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  • Sophia Goethals, SWB

At Home on the Soccer Pitch: SWB Oakland's Alumni Tournaments

At Soccer Without Borders (SWB), we aim to make our teams feel like family. This means that, even after participants graduate and move on to pursue the next step in their adult lives, they will always have a home within the SWB Community. Every December at SWB Oakland, we look forward to welcoming back familiar faces for one of the most exciting events of the year: Alumni tournaments! Alumni tournaments unite former and current participants in a day of fun, play, and celebration.

Alumni tournaments in Oakland are an opportunity for alumni to return to the space, reconnect with their coaches and mentors, and form new bonds with each other and with younger participants. When alumni create relationships with participants, it allows younger participants to see others that have had similar experiences, and lets them envision a positive future for themselves. And keeping alumni actively involved in programs allows them to benefit from the space even after they’ve graduated.

Having served the Bay Area for more than 15 years, SWB Oakland has a robust alumni network. This year, over 40 alumni boys and 20 alumni girls joined the tournaments alongside current participant youth. In many ways, the event embodies all of SWB’s mantras and provides a joyful and safe space for all.

Check out some of the photos below to see how SWB’s mantras played out throughout Oakland’s alumni tournaments!

You Play Best When You’re Smiling

At SWB, we believe that joy is infectious: When coaches and staff are smiling, participants will smile too. And when we all show up with happiness in our hearts and on our faces, our community can be built on foundations of positivity and brightness. Coach Ben embodied this with our SWB alumni girls, creating laughter and joy on the sidelines.

Leave Your Shoes at the Door

The SWB community is made up of people with diverse backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences. We are always trying to learn from each other, and to approach that learning with authenticity and humility. Here, SWB boys from different teams and ages join together arm in arm for a cheer. Their love and enthusiasm for one another, and unity on the pitch, shows their acceptance and inclusion of each other regardless of their differences.

Know the “Thingy-Thingy”

As newcomers who are on a journey to learn English, our participants do not always know how to express their feelings and thoughts. At SWB, we work to support participants in understanding their emotions, giving them space to process, and helping them better express themselves. Here, program manager Maddy Boston leads participants at the girls’ alumni tournament in a breathing exercise before the day begins. Moments like these allow participants to ground themselves in the moment and settle into their emotions before a big day.

Celebrate the Pass More the Goal

At SWB, we recognize the long-term nature of working with youth. Positive change doesn’t happen all at once, and to ensure that youth see themselves growing, we aim to celebrate the small moments of success and the process of growth that has developed over time. Here, SWB alumni girls gather at the end of the day with the tournament trophy. This group of players encompass many years of SWB programming with some girls having participated more than five years ago. Seeing them come back to the SWB soccer field and celebrating their growth across time is a meaningful part of the Alumni Tournaments.

We’re Glad You’re Here

Everyone – from participants to staff, parents to volunteers – should feel welcome, included, and accepted at SWB. Setting a positive and welcoming tone allows us to build a safe space where everyone can come as their authentic selves. Here, an alumni participant reunites with an SWB coach after many years apart. This embrace between player and coach embodies the welcoming spirit of SWB.

Get Them to the Field

SWB participants face challenges getting to the field. Many of these barriers of participation can not be so easily seen. Therefore, an important role of SWB coaches is to uncover these barriers and proactively find ways to help overcome them, ensuring that all youth have the opportunity to participate. Although an all-day rain storm tried to spoil the boys’ alumni tournament, participants did not let it stop them. Despite the weather, they were eager and excited to get to the field and to be in community with one another.


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