Two teenage girls are playing soccer. One is dribbling the ball, the other is running close and defending.



A silent crisis is striking youth soccer leagues in North Carolina. Thousands of girls are quitting. But until recently, few people grasped the magnitude of the problem.
Chris Barnhart is looking at his laptop screen while while sitting at a table in front of an NC Fusion sign.



Chris Barnhart uncovered the exodus by digging into player-registration data. He leads IT services at NC Fusion, a nonprofit organization providing sports programs to youth and adults in the Greensboro-Winston Salem area.



When Barnhart uploaded that data to Power BI, the results stunned him: Nearly 40% of the girls had quit their team by age 15. A dramatic drop,” he says. “Scary dramatic.” 
Sophie Wyshner stands on a soccer field and holds a soccer ball on her right shoulder. She



Many of those girls had decided they “didn’t belong” in soccer, especially if going pro felt unreachable. Sophie Wyshner, 14, heard similar reasons from departing players: “They just fell out of love with the game.”  
Sophie Wyshner is kicking a soccer ball toward a net.



Wyshner, an NC Fusion striker, adores soccer’s lasting benefits: “In life, you can’t win all the time. You can’t let losing interfere with other things.” Eventually, she hopes to play in college, then become a physician or veterinarian. 
Madison Casteen faces a a soccer teammate on the field and smiles at her.



Another NC Fusion player, Madison Casteen, 15, knows soccer’s demands may chase away some girls. But the game has shown Casteen that she thrives under pressure: Everything’s not going to be handed to you. You have to push through.” 
Chris Barnhart is show in front of his laptop screen, gesturing and speaking to someone to his right.



Inspired by those kinds of life lessons, Barnhart created a media campaign to convince more girls to stick with the game. The TV spots – coinciding with the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup – air on stations in the Greensboro-Winston Salem area. 
A screenshot of a video in which a former youth soccer player is reading a letter to her younger self.



Each TV spot features a woman who once played soccer, reading a letter to her younger self about the many ways the game still guides and shapes them. The ad’s tagline: “You do belong.”
A screenshot of Chris Barnhart



To broaden that campaign’s reach, Barnhart sent an accompanying email to thousands of NC Fusion families. He used Copilot in Dynamics 365 Customer Insights to write his text. “That was huge,” he says. “It trimmed a 60-minute project down to 10 minutes.”  
A girl



“We’re inspired by NC Fusion’s campaign,” says Emily He, Microsoft’s corporate vice president of business applications. “It underscores the critical role generative AI capabilities like Copilot can play in enabling a local organization to create content that connects with audiences in new ways.” 
Kate Duffy dribbles a soccer ball on the field with other players behind her.



The campaign speaks to Kate Duffy, 19. The Australian midfielder traveled 10,000 miles to play soccer in America. “The game taught me to know what you want,” she says. “Sometimes it’s hard. But you’ve got to love the process.” 
Three youth soccer players enjoy an ice bath in the same tub after practice.



For Casteen and her teammates, a post-practice ice bath fuels the kind of camaraderie that’s celebrated by NC Fusion’s “You do belong” campaign.  



All photos by Christobal Perez/Azul Photography.

Story by Bill Briggs.