This August, girls from 23 countries traveled to the ESPN Disney Wide World of Sports for the CONCACAF Girls Under-15 championships, an event held just one other time previously (2014) with member countries. This year marked the greatest participation to date, up from 16 participating countries in 2014.
If you had happened upon the fields that day, you might think it was like any other girls' soccer tournament. Team cheers rippled across the impeccably-manicured grass, and parents looked on expectantly from the stands, snapping pictures and analyzing every blow of the whistle. But this was no ordinary tournament.
For many member associations like FENIFUT (Nicaragua), this marked the first time ever that they were able to field an Under-15 girls team to compete in an international tournament. There are countless obstacles to fielding a team at that age group, the most obvious being the resources for coaching, travel, and equipment, much of which was provided by CONCACAF for this event. Even with those key resources in place, however, there is the challenge of identifying, training, and convening a team of school-aged participants with little-to-no grassroots infrastructure in cities across the country. Traveling to and from practice as a 13 or 14 year old girl can be unsafe, as few families have private transportation or additional resources to time off from work to travel to and from. Teams can solve these challenges by recruiting largely from their capital cities, reducing opportunities for other girls. Several teams also filled roster spots with dual U.S. citizens, some of whom were already living in the United States and had access to youth leagues and training from a young age. This method also reduces the complicated paperwork involved in acquiring passports and visas, which can be unpredictable and keep a player from representing her country for reasons totally out of her control.
We are incredibly proud of Reyna, Crystal, and Valeria (pictured), three Soccer Without Borders Nicaragua participants who competed for Nicaragua in these championships as some of the only girls from outside of Managua. They traveled back and forth to practices in the capital throughout the Spring and Summer, along with Natalya, Keyselling, Alejandra, and Mariangeles, balancing school and training as they made history as a team. Behind them was the support of a dedicated coaching staff troubleshooting challenges, caring teammates pushing them to be better players, and an SWB community that encouraged them every step of the way. Thank you to everyone who made this milestone possible, and congratulations to Team Nicaragua who posted their first-ever points as a team with a 1-1 tie with Grenada and a 1-0 win over St. Vincent during the tournament!