Stories from SWB: International Women's Day
In the lead up to International Women's Day (March 8, 2021) we asked women in the SWB community what "If She Can See It, She Can Be It" means to them. They shared stories of how soccer has shaped how they view themselves and other female athletes, the importance of role models, and what leadership looks like. There are hundreds of stories like the seven we shared this week in our community and SWB will continue to help girls reach their inherent potential, instilling in them the confidence that if she can see it, she can be it.
Christina Rodriguez, Assistant Coach A Bay Area native who grew up playing competitive soccer, Christina is now a college student at Cal State East Bay and has been an assistant coach for SWB Oakland since 2018. Pictured handing out food donations on the right.
“When I started working at SWB … I had heard of female coaches, but I had never seen
female coaches (Maddy, Mackenzie) leading a pack of girls. When I met the girls I saw something I had never seen — this diverse group, all at different levels and from different backgrounds. I started seeing the impact of these girls leading practices and nobody was getting favored. That’s what I grew up seeing — someone is going to get favored and it’s not going to be the person of color. For me the ideal athlete was white and didn’t come from the same background as I did. That was the only image I’ve ever had.
"[At SWB] these girls from diverse groups are taking on the leadership roles I wish I had been able to take on. A lot of them are coming from backgrounds where they have been told they are not meant for these roles and they are meant to live the stereotypical life of a woman and this space creates and changes that mindset. Here they’re meant to be a leader, they’re meant to gain more than the life skills that sports teach, they’re meant to dominate the sphere of sports and the opportunities it brings. I hope people can see the power women have in sports and that it can change what societal expectations are for women."
Yajaira Flores, Alumna, Assistant Coach
Yajaira moved to the United States from El Salvador in August 2014 and joined Soccer Without Borders (Boston) in 2016 as a participant. She soon became an assistant coach and currently serves as a Family Outreach and Engagement Associate.
“On Nov 4, 2019 I tore my ACL and that changed my life. I went through so many things including depression and anxiety. I couldn’t be distracted [by soccer] and I started to remember my past experience from when I was younger — things that I thought I had moved on from, but actually I hadn’t. I knew I had to move on all by myself and at some point I realized that soccer was the reason for everything I had, and that it made me the happiest. Soccer fills me with joy and happiness and these last two years whenever I needed it, it was there.
"I’m just grateful that I tore my ACL because I have learned so many incredible lessons that I look forward to applying in the future. In the end, I have realized that soccer is my beginning and it’s going to continue to be that. I look forward to continuing to be a soccer player; and if something bad happens I’m prepared because soccer has taught me that maybe I can’t be a player all the time but there are so many amazing things I can do off the field. I have seen myself grow as a professional with leadership skills and also as a human being.”
Kat Sipes, Coach, Senior Program Coordinator A former Division I soccer player, Kat started at Soccer Without Borders as an undergraduate volunteer and has been with SWB Maryland full-time since 2014. She has coached virtually every age group and gender at SWB. Pictured coaching, in green.
“When I started with SWB I was coaching all boys. I didn’t have any drive or inspiration at the time to coach all girls and didn’t realize the impact it could have. In the fall of 2018 a group of middle school girls formed an all girls team, Girls Generation, in a league of coed teams. On coed teams, girls are rarely acknowledged or passed to so it was a big deal. It turned into something that fulfilled what I had been working towards for a while.
“I’m pretty sure they didn’t win any games that season and in fact, it was the hardest season I’ve experienced with SWB in terms of keeping up their morale and their hope. But we started it as a team and I knew I couldn’t let them down. The team represented everything a girl should get to experience: the chance to play on a girls team, the chance to see that a female can coach, and to be coached by a female and overcome gender stereotypes. The girls were automatically empowered by shaking a really tall boy on the other team or when they made a good save in goal; and they were inspired and motivated by each other. It just shows there is so much soccer can do to empower and teach girls. This team became an inspiration for a lot of people here. Older high school girls and boys would come to watch their games and be their fans. Younger girls would want to be on this team. It sparked the most amazing amount of inspiration and respect that I had ever seen from the game.”
Catherine “Mina” Kabanyana, Coach, Senior Program Coordinator Mina has been with SWB since 2016. Under her leadership the Uganda girls program has grown from a single team to now serving over 200 refugee girls per weekly, on and off the pitch.
"For the girls I work with, inequality is part of their life. It has become so normal to them that when they come to the center to join our program and we start telling them about playing soccer they say, “no we [girls] are not supposed to play soccer, we’re supposed to stay home and look after our siblings.'
"We have this saying that says “If she can see it, she can be it.” The issue in our society is we don’t have a lot of role models for these girls to see that it’s possible to be able to play soccer, it’s possible not to be forced into marriage, it’s possible for a girl to go to school at the same time a boy does. Soccer is a relaxed environment for young people to learn and be free. It’s not just about passing the ball but you’re working with a team, creating a support system for yourself within the pitch and outside of the pitch. [At] our girls empowerment program, when a participant has a strength in leadership we help them nurture that, so we give opportunities like being assistant coaches and referee training. It’s basically building role models from the grassroots, so by the time this young girl goes into the world, no one is going to tell her you cannot do this because you are a girl. Because they’ve seen other people do it."
