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  • Soccer Without Borders

Our Mantras: Celebrate the pass more than the goal

While the world loves to celebrate a great goal, and great goal-scorers, true fans of the game can appreciate a fluid build-up, an energetic transition, and a poetic combination just the same. At Soccer Without Borders, we believe that when it comes to youth development, the process is the point. We hold process-orientation as a core value, and it shows up in everything that we do on the field, off the field, and behind the scenes.

Participants play a team-building game at practice
Team-building games like "Head, shoulders, knees, cone" (pictured) are one way that coaches create additional skill-building and relationship-building opportunities

Focusing on the process means prioritizing the lessons learned through experience, like how to cope with stress, connect with teammates, contribute to a collective, and get back up when you fall. It makes things like scoreboards, statistics, and test results secondary. We celebrate the "pass" - passes of all kinds - more than the goal.

Parade of girls with banner that says "copa de la paz"
Tournaments, such as our Peace Cup in Nicaragua, are designed to award points not only for soccer goals and wins, but also for 'process' goals such as fair play, respect for others, and following participant-designed rules

Every week, a coach makes hundreds of decisions, big and small, about what to prioritize, what to say, what to do, and how to respond in the moment. Our FAMILY Coaching Framework provides guidance for how to make those decisions. It details over 40 specific coach behaviors across six domains: Facilitation, Activity, Management, Identity, Learning, and Youth-Centered. Coaches self-assess and are observed against the FAMILY Framework regularly to help these behaviors become second nature, receiving feedback on areas where they need the most support.

Teacher supports a student
There are head coach, assistant coach, new coach, and game day versions of the FAMILY Coaching Framework, as well as a unique teacher version adapted by SWB Uganda for the literacy program

Soccer Without Borders TEAM programs serve youth ages 5-20 who face tremendous barriers to social inclusion. Many youth participants stay with SWB throughout middle and high school, gaining a sense of contribution, belonging, and agency through a caring team environment that feels like a second family. But personal growth throughout adolescence does not always look linear from the outside. Leaving space for mistakes and successes and making time to support one another through difficult moments are all a part of the process of building a healthy identity.

Players from a soccer team stand together
"Try everything" is one of SWB's five rules. Team trips – like camping, hiking, beaches, and sledding – create new opportunities for participants to explore new environments.

Celebrating the pass is not only our approach to youth development, it is also how we approach staff development and leadership pathways. With full-time staff in Nicaragua, Uganda, and multiple states across the USA, every day presents new opportunities and challenges to adapt our tools to these unique contexts. There is no single policy or handbook that can cover every scenario. By centering around the process, local staff sharpen decision-making filters and take the lead in bringing the best version of SWB to their community.

Coach leading a discussion
Partnerships like Breaking Barriers Europe (photo credit: adidas) provide SWB staff with with opportunities to travel, take on new leadership challenges, and to teach best practices to others.

On the soccer field, successful passing combinations require players with different skills and perspectives. Through partnerships, we can bring even more people into the game, giving assists that create a ripple effect well beyond our direct programs. Projects and collaborations have brought SWB tools and methodology to 37 countries on five continents.

Many women coaches throw soccer balls in the air
It takes a team to build a movement, like the momentum in support of women coaches across Uganda that is growing through efforts like the Goal 5 Summit (pictured)

Our mantra, "Celebrate the pass more than the goal" does not mean forget about the goal. Rather, it means that by teaming up with others and by focusing relentlessly on our process, we can create a stronger movement to shift outcomes for the better. And, to a young person, the journey is the goal.

A participant receives a ball and activity kit at home


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