Soccer Without Borders: Playing for Change
If you ever wondered the extent to which soccer can change lives for the better, it may be time you discovered more about Soccer Without Borders, an international organization present in 10 countries (including Costa Rica, Argentina, South Africa and the U.S.), which thus far, has helped over 10,000 youths. The organisation aims to use soccer as a vehicle for positive change, with a special focus on growth, inclusion and personal success for girls and women.
It is particularly important to ‘get girls in the game’ because only 10 per cent of the world’s soccer players are women. The benefits of soccer, however, are plentiful, and they have ripple effects on everything from women’s health, to the economy. Girls who play sport perform better at school, are less likely to take part in risky activities (including the abuse of drug and alcohol, which can lead to long-term health issues), and enjoy greater self-esteem.
The longer women remain in the educational system, the greater the economic rewards they and their families will reap. In impoverished nations, girls invest 90 per cent of their income back into their families, which is why all efforts that strengthen their self-image and keep them in school, should be passionately pursued.
Soccer Without Borders aims to attract more girls and women to the sport, by relying on female trainers to lead by example. Of course, the organization also helps many boys and young men take part in the sport they love.
Soccer is an excellent vehicle to teach the youth to overcome obstacles, find their voice and achieve success, because it is a low-cost activity that can be played anywhere in the world. It is also one of the most popular sports on a global scale, and is an excellent way to improve oneself physically, socially and personally. When it comes to marginalized populations (such as refugees trying to adapt to a new country) soccer offers the chance to build friendships, get used to new surroundings, and heal in a fun, healthy environment. For some players, soccer can be the future they have been waiting for.
Some of the many fun activities offered to kids by Soccer Without Borders includes training and instruction, team building, cultural exchange, educational support, etc. Programs ruin over 40 or more weeks per year, for 10-15 hours a week. There is a small player-to-trainer ration (12:1) and individual mentorship is also offered. Some of the many outcomes achieved include language development, the adoption of healthier lifestyles and greater academic success.
Teams are taught the importance of dialogue and understanding different cultures through the use of specific strategies, themed events and social opportunities during which cultural exchange can take place.
Children and youths also receive academic and language development aid when they need it (including preparation for high school and college). They additionally attend workshops on important topics such as nutrition. Mindfulness is another useful skill – children are taught techniques to help them remain ‘in the here and now’ when stressful emotions and thought patterns arise, thereby keeping anxiety at bay. They are also enlightened on the nature of healthy relationships and encouraged to use effective conflict resolution skill to achieve their aims.
Of course, technique is always a priority: skills such as dribbling, shooting at the goal, passing the ball etc. are vital, as is learning to win and lose together, always aiming to keep team spirit high.
The positive impact SWB has had is visible all over the world. The organization has created over 20 teams for girls that did not exist previously. In the USA, SWB programs are usually the only free sports program accessed by refugee and immigrant girls in specific areas. The effect that sport has on these girls is noticeable and measurable, with many finding their first inclusive experience, through this sport. Other success stories include the transformation of players into coaches; soccer can be an important source of jobs for young leaders seeking to share the skills they have learned. SWB has also helped many youngsters achieve personal success. One such player is Heman Rai, a young boy growing up in a refugee camp near Nepal. Thanks to his love of soccer and the support of his coaches, friends and ttuors, he is now attending Loyola University; in 2014, he was the first Nepal-Bhutanese refugee to attend a four-year university. These and many more success stories are possible thanks to SWB but also to the unique appeal of a sport that anyone, anywhere, can play: soccer.