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  • Soccer Without Borders

Our Mantras: Leave Your Shoes At The Door

Soccer is often called a "universal language" or "the global game" because of its widespread popularity and the passion that communities all over the world express for the game. It is arguably the most significant cultural phenomenon on Earth; more than half of humanity watches the Men's World Cup alone.

Five girls  on the soccer field in uniform wrapped in a flag
Travel anywhere in the world with a soccer ball in your hand and you will quickly find yourself in the middle of a pick-up game, like this one in the Himalayas with SWB coaches and the women of 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking.

But popularity and passion for the game does not inherently make it good. There are too many examples to count of soccer players, teams, clubs, fans, and sponsors exacerbating ethnic conflicts, tolerating gender-based violence and homophobia, perpetrating or ignoring racial discrimination, and perpetuating economic inequality. It takes intention to create a culture of soccer that embraces diversity, strengthens inclusion, and takes action to create equity.

At Soccer Without Borders, we serve youth participants from over 70 countries of origin who speak more than 50 languages. It's impossible to know, understand, and practice every cultural norm within our diverse community. But what we can do, every day, in every program, is embed respect and cultural humility between participants, coaches, volunteers, staff, and families into the fabric of our organization.

Two players and a soccer ball
For many girls, religious clothing and jewelry can be a barrier to accessing sport. We invite youth to comes as they are, offering ways to participate safely in practices and games focused on having fun, trying new things, and belonging.

In many cultures, it's a show of respect and cultural humility to "Leave your shoes at the door." For our participants, this looks like not only sharing aspects of their own culture - foods, words, holidays, and music are all great ways - with others, but also being curious and open to learning about teammates' cultures. Through mutual empathy and openness, teams start to feel like family, and SWB feels like home.

Coach speaking to a team in a closing circle
Fútbol, futebol, soka, እግር ኳስ. A single SWB team may have participants from a dozen countries. While practicing is a focus, oftentimes participants will simultaneously learn their teammates' languages.

Cultural humility is a skill that we value in hiring and seek to strengthen in our staff through ongoing training and experiential learning. By working with people who have different experiences and perspectives, living in communities different from our own, and approaching travel and learning with empathy and openness, we can build a global community within Soccer Without Borders itself that embrace diversity as a strength and models how to bridge differences.

Two players wait for the bus by a HOME mural
Powerful trends in globalization and forced displacement make cultural humility an essential skill in the 21st century, not only for impactful programs like SWB, but for a peaceful and equitable future.

In soccer, too often ego gets in the way of building caring and cohesive teams. "Leave your shoes at the door" is a continuous reminder that humility, not ego, is what makes our communities stronger, on and off the field.

Four players huddle up


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