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  • Soccer Without Borders

Our Mantras: We're Glad You're Here

At any given Soccer Without Borders session on any given day, you will find youth, coaches, and volunteers with widely different cultures, languages, ethnicities, interests, gender identities, and lived experiences. Many SWB participants have overcome significant barriers to get to the field, having fled some of the world's most challenging conflicts.

A soccer player watches the field from the side
Said (pictured above), a player at SWB Oakland, is originally from Afghanistan, one of the fastest-growing countries of origin for youth joining Soccer Without Borders USA programs.

Many girls in SWB programs are playing on their first-ever sports team. For many girls, cultural and gender norms keep them from accessing sport programs. SWB programs use specific strategies to recruit and retain girls of all cultural backgrounds, reducing barriers and building a sense of belonging and confidence.

Young girls standing shoulder to shoulder watching a game
SWB Nicaragua is home to the only girls soccer teams in the city of Granada, with 11 teams from age 5-20.

Building an inclusive team culture starts with welcoming. Welcoming is not the same as attending. It is not the same as participating. Welcoming means embracing each and every person's unique contribution to the team, and celebrating their decision to be a part of our SWB community. It means inviting each person to bring their whole self to the team, and meeting each person where they are. This is exactly what our mantra "We're Glad You're Here" means.

A Coach and alumni hug to welcome his return
Alumni remain a part of the SWB community long after graduation and are welcomed back with open arms; in fact, one-third of SWB staff are program alumni.

Our mantra shows up every day in how we deliver programming. All Soccer Without Borders sessions begin with an opening circle to celebrate everyone's choice to attend the session, welcome new participants, check-in to see how everyone is feeling, practice names of everyone in the group if needed, reinforce the rules and culture of the space, and set expectations for the day's activity. Because many of the youth we serve have experienced disrupted education and displacement, we maintain an open enrollment, meaning that we welcome new participants throughout the year.

A big circle of people on a soccer field
Opening circles are not just for teams, but can be as big or small as the group needs.

Our mantra also shows up in the way we welcome new staff, volunteers, and partners to the SWB community. Every on-boarding includes a virtual opening circle introducing SWB teammates from around the world. Staff on-boards, birthdays, and milestones are celebrated through shoutouts and other appreciations. Like former participants, former staff members remain a welcome and valued part of the SWB community.

Coaches gather for a photo at dusk by light of cell phones
Members of the SWB staff in the USA, Nicaragua, and Uganda hail from 9 different countries and speak 16 languages.

We're Glad You're Here is not only about welcoming, but also about belonging. We like to say that if you have a new player you have a new team, meaning that as we welcome, we must also consider how to bring our new teammates into the fold, creating teams that feel like family.

A soccer team forms a circle holding hands
SWB coaches are trained to facilitate team-building activities that bridge language and cultural differences and strengthen a sense of belonging

Belonging is a basic human need. This is true for everyone, but it is especially true of young people, who are still developing the mental resiliency skills needed to process the massive changes happening in the world today. Losing this basic human need can lead youth down a path of disengagement and increased risk. Belonging nourishes like food, it protects like Vitamin C, it washes away harm like soap, and it strengthens resiliency in a way that none of those other things can.

A girls team poses for a team photo
When asked to describe SWB in a single word, the top two words that participants say are "Fun" and "Family"

At Soccer Without Borders, soccer is the vehicle, but we have always been in the business of combating exclusion and isolation with belonging. Our approach is centered around meaningful relationships; we strengthen the social fabric of the teams, schools, and communities we are a part of by ensuring that each individual young person and family feels seen, valued, and supported to reach their full potential. We're Glad You're Here!


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