As the world’s leading and most popular sport, soccer can play a significant role in bringing people from all walks of life together. From the Champions League to recreational youth leagues on dirt and grass pitches in every corner of the world, countless people come together every year to collectively engage and participate in soccer. A simple game, involving just a ball and two goals, soccer has amassed a humongous international audience with some of the most dedicated and passionate fan bases on the Earth.
Alongside its pure entertainment value, soccer has been responsible for forming tight bonds at the community level in and across hundreds of countries. iACT, a Los Angeles-based humanitarian organization, and Thunder Shots, a student-run non-profit that aspires to be an educational-athletic organization, are demonstrating just that. To foster community and global connection, youth players and coaches at Thunder Shots and iACT’s Refugees United Soccer Academy (a refugee-led soccer program) teamed up to start a conversation between soccer programs in eastern Chad’s refugee camps and those in San Jose, California! These footballers shared and exchanged answers to the following questions: 1) What has soccer has done for your community? And 2) What is your favorite aspect of the game?
Arnav Jain, the CEO at Thunder Shots stated, “During the tough times that we are currently living in, soccer has really helped keep everyone in the community happy as it’s best component is how people can bond together regardless of their background.” Matthew Li, a senior staff member at Thunder Shots stated, “Soccer has helped me bond with others and create new friendships in my community and my favorite aspect about soccer is how it’s not only competitive but it’s also extremely fun.” Christopher Li, a competitive soccer player, and varsity captain for his high school added, “I think that it [soccer] brings a lot of people together, especially amongst the ones that do play. My favorite aspect is the competitive part of it, to have a goal in the distance to constantly work for is nice.” A common theme among these quotes is soccer’s extraordinary ability to simultaneously serve as a fun, competitive sport as well as create tight bonds between players and enthusiasts.
12-year old Ousman in Darfur refugee camp Djabal in Chad describes how soccer and playing in the Academy “let my community [be] happy, and [gave us] friendship.” Academy Coach Sulei notes that soccer “changed my community. Before the Academies, my community did not know the importance of soccer and they did not know that girls have the right to play soccer and create good relationships among others.” Along with creating community ties and cultivating friendships for the players and coaches living in refugee camps, the Academy has become a place for boys and girls to play, learn, and heal.
Regardless of a person’s background, soccer has been a space where people can come together, learn, and have fun. “Soccer teaches people teamwork and discipline. My favorite aspect about soccer is teamwork because I love it when you work as a team to achieve your goal,” said Eakraj Raut from Thunder Shots. Eakraj’s comment also highlights an additional benefit that soccer brings which is how it instills the practices of teamwork and communication into every player. “Anyone who plays soccer competitively knows it’s a demanding sport that requires a decent amount of teamwork, communication, and individual effort,” explained Andrew Qin. “When you’re on the field, you must work as a cohesive team, one mistake or slipup could cost the game.” While it is true that soccer is a physically and mentally demanding game, most players agree that the gratifying experience of winning and doing so together with your teammates more than pays off the difficult experiences. “Having your work pay off is always satisfying, but accomplishing something on the field with your teammates means so much more, and that's the beauty of the game,” stated Trevor Knotts.
However, it doesn’t always take high-intensity competitive play to learn from the game of soccer. For 13-year-old Hanan in Chad, she has “learned mindfulness, how to play ball and how to treat others” while playing in the Academy. Coach Sulei shared he has “learned human rights, coaching, leadership.” In refugee camps where there are few employment, professional or personal development, or extracurricular opportunities for men, women, and children, the Academies have become a place for players and coaches to learn about the game and about themselves.
It’s not hard to realize that soccer has made a profound impact all across the globe. Billions of people are influenced by the sport every year, and its incredible outreach has aided it in becoming the foundation of numerous fanbases, lifestyles, and projects including Thunder Shots, which was founded based on a mutual love for the game. Soccer has been monumental in creating and impacting communities. Not only does it bring people of all origins together to celebrate and participate in a common interest, but it has also become a vehicle to bring attention to larger global issues. Although playing the game may be temporary, the relationships that stem from these communities and the learning opportunities gained from playing the game often last for much longer. In conclusion, it’s safe to say that in a time where humans don’t often get along, it’s relieving to see something as simple as a ball game still hold enough power and influence to bring entire communities together. From the refugee camps in Chad to the fields in California, soccer in many ways has brought the world closer and for that we are thankful.
This blog was led and written by Thunder Shots in partnership with iACT.