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  • Soccer Without Borders

Courtside with Girl Determined

Hear from Women's Sports Corps Fellow Mia Weinland about her most recent experience as a volleyball coach and member of the Girl Determined team in Myanmar...

Our Lead Coaches & Program Coordinator - an awesome group of women who know how to work hard & have fun!

I had the opportunity to take part in the Lead Coaches meeting this past December, a bi-annual occurrence that features 5 days of curriculum discussions, information exchanges, workshops, and plenty of volleyball playing. In between our volleyball and coaching skill-building sessions, I led two leadership development workshop sessions for our nine lead coaches. One of my main goals is to revitalize drills and practices so they feature more youth leadership opportunities and active participation in an effort to hopefully inspire more initiative-taking off the court. In addition to being an awesome professional opportunity to work with the coaches on expanding curricular goals and coaching methodologies, this experience was also a mark of growth in my personal relationships with the coaches. As I see and work with each of them more, we are able to joke around and recall shared moments and stories.

After work each day we ate family-style at a coworker’s home. Burmese food has been one of my favorite parts of this experience thus far. With a communal eating culture that’s accompanied by lots of small dishes and a healthy amount of rice, every meal is a happening. After mistakenly eating a spoonful of chi shaw kha (read: tear-inducing chili paste) in Kachin with some of the coaches, I have earned the reputation of being unable to handle spicy food. And while not entirely inaccurate, it’s a reputation I am desperately trying to rid myself of so that the coaches no longer feel they have to point out all the foods I “should not eat”.

After dinner one night, we sang low-rent karaoke in the backyard. By which I mean someone would look up a song on Youtube and play it from their phone as we belted the words. I got to hear (and learn!) a lot of new Burmese songs, and debut my singing chops with “All of Me” by John Legend — after which the coaches apologetically (but probably intentionally) switched back to exclusively Burmese songs.

I had a moment during our last afternoon practice that reminded me of the power of this work -- of how sport truly acts as a medium for social inclusion, and how positive female role models can make all the difference in a girls life. After a reflective workshop session on leadership and growth with the coaches, I couldn’t stop thinking about how much I admire these women. While I won’t go into great detail here, they spoke of how sport has positively, and in some cases radically, impacted their senses of self and ignited their desire to pay it forward by bringing up the girls and women around them. It moved me to think about the notion of leadership as a shared space and what structures and institutions discourage that mentality, especially among women. I left that session feeling inspired that this group of women was at the helm of Girl Determined programming, and a surge of vicarious gratitude that girls across this country had them as positive female role models in their lives.

Coaches play “Queen’s Court” before the session begins

So it was with this admiration at the forefront of my mind that I jumped into the final drill of the day. We were playing “Queen’s Court”, a drill I loved as a player and possibly love more as a coach. Coaches were diving, attacking, playmaking, and coming together in raucous celebration after every point. It was the first time I’ve seen a few of these coaches in action, and it was glorious. We were playing in the courtyard of a monastic school, and as classes finished for the day, girls clothed in the soft pink of their nun robes streamed out of the buildings surrounding our dirt court. Seeing the game at play, we were quickly surrounded by at least a hundred young girls who watched with furtive fervor, looking on with a quiet wonder that occasionally erupted into quick spurts of cheering.

As we wrapped up for the day with a cool down and discussion, the girls surrounding our game grabbed a few of the balls and started to play themselves. While some teams formed to play on the courts, others grouped into circles underneath the trees. The courtyard was quickly dotted in pockets of laughter and the familiar thud of a volleyball hitting forearms.

A group of girls passing the ball around after our game

The experience of playing with these powerful women who have committed themselves to affording others opportunities for confidence-building, self-expression, and leadership development through sport -- and the consequent sight of seeing youth self-organize and take advantage of these opportunities -- was enough to leave my heart glowing.

And because it seems like I can never leave a nice moment without making a fool of myself, I’ll leave you with this anecdote. After we were finished with practice, I picked up my jacket, put it on, and zipped it up as we started to walk off the field, feeling happy, hopeful, and hungry for a big meal of Burmese delicacies. And...itchy. All of a sudden it felt like a hundred little needles were poking my arms, stomach, and back. I had unwittingly cocooned myself inside my jacket with a squadron of fire ants, and they were not happy, though perhaps hopeful and decidedly hungry. I yelped in pain and surprise, and rushed to take my jacket off. My arms, chest, neck, and back were swarming with little red ants. As I started to swat them away my colleagues came over and assisted with a (benevolent) flogging of my back and arms. Needless to say, the show I put on for the dozens of girls who were still around did not go un-laughed-at.

Until the next humbling experience,



To learn more about Girl Determined visit their website:


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