I