Last week, Soccer Without Borders celebrated the conclusion of our Stay Home Season. Soccer Without Borders launched the Stay Home Season to create a sense of belonging and to support healthy habits and mental health among youth across the country in a time of increased social isolation. The Stay Home Season brought over 100 teams from 4 countries, 15 states, and 40 cities ages U9 to U19 together to connect, compete, and engage in a global competition.
When the Covid-19 pandemic caused SWB’s traditional programs in the United States to shut down, SWB quickly put together a remote competition to create a way to keep players connected and engaged and to get them to the (virtual!) field. Through virtual practices, team challenges, YouTube channels, and check-ins, coaches stayed connected to their players and became sources of remote community—when players needed it most. After witnessing the success of the Stay Home Season for the 27 participating SWB teams, Soccer Without Borders recognized a potential need for the same structure, competition, and engagement for teams and players all over the world experiencing the same uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic. This led to the creation of a second, parallel season that SWB opened to any team of any age, gender, or skill-level to join. Though the purpose of the two Stay Home Seasons remained the same, each season aimed to meet players where they were, which meant coaches organized and conducted virtual sessions that worked for their own team and completed weekly challenges that gave their players the opportunity to learn, connect, and give back to their respective communities.
Each week, the 81 teams who signed up for the second Stay Home Season were expected to conduct at least one virtual session and complete the week’s Social Impact Challenge. Over the course of the season, the teams conducted over 400 virtual sessions and participated in a variety of challenges that directly benefited the local community, the environment, and the global community. Through these challenges, the teams also had the opportunity to learn more about public health and the soccer for development movement. The Social Impact Challenges gave teams a new way to connect outside of a soccer lens and encouraged many to think beyond the 5-week season. Coach Ian of the Central Girls Academy in Scotland explained, “our club has always been successful on the field, however Covid-19 has given us a new focus and thanks to the Stay Home Season, we will come out of this with a new found community spirit." As a direct result of the challenges, teams sent hundreds of thank you notes to frontline workers, picked up trash and planted gardens in their communities, used art and poetry as a way to express themselves, and spent valuable time checking in with family members and friends who may be more isolated due to Covid-19.
SWB created the Stay Home Season in order to forge connections. The connections built in these 5-weeks go beyond SWB’s original goal. Coaches connected with each other by participating in the Stay Home Season Coaches’ Forum online where they shared practice plans and ideas for virtual sessions. The participating teams built greater connections with each other through the website’s weekly Team Spotlight and through their participation in the final week’s Social Impact Challenge pen pal exchange. Over 300 players committed to sending pen pal letters to players in different cities, states, or countries. On each team, players formed greater connections with their teammates as a result of their consistent participation in the weekly virtual sessions. Coach Jason of the BH City FC explained, “these boys have become a family this season. The kids have really missed seeing each other and playing the game. The Stay Home Season has really brought them together and given them something to look forward to each week and reconnect around something."
Though the season is over, SWB is hopeful the connections built amongst players, coaches, and with the local and global community will endure. While the season created the space to get players to the field in a time of uncertainty and isolation, the coaches and the teams worked together to make the experience more than a competition. The connections built and the work the teams completed through the challenges prove that the teams truly adopted SWB’s mantra to celebrate the pass more than the goal - the teams spent more time enjoying the sessions and the challenges than thinking about the competition!
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