By: Cat Webster
Last Saturday wrapped up the 7th TEAM Camp for Soccer Without Borders Granada. What an incredible week it was! We hosted fifteen American college students as well as three special guest coaches from SEPROJOVEN, a soccer for female empowerment program located in Costa Rica. The volunteers jumped right into the week with a few hours of pickup soccer with coaches and friends of the program, heading home only when it got too dark to see the ball. On Sunday we kicked off the official start of the camp with a fiesta for the participants and the volunteers, complete with face-painting, musical chairs, a 2013 highlight video, and a piñata.
On Monday morning, we started our two-a-day camp sessions- a soccer session in the morning and an office activity in the office in the afternoon. Each day began with a full camp warm up and stretch, then the girls split off into their age groups, where they learned the theme of the day and the corresponding soccer skills. Monday focused on Identity and Dribbling, Tuesday on Cooperation and Passing, Wednesday on Confidence and Technical Skills, and Thursday focused on Working in Teams. The volunteers were divided amongst the different teams, and throughout the week grew stronger and stronger in assisting the Nicaraguan coaches and spending lots of one-on-one instruction time with the participants. Some spoke no Spanish, some were nearly fluent, but all found a way to bond with the participants and meaningfully involve themselves with camp instruction. Despite the heat, both seasoned players and new girls arrived morning after morning, eager to tie up their cleats and get playing.
Two of the volunteers, Jamie Gillis and Val Tysinger, played goalie for their universities, and coached two goalie clinics with the help of Nicaraguan coaches Cesar Morales and Eden Guadamuz. Keepers from all four teams were delighted to learn new skills and drills from these women. Many who could not complete all of the skills during the first clinic were eager to come back to the second, demonstrate that they had practiced at home, and master even more difficult ones.
Our afternoon sessions always began with a snack, courtesy of the U.S. Embassy in Managua, to help replenish some of the energy spent on the field. Afterwards, the girls were split into mixed aged teams and rotated through all three floors of the office to complete various team-building challenges and games. The volunteers stayed energetic all week, playing all the games and helping their teams solve challenges such as egg tosses and relay races.
On Wednesday afternoon, the SEPROJOVEN coaches took the lead with a presentation on their program. Especially inspiring points were the wide number of neighborhoods that the program serves, and that the idea of the program started with one young girl. SEPROJOVEN coach, Yerling Brenes, really drove home the point that it is important to protect and pursue your dreams-- no matter who says they can’t be accomplished-- because one young Costa Rican girl was responsible for SEPROJOVEN’s incredible start. When SEPROJOVEN coach Gaby Quesada showed a picture of her studying and asked why it was important, 7 year old Marianna Mejia received a round of applause for her answer: “It’s important to study so that we can grow up to really be someone.” We are excited at the prospect of continued partnerships with this incredible organization.
On Friday, the girls put their new soccer skills to use in the camp-wide “Soccer Olympics”. The volunteers worked hard to create six different stations to test a variety of skills, and mixed-age teams competed against one another for first place. It was great to see the volunteers taking charge and sharing their ideas with the entire camp. Later in the afternoon was a special treat: the volunteers played a friendly match against the Nicaraguan Women’s National Soccer Team in their stadium in Managua. Participants with high enough attendance during the week earned the chance to attend. They cheered, sang, and danced with excitement throughout the entire hour-long ride there, through the 90-minute game, and the ride back. The final result was Nicaragua 4 - SWB 1. Though we would have liked a more equal result, it was great for the participants to see Nicaraguan women really kicking butt in their sport. The program has shown significant development over the past few years, and it is exciting for us that women’s soccer in Nicaragua continues to improve.
When asked what she thought of camp, Claremont-McKenna senior Lauren Allen talked some about the extracurricular experiences offered to the volunteers. “I figured it would just be playing soccer, but we have really been welcomed into the community as family. From staying in homes in the barrio to learning to cook and salsa, I feel like I’ve learned so much about the culture as well as Soccer Without Borders.”
We are extremely grateful to all the volunteers who donated not only time and equipment but their unrelenting energy, ideas, and understanding to kick off our 2014 season. Their impact will last long after they have left, and we are happy to welcome them to the SWB family.