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Play It Forward 2023: Motivational Movies Chosen by SWB Staff

As we celebrate SWB United, our Play It Forward campaign for 2023, we are excited to share this series of end-of-year blogs centered around the ways that soccer has the power to inspire, unite, and create a more inclusive and equitable world.

Visit our Stories from the Field page to read special, staff chosen mission moments, motivating books, inspirational soccer memories, and more!


Have you ever felt the sensation of being whisked away to another place through the captivating scenes of a film? Whether it’s the enchanting landscapes, bustling cities, or imaginary worlds created on screen, movies have the power to guide our imagination, allowing us to momentarily escape reality and immerse ourselves in new experiences.

Soccer Without Borders (SWB) is excited to share a special collection of movies that inspire and motivate our team. This carefully selected list features stories that resonate with the diverse backgrounds of SWB participants. You’ll find stories of perseverance, witness incredible people break barriers, and get a glimpse into the universal impact of sport. We hope these eight films, docuseries, and tv shows bring inspiration to everyone, no matter where they may call home.

In “Bend It Like Beckham,” “Home Across Lands,” and “The Swimmers,” characters challenge societal norms and expectations, defying cultural and gender stereotypes to pursue their passions in the world of sports.

“Pelada” and “42” delve into the global and historical aspects of soccer and baseball, showcasing the diversity of players’ backgrounds and experiences. These films highlight the universal nature of sports, emphasizing how they have the power to bring people together across different cultures.

“Coach Carter” and “Ted Lasso” explore the pivotal role coaches play in shaping the lives of their athletes. These stories underscore the significance of discipline, academic excellence, and compassionate coaching in fostering personal and athletic growth.

“Beckham” offers an intimate glimpse into the personal and professional journey of soccer icon David Beckham. Celebrating his humble beginnings, relationships, and the emotional highs and lows of stardom, this series reflects the human side of sports legends.

As you embark on this cinematic journey with SWB, may these stories serve as a reminder that, regardless of where we come from, we share a common humanity and the ability to overcome challenges through the power of sport and storytelling.

Directed by Gurinder Chadha (2003)

"Jess Bhamra (Parminder Nagra), the daughter of a strict Indian couple (Anupam Kher, Shaheen Khan) in London, is not permitted to play organized soccer, even though she is 18. When Jess is playing for fun one day, her impressive skills are seen by Jules Paxton (Keira Knightley), who then convinces Jess to play for her semi-pro team. Jess uses elaborate excuses to hide her matches from her family while also dealing with her romantic feelings for her coach, Joe."

“This is an Indian movie and the reason I chose this movie is because it gave me a picture of whatever boys can do, girls can do. No one believed girls could play football and where she stayed was a strong Indian cultural village so girls playing football was an abomination. But she stood to her decision and she was successful through football which also shows some of the benefits of sports.” -Fahaby, SWB Program Manager

Directed by Thomas Carter (2005)

"In 1999, Ken Carter returns to his old high school in Richmond, California, to get the basketball team into shape. With tough rules and academic discipline, he succeeds in setting the players on a winning streak. But when their grades start to suffer, Carter locks them out of the gym and shuts down their championship season. When he is criticized by the players and their parents, he sticks to his guns, determined that they excel in class as well as on the court.”

"Coach Carter is a powerful film that goes beyond the game of basketball, teaching us valuable lessons about discipline, integrity, and the transformative impact a coach can have on young lives. This movie really resonated with me because of the work we do working with coaches at Switch the Pitch!"- Ryan, SWB Assist Switch the Pitch​ Manager

Directed by John Lavall (2009)

“A documentary that explores the journey of resettlement-- it tells the story of a small group of Kunama refugees and how they reestablish their sense of community in their new home in America.”

“I love Home Across Lands because it really demonstrates the long and difficult journey that refugee families go through before arriving in the US, but also the true difficulty of the reality they face when they get here. And it brings the global refugee crisis close to home – the people featured in the story are very relatable and could be your own neighbor or classmate.” -Sarah, SWB Program Manager

Directed by Luke Boughen, Gwendolyn Oxenham, Rebekah Fergusson, and Ryan White (2010)

“Away from the bright lights and manicured fields, there's another side of soccer. Two players, twenty-five countries, one game.”

