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Soccer is a sport that is widely familiar, globally loved, uniquely accessible, and inherently interpersonal. When designed intentionally, the soccer field is transformed into a living classroom that can reach young people in a way that few other activities can. Our impact follows from the commitment of trained, caring coach-mentors who use a range of activities to develop the whole person- not just the player- and foster a safe, supportive team community. 

Our approach is centered around meaningful relationships; we strengthen the social fabric of the teams, schools, and communities we are a part of by ensuring that each individual young person feels seen, valued, and supported.  We provide a safe, supportive, inclusive environment in which youth form strong connections with peers and supportive adults, where they are safe to be themselves and explore new ideas and competencies, and where their inherent potential is recognized.

Social-Emotional Learning

Soccer Without Borders uses the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) framework, also known as the CASEL Framework, as our youth development framework. SEL is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions. The framework has five components: self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills, responsible decision-making, and social awareness. These are now widely accepted by educational leaders as the “soft skills” that are essential to a young person’s development. 


Acute and ongoing traumatic experiences can hinder the development of SEL skills AND SEL skills can help young people to cope  with and heal from traumatic experiences. According to Playing to Heal, four of the most important healing-centered design principles are: Safe Space, Long-Term Engagement, Meaningful Relationships, and a Supportive Structure Read more below about how these principles show up at SWB programs.

Two coaches stand with their arms around each other as participants laugh and smile, showing a "Happy Birthday" sign.

Meaningful Relationships

Research tells us that mentoring relationships of 12 months or more can have a significant impact on academic outcomes and psychosocial development. We prioritize consistent, well-trained head coaches who commit to a year or more with their teams. Our average coach tenure is currently 48 months.

Long-term Engagement

Middle and high school years are crucial in the development of a young person. Rather than focus on one or the other, Soccer Without Borders programs are a consistent presence throughout these developmental years. One-quarter of participants have been with SWB for three or more years.

Supportive Structure

Our family atmosphere is one of the defining characteristics of Soccer Without Borders teams, defined and measured by our FAMILY Coaching Framework. Each Community Hub provides more than  36 weeks of programming each year, with 8-15 hours of scheduled activities available to participants in season in addition to informal time with teammates and coaches.

Safe Space

A proactive culture of safety is at the heart of our Safeguarding approach. This culture is defined by our six mantras and reinforced by policies, training, and a cycle of learning.

Impact by the Numbers

Most Recent Year

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of youth participants reported making a new friend at SWB


of youth participants say SWB is a space they feel comfortable practicing English


of youth participants report that SWB is a safe space


of youth participants report feeling a part of the SWB community

Program Highlights

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Nicaragua Education Program

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Summer Learning in Maryland

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Youth Violence Prevention

Students who attended SWB regularly were 10 times less likely to miss school than their peers who did not.

Palo Alto University Dissertation Finding

Further Reading

CHJS White Paper

Why Trauma-Informed Sport is Vital by CHJS

This white paper by the Center for Healing and Justice through Sport highlights essential approaches to designing a trauma-informed sport program.

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