During a recent Girls Club with the Soccer Without Borders (SWB) Boston middle school girls, we asked, “when was a time in SWB that you felt like you really got to know new people?”
“When the team from Natick visited us. Yea, that was really cool,” said Valerie.
“Oh yeah, that was really cool to meet them, because it’s like they are doing the same thing that we are doing,” said Amina.
At SWB Boston, we use soccer to bring together youth who are from many different countries, including El Salvador, Colombia, Honduras, Guatemala, Brazil, Morocco, and Algeria, but live in East Boston, Chelsea, and Revere. Through soccer, we build inclusive communities, regardless of skill, language, or culture. However, our work goes beyond the borders of these cities, all of which are within 3 miles of each other; in order to create an interwoven world of acceptance, we seek to extend our reach even further.
One example of how SWB Boston does this is through our partnership with Natick Youth Soccer. Natick is a town 17 miles west from Boston’s city center. For the second time in the past year, Catherine Brunell and her 6th grade team, the Natick Nightmare’s, ventured to East Boston during the nightmarish rush hour commute to scrimmage with our U14 SWB girls team.
The scrimmages with Natick go beyond just friendly soccer play; these events include additional activities that encourage team-building, culture exchange, and a lot of fun. One way we encourage the teams to get to know each other is by mixing the teams together so they play with the visiting team, not against them. In these new teams, we ask each team to come up with a new team name and celebration which help foster a sense of team cohesion and in that moment, a sense of shared identity and purpose--working together toward a common goal.
At the end of the scrimmage, the youth sit in small groups where they talk and share a meal. Team Captains facilitate conversation with a list of questions that encourage them to learn more about each other. The players discover things they might have in common, often including what they like to do for fun and things that might be unique among them, such as where they are from or what languages they speak.
SWB and Natick coaches alike recognize that not much brings people together like soccer and food: “I’ve never felt so loved!” commented on SWB girl, as homemade rice krispie treats were passed around.
The feeling of joy and delight permeated through the teams. Yes, the girls were excited about the soccer, pizza and brownies (we also provide healthy snacks!), but there was a greater depth to the feeling... It was the excitement of sharing memories with new people who, despite their differences, share a common love of soccer--a truly special moment of bonding.
Exchanges like these are valuable for our community and for our youth. We hope that through shared positive experiences with the greater Boston community, we can support youth to be leaders in building bridges across communities. These young people are truly the future, and so we hope experiences like this will encourage them to continue doing what they are already doing: spreading kindness and empathy, celebrating differences, and welcoming all.