“In Brazil, the word is “pelada,” which literally means "naked"—the game stripped down to its core. It’s the version of the game played by anyone, anywhere—and it’s a window into lives all around the world. Pelada is a documentary following Luke and Gwendolyn, two former college soccer stars who didn’t quite make it to the pros. Not ready for it to be over, they take off, chasing the game. From prisoners in Bolivia to moonshine brewers in Kenya, from freestylers in China to women who play in hijab in Iran, Pelada is the story of the people who play.” -Sydney, SWB Coach-Mentor Fellow

Directed by Brian Helgeland (2013)

“In 1946, Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), legendary manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers, defies major league baseball's notorious color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson (Chadwick Boseman) to the team. The heroic act puts both Rickey and Robinson in the firing line of the public, the press and other players. Facing open racism from all sides, Robinson demonstrates true courage and admirable restraint by not reacting in kind and lets his undeniable talent silence the critics for him.”

“42 tells the story of two men – the great Jackie Robinson and legendary Brooklyn Dodgers GM Branch Rickey – whose brave stand against prejudice forever changed the world by changing the game of baseball.” -Sydney, SWB Coach-Mentor Fellow

Written by Jason Sudeikis, Brett Goldstein, and Brendan Hunt (2020-2023)

“Jason Sudeikis as Ted Lasso, an American college football coach from Wichita, Kansas, who is hired to coach AFC Richmond, an English soccer team. He is frequently ridiculed for his folksy optimism and inexperience with the sport, but gradually wins people over through his kind and compassionate approach to coaching.”

"This show gave me hope. Not only because it was created in the first place on a massive platform with well-known actors, but also because so many people love it. That sounds like many other shows...but this one does not allow you to ignore certain realities about our world, and it does so in the most loving, playful ways.

Now, I'm sure you can enjoy the show without applauding the subtle messages of anti-colonialism/imperialism (cue Ted and Sam with Ted's army figurine) or healthy masculinity (Jamie's entire 3 season journey) or Keeley's grace and proud ownership of her body when her privacy is violated or The Diamond Dogs male emotional bonding in a LOCKER ROOM or Rebecca's gradual acceptance of her power after an abusive relationship or Sam's activism for refugees and sweet relationship with his father (an example of Black/Nigerian/African intimacy we rarely see in Popular Culture) or Ted's response to Colin coming out to the team or Nate's complicated arc with his immigrant father OR SO MUCH MORE.

Again, I'm sure you could watch while ignoring these sometimes subtle but glaringly intentional plugs for inclusion and equity and justice... but every time I watch (and I can no longer count how many times!), that's all I see: conscious love, shameless empathy, and bold choices to push viewers to question their own." -Nora, Director of SWB Assist

Directed by Sally El Hosaini (2022)

"Two Syrian sisters flee their war-torn home in Damascus, swim for hours in choppy Mediterranean seas to reach Greece as asylum seekers before going on to compete at the Rio Olympic Games."

“That movie really resonated with me because of the power and perseverance of everyone. Also because of the relationship of the sisters and how they cared about each other, and helped each other survive both physically and emotionally.”

-Grace, SWB Coach-Mentor Fellow

Beckham (Docuseries)

Directed by Fisher Stevens (2023)

"Beckham celebrates his humble beginnings, relationships and the highs and lows of stardom. Beckham called the series 'a roller coaster of emotions.' 'This is the 10-year anniversary of when I retired,' Beckham told Netflix."

"I think so often professional athletes are reduced to a form of entertainment in people's eyes and we forget that at their core they are just another human being. This series does such an incredible job of bringing the human aspect of two seemingly untouchable people to the screen. It doesn't shy away from showing the ugly side of sport – a side that the world often hides away so that people can continue to be entertained or make money. It is evidence of how ugly the beautiful game can be but also that those ugly pieces can be changed by everyone involved.” -Mia, SWB People and Culture Coordinator

Now that you have some brand new editions to your queue, learn more about:

(Editor's note: the views and opinions expressed in the above films do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Soccer Without Borders. Read about the SWB mission and vision here.)


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