Sara Chehrehsa Board Member, Former Program Fellow A former Division I soccer player, Sara has been a member of the SWB family since 2010 when she participated in a volunteer trip to Nicaragua. Since then she has served as a team leader for SWB Uganda and joined our Board of Directors in 2019.
“My parents are both from Iran and soccer is a huge part of the Iranian culture. Some of my earliest memories were of soccer - I will never forget going to Iran as a child and playing soccer daily with my cousin, brother and the neighborhood kids. The first time I played with them I dressed as a boy and wore a baseball cap with my hair in a bun, so that the neighborhood kids would allow me to play without a fuss. Towards the end of that first pick up game it became obvious that I wasn’t a boy. The neighborhood kids were always shocked that a girl could play the way I could and that I was better than most of them. Each time we played, I was the only girl playing.
“I played competitive soccer throughout my whole childhood and at the collegiate level. I really believe sport is one of the best training grounds for women and lays a foundation for later in life. Sport teaches us how to work together on a team, how to deal with adversity and respond to defeat. It shows you how to be comfortable outside your comfort zone, how you are stronger and more adaptable than you think and how to have fun and not take yourself too seriously. All these are lessons that last a lifetime that I have witnessed first hand with myself, the dozens of women that were my teammates over the years and the female participants of SWB that have met over the years including coaching in Uganda.”
Francisa Alvarez and Reyna Roblero, SWB Nicaragua Graduates and Coaches
Francisca and Reyna are 2017 program graduates and current head coaches at Futbol Sin Fronteras. Reyna is a fourth-year nursing student and has previously represented the U15 and U17 Nicaraguan National Teams. In addition to coaching, Francisca works with Futbol Sin Fronteras’ school outreach and community expansion programs.
“This opportunity (to lead a coaches clinic with the Plan International Community) was an incredible experience, as we spent time with different groups of girls all with different characteristics and leadership qualities. (During the clinic) we were examples of leadership for the participants, talking about how we fell in love with soccer, its impact on our lives and what achievements or goals we have achieved through our leadership in soccer. They were amazed at the leadership potential we possess after so many years with Fútbol Sin Fronteras as participants and coaches, because our stories are similar to theirs, [including] the obstacles, but also the motivation and our experiences breaking down barriers.
"Now we have more confidence in ourselves, confidence in our ideas and more motivation to help change in society for future experiences.”
Francisca y Reyna se graduaron de Fútbol Sin Fronteras en 2017 y actualmente ambas son entrenadoras en el programa. Reyna es una estudiante de enfermería de cuarto año y anteriormente representó las selecciones nacionales de Nicaragua sub15 y sub17. Además de ser entrenadora, Francisca trabaja con los programas de desarrollo escolar y comunitario.
"Esta oportunidad de participar como líderes del campamento fue una experiencia increíble, ya que convivimos con diferentes grupos de chicas con características y cualidades de liderazgo distintas. (En el campamento) demostramos nuestro ejemplo de líder a través de un pequeño resumen en cual consistió en cómo nos enamoramos del fútbol, cual fue el impacto en nuestras vidas y que logros o metas hemos cumplido a través de nuestro liderazgo en el fútbol. Quedaron asombrados con el potencial de liderazgo que tenemos por todos los años en Fútbol Sin Fronteras como participantes y entrenadoras, ya que con nuestra historias hay similitud o experiencias iguales a las de ellas, los obstáculos que pasan pero también la motivación y nuestras experiencias de cómo romper barreras.
"Para nosotras fue de mucho aprendizaje ya que logramos tener más seguridad en nosotras, confianza en nuestras ideas y más motivación para ayudar al cambio en la sociedad para experiencias futuras."
Lethicia Agon, Alumna, Team Leader
Lethicia came to the United States from Cameroon six years ago, and joined SWB in 2016. She graduated from Oakland International High School in 2019, and now supports the high school and middle school girls’ teams as a team leader and active alumna.
“When I play soccer I’m really happy because of the diversity. We are different — some of us speak different languages and we might have problems and stuff going on — but when we are at the field [we are] with people that really accept us and play with us. There is some stuff, like the play and the pass, that makes you forget about everything and all of the anxiety goes away. You feel free and so relaxed.”
“One thing I can say is that female soccer is being taken more seriously than before. I think that’s cool because it’s a passion for some girls. It’s like when you go to work and they don’t take your work seriously you feel like you’re wasting your time - but now girls are being valued and appreciated. For me, what I’ve observed is that the younger girls are going through a lot and when they come to the field they come with some issues but when they see a smile and they see you, an older person, putting more effort - like passing them the ball or some silly stuff - it relaxes them and they’re happy. I love to see them happy and see that I can inspire someone.”