Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Philadelphia Drone Soccer League is flying into West Philly

Shari Williams has a mission to expose young people in the city to the world of tech and aviation. So, what exactly *is* drone soccer?

Shari Williams (middle) at the Philadelphia Drone Soccer League launch.

(Photo by Sarah Huffman)

The self-proclaimed “goddess of drones” is here in Philadelphia and she’s trying to launch a citywide drone soccer league.

Shari Williams is a model, small business owner, communications specialist and most recently, a drone instructor. On Monday she launched the Philadelphia Drone Soccer League with a party at the West Philadelphia YMCA.

Think of it like an IRL version of Rocket League, or physical esports:

Williams and her “Shut Up and Fly” demo team demonstrated what it’s like to play drone soccer and invited attendees to try it themselves. That team is made up of Williams’ previous drone students. She said they have been working together for about a year, and over the past few weeks have been practicing drone soccer in preparation for today’s launch.

“The goal was to have people come in and just kind of see how the game is played. Go over the rules of the game. Talk with folks that might be interested in starting a team that could be partners, groups, organizations, and really just kind of showing the public what it’s all about,” Williams said. “Because sometimes you just gotta see it to believe it.”

Players fly drones

“Shut Up and Fly” team members demonstrate a game of drone soccer. (Photo by Sarah Huffman)

Williams was first introduced to drones by a friend in 2017. From there she got her drone pilot license and became a drone instructor. In 2018, she added a drone class to her company, Shari Williams Enterprises, to teach anyone of any age how to fly drones. A former student of hers brought the concept of drone soccer into her circle.

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The actual sport involves RC quadcopter drones that are in protective cages so the drones can hit and block each other while flying in the air. Drone soccer can be played in teams of three, four or five. One person called the striker is trying to get their drone through the goal, while the other teammates are defenders who try to prevent the other team from scoring. The whole setup includes a netted enclosed arena with goals hanging from the top.

There are drone soccer teams all over the world, and Williams said she would love to see teams pop up all over Philadelphia. Once there are a bunch of local teams, they can compete against each each, or compete regionally and nationally.

People fly drones

“Shut Up and Fly” demo team members demonstrate drone soccer. (Photo by Sarah Huffman)

Henry Santos is only 17, but he’s already a drone soccer instructor. Santos said he took a workforce development course about drones taught by Williams. After the course, Williams hired him to teach kids how to fly drones. With the first cohort they’re teaching, he sees the kids motivated to learn.

“I think it’s because it resembles video games, but the way that we teach it to them, it makes it engaging,” he said. “We let them get hands-on experience.”

Santos said there aren’t a lot of people of color in the world of aviation, so they’re trying to expose more people and get them interested in the field. Overall though, he said he just wants everyone to take away something positive from the experience, even if they don’t go on to pursue aviation.

A demo team member shows someone how to use a drone

An event attendee is instructed how to fly a drone. (Photo by Sarah Huffman)

Williams is working with community hubs such as schools, YMCAs and Boys and Girls Clubs to expose people to drone soccer and try to get them to start a team. She said she particularly wants to target organizations that work with kids because drone soccer teaches teamwork, leadership skills and innovation skills, along with the technical skills of working on drones. So far, they have one cohort of students who are training from now until the end of 2022, and she’s trying to put together a schedule of teams for 2023.

“I want to see our kids in the YMCA or the Boys and Girls Club or wherever, doing something and doing something creative and innovative that can impact their lives,” she said. “This really can impact their lives and their careers as well. It’s an entree into aviation careers that they might not even know about. So it’s important for me to bring this so that people can say, ‘You know what? That’s pretty cool. I’m a gamer. I like playing on my phone. I like playing video games. Why not do this?'”


Sarah Huffman is a 2022-2023 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism. -30-
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