For a year and a half, I spent my Friday afternoons with Soccer Without Borders Oakland’s coaches and high school girls. When I started volunteering with SWB in January 2015, I already had a great deal of respect and admiration for what SWB was doing. Every week, those feelings grew deeper — and along the way, love joined the party.
SWB is a one-of-a-kind organization run with massive amounts of smarts and heart. It doesn’t take long to realize that. There’s a great deal of magic within SWB, and for me, it took stepping onto the field week after week and playing alongside Katy, Cristy, Hel Say and the high school girls’ team to fully recognize that. Being part of SWB is like being part of a big hug, and boy, does it feel good!
Throughout my year and a half with SWB, there were lessons I continued to learn and themes I continued to reflect on. These are a few that stuck with me along the way.
Embracing, supporting and encouraging new teammates
From the coaches to the players, everyone is welcoming and supportive of anyone new to the group — player or volunteer. And because SWB and Oakland International High School are serving refugee and immigrant youth, there are new players every week.
Regardless of home country, language or culture, the girls embrace, support and encourage the newcomers. They’ve been in their position before, and that experience is not forgotten.
The veterans take the newcomers under their wings, translate instructions and explain drills and games. Over time, it’s fun and inspiring to watch moments click for the newcomers — and to then watch them eventually take other newcomers under their wings in the same way their teammates did for them when they first arrived. There are many “full circle” moments at SWB.
Growing friendships through play
While SWB’s high school girls and I have many differences, we also have many similarities, and my time volunteering with SWB often brought back memories of moments with my own teammates.
One thing that always struck me was that the SWB girls — regardless of their home country, language or culture — were playing together, laughing, joking, singing, just being silly and having fun the same way my teammates and I enjoyed one another’s company when I was in high school.
That’s the thing about play. It’s the great equalizer. When we play, we let our guard down. We feel free to simply be ourselves. The best types of friendship grow from those carefree moments.
Volunteering with SWB reminded me that, no matter who you are or where you’re from, high school girls are high school girls; teammates are teammates; and friends are friends.
Defining and pursuing success
The team in Oakland is a really, really special group of young women. They're beautiful; they're tough; they're smart; they're brave, confident and mighty; and they're going places. Their stories are beautiful, and the future is theirs for the taking.
But I’m not naive. While I know there’s so much potential within each girl, I also know they’re up against so much more than I ever was at their age, than I likely ever will be. They will have so many more hurdles and walls to climb over and break through, and SWB is committed to standing alongside them and supporting them as they write their stories.
What I really love about SWB is that they realize success looks different for everyone, that we all define success in different ways. And so, they work to help players realize and work toward their personal definitions of success — not one overarching definition.
A global family full of the deepest love
One of the toughest parts in saying goodbye to SWB Oakland was realizing I'll no longer be part of those Friday afternoons. But I’ll carry the afternoons I spent with SWB with me for the rest of my life. I learned so much from them, and more than anything, I really enjoyed getting lost in play, laughter and love with some pretty incredible women at the end of every week.
SWB isn’t a team; it’s a family. It’s a global family full of the deepest love. And if you’re so fortunate to be part of that family as a volunteer or otherwise, go for it. Embrace it with everything you’ve got. You won’t regret it.