Soccer As a Vehicle For Hope

Soccer As a Vehicle For Hope

February 09, 2020

Gina Lewandowski for Goal Five

Gina is a Goal Five Athlete and Defender for Sky Blue FC.

For the second year in a row, I was fortunate to have had the chance to return to Tunisia, North Africa, and run another 2-day soccer camp for girls, ages 15-17 years old. It was again a part of the PASCH-Project organized through the local Goethe Institute, a non-profit German cultural association that promotes the study of the German language abroad and encourages international cultural exchange and relations.

Operating worldwide with 159 institutions, the Goethe Institute coordinates projects throughout the year for local students to have the opportunity to learn the German language or expand their current language skills. 

This PASCH-Project Soccer Camp was founded last year as one project for local high school girls to have the chance to grow their German language skills through the game of ‘football’.

Along with a former FC Bayern Munich teammate, Tanja Woerle, we carried out a 2-day soccer event with a variety of soccer activities and team building sessions. Different from last year, this camp’s focus was solely on the soccer training, two indoor Q&A sessions, and a final closing tournament.

Tanja and I flew down a day early to meet up with the leaders of the Goethe Institute, which is located directly in Tunis, the capital of Tunisia. Their warming hospitality and friendly and open mannerisms, allowed us to feel completely comfortable and excited for the 2-day camp.

On day 1, we ran a morning technical session teaching the girls how to dribble and pass the ball. Because we thought 3 on-field sessions per day would be a bit too much for the girls, especially since most were new to the game, we held an indoor Q&A session after lunch. This was a great opportunity for Tanja and me to share more about who we are as well as learn more about them. This exchange of experiences was insightful and fascinating. In a culture so different from ours, we found that we all had comparable interests and aspirations in life we wanted to explore and accomplish.

We learned however that some of these girls were exposed to the game for the very first time, that many schools in their area view soccer only as a boys’ sport; unfortunately leaving many girls without the opportunity to play the game in school. It was then much more meaningful for us to offer our time and skills for the girls during the 2 days we were there.

Later in the afternoon, we headed to the field again for our 2nd soccer session of the day. We started with some team building games and then finished with a variety of small-sided games. We coached in German, however, whenever we had a couple faces stare back at us like we were from a different planet, we either had to break the language down in to very simple terms and use hand gestures, or when it was too advanced for them, one of the leaders from the Goethe Institute would translate into their native language. Their local languages are the Tunisian dialect, Arabic, and French, but the longer the day went, I realized just how good their English was!

On day 2, we started the day with another technical session teaching the girls shooting and heading, and then tested their knowledge of the language by integrating an assortment of German soccer terms within a variety of small games and races. After lunch, we continued with another indoor classroom session. This time, we divided the girls into groups and gave them 10 questions they needed to answer from the FC Bayern Munich Women’s season magazine. This was interesting, as they had to put their German language skills to the test again, work together, and answer as many questions as they could within an allotted amount of time.  The last session of the day was on the field where we ended with a larger tournament with a referee so the girls could experience a game-like environment.

This newfound soccer project is one we hope to continue each year and even grow to an entire week of empowerment for these girls. Through the beautiful game there is so much to teach young girls growing up and share with them the tremendous amount of possibilities that await them today in this world we live in.

Sports can be a vehicle for hope; hope for change, hope for acceptance, and hope for new beginnings. Not only on the field but also especially carried off the field into your own environment.

This camp was a blessing for me, not only to give back a small part of my own experience, but to introduce some of these girls to the sport for the very first time, a sport that I love and cherish, a sport that has brought me so much in life. A sport that can build character, strength, confidence, discipline, humility, teamwork, and empower an individual to be all who they were made to be and much more.

Photo Credit: Hamza Bennour

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