As we celebrate SWB United, our Play It Forward campaign for 2023, we are excited to share this series of year-end blogs centered around the ways that soccer has the power to inspire, unite, and create a more inclusive and equitable world.
For the remainder of the year, join us each Wednesday as we bring you special mission moments, motivating books and movies, inspirational soccer memories, and more – all chosen by SWB staff!
The past 12 months have been an incredible testament to the passion, hard work, and unwavering dedication of the Soccer Without Borders (SWB) community -- those who believe that soccer can truly be a vehicle for positive change.
While there are far too many amazing highlights to share, we will dive into some of the key moments, as chosen by our staff, that have helped shape another year of impact for nearly 5000 newcomer youth and marginalized girls around the world.
Join us in celebrating the incredible stories of growth, inclusion, and personal success that continue to unfold across SWB:
Motivational Mondays have become a highlight for participants at SWB Colorado’s Aurora-West site. In October, they were paid a visit by professional players Boubacar Keita and Abraham Rodriguez from the Colorado Rapids! Not only was it a chance for some autographs and fun photos, more importantly, it was an opportunity to hear some inspirational stories of hard work and resilience. Additionally, Motivational Mondays have included virtual visits from Sophie Braun of Club León Femenil and the Argentina Women’s National Team, Summer Yates of the Orlando Pride, and former co-captain of the Afghanistan National Team and current SWB Oakland Program Coordinator Hajar Abulfazl.
Over the summer, 37 youth leaders were hired to support SWB camps for K-8th grade participants across our sites in the Denver Metro Area and Weld County. Integration of youth leaders into SWB Colorado's summer camps is one of the most impactful aspects of our programs during the summer months. As part of being a youth leader, these high school students learn resume writing, interviewing, basic professional skills, and positive coaching techniques. Additionally, they gain experience working with younger participants while learning how to target specific focus areas, utilize feedback, and lead self-reflections.
In September, the SWB community in Baltimore had the incredible joy of meeting Little Amal, the 12-foot puppet representing a 10-year-old Syrian refugee girl on a 6,000-mile journey across America. Together, they shared a message of hope and love, especially for displaced children. Additionally, SWB participants invited local children to join them playing soccer alongside Little Amal at Baltimore's City Hall. It was a beautiful display of unity, joy, and the universal language of soccer.
Fit, Roza, and Aya, participants at our SWB Maryland hub, were featured in a special photo storytelling series by Goal Click designed to put a spotlight upon the refugee experience. Each of the featured participants used photos to tell their own stories while showing the power of soccer and community at SWB.
In October, along with our Oakland and Maryland hubs, SWB Massachusetts hosted its annual Small Goals Big Change (SGBC) tournament fundraiser! Our annual SGBC tournaments are a highlight of the fall season as they provide opportunities for the community to rally together in support of local SWB programming the best way we know how: by playing soccer! At SWB Massachusetts, in collaboration with FIFA, we took this year's SGBC tournament to a whole new level by lifting up, welcoming, and supporting newcomers from Afghanistan! In addition to the on-the-field action, we welcomed our Afghan neighbors with a community resource fair, by sharing food together, and by providing a platform for Afghan women soccer players to tell their stories via a special online event. It was the perfect way to say: We're glad you're here!
In June, 50 SWB Massachusetts participants spent a memorable evening at Gillette Stadium watching the New England Revolution play the game we all love. Outings like this one are not only an opportunity to create lifelong memories and have loads of fun, they are also a valuable way for participants to cultivate new friendships, connect with the local community, and to be inspired by the professional athletes on the pitch.
In honor of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, SWB Nicaragua launched the inaugural Copa Mundial Infantil Feminina! The week-long summer tournament took place in Granada and brought together 12 girls teams, six from SWB Nicaragua and six from the local community. The program included an all-female referee team and was developed with the aim of celebrating, uplifting, and promoting women's soccer and getting girls in the game! The tournament was a reflectio of how the world's game continues to have the power to inspire entire communities to come together for positive change.
In April, SWB Nicaragua led a girls’ leadership camp in Leon, Nicaragua in partnership with Plan International. The camp, which was designed to strengthen female leadership by empowering girls within local communities, took place over two days and welcomed 50 participants! Training more young women and girls to step into leadership roles across different communities creates more opportunities for leaders who look and sound like their participants, and gives space for people to step into opportunities they might otherwise not have had.
This past spring, SWB Oakland, in collaboration with Oakland Unified School District, launched our very first Elementary School League for newcomer youth. The league took place over the course of 10 weekends and served over 250 participants ranging from kindergarten through fifth grade. Although designed primarily to provide elementary-aged newcomer youth with a space to build community and an introduction to the game of soccer, one of the league’s most successful and salient results were the opportunities it provided to 17 emerging youth leaders, those who were hired and trained to support the program. Not only were these young people provided with valuable work experience, they were also given the chance to learn a multitude of real-life leadership skills that are sure to benefit them for a lifetime.
SWB Oakland’s Tennyson High School Girls’ Team participated in and won the spring edition of the Global Goal Five League, in just their second semester participating! The league is a safe space for girls to learn and grow, and access a supportive community of peers and mentors. This accomplishment is not only a testament to the amazing dedication of the participants at Tennyson High School program site, but also stands as a reminder of the importance of supporting female coaches and leaders to increase girls’ participation in programs, strengthen their leadership skills, and build a more inclusive soccer pitch.
Ensi Yona, meaning “the whole world” in the Luganda language, is an interactive and educational program designed by SWB Uganda coaches to inspire participants to look at the FIFA Women’s World Cup from a brand new perspective. The program encouraged participants to celebrate fair play just as much as spectacular goals and tournament brackets. Additionally, Ensi Yona enabled youth, regardless of cultural and ethnic background, to seek out positive role models that will inspire them to become the best version of themselves, both on and off the pitch.
Back in May, the seventh edition of The Kampala Girls League (KGL) took place in Uganda. Launched in 2019 and expanded in 2020 with support from Beyond Sport and Laureus, this signature program of our SWB Uganda hub was created to provide girls an opportunity to play, compete, connect, have fun, promote fair play, and develop leadership skills. The springtime edition of KGL's free-of-cost, gender equity soccer programming saw 34 community teams take part – totaling over 650 participants!
It was a big year for SWB as two new full-time staff members were hired to lead SWB Assist, an initiative created to support partners to advance gender equity and social inclusion worldwide through capacity-building, program design, and strategy consulting. We were delighted to welcome Nora Dooley as the first-ever Director of SWB Assist and Ryan Walker-Hartshorn as our new Switch the Pitch Program Manager!
Empathy, appreciation, safety, vulnerability, awareness, and authenticity – these are the focus areas of our Switch the Pitch inclusive coach training series. The latest installment of the training, launched by Common Goal and led by SWB, was held last October in partnership with the Chicago Fire Academy! During our time in Chicago, we had the amazing opportunity to connect with the passionate and dedicated coaches of the Academy. They took part in fun and enriching activities, challenges, and games designed to spark meaningful discussions on how to make the game more inclusive and equitable for all. This included a deep dive into our Switch the Pitch Team Challenges, experiential learning opportunities built around six strategically-designed modules: identities & perspectives, allyship & collective action, power & policies, activism & leadership, the prevention & response to racism, and access & resources.
“I have many moments that I keep remembering and really treasure but one of them is the Kampala Girls league. In the recent edition, I watched how it has evolved from eight teams to 34 teams, from not having any female youth council leadership or referees to having four of them – to me this is a win. Increasing girls’ participation in sports also increases their confidence, thus allowing them to take on leadership rules.”
- Fahaby, Program Manager at SWB Uganda
“One of our students asked to be tutored because they were struggling with one class in particular and wanted some help. We worked on some of those assignments and about a week later that student came to me all excited because they had passed them all and was doing better in that class. It was really exciting to see the joy of success on their face!”
- Grace, Coach-Mentor Fellow at SWB Colorado
“One of the first players to join my Middle School girls team in Boston back in 2013 is now an alumni of the SWB MA program, and she is playing on a college team! I got to see her at Small Goals Big Change in Boston as she represented the alumni team. She's such a wonderful person and the fact that she continues to identify as an athlete and soccer player is heartwarming! She is and will be a great leader in sport and in life!”
- Larkin, Director of Monitoring and Learning
“The Breaking Limits Girls Can Football Series, in partnership with Beyond Sport and Rexona, included content created by SWB coaches and leaders from FOUR different SWB Hubs and CIT. The content was centered around themes impacting girls in and around football: self esteem and body image, intersections of gender, race and culture, and safe spaces for her. Coaches all over the world now have access to tools from SWB to support their work with girls.”
- Nora, Director of SWB Assist