouda’s participation, Diep saw his motivation to deepen his engagement, which developed into On The Pitch With Bouda.
“I’m a believer that you can’t aspire to be what you don’t see. [Bouda] shows these kids what’s possible, no matter your circumstances and the cards you’re dealt. More importantly, he’s shown at every stage of his playing career the discipline, focus, drive and work ethic it takes to truly be great,” Diep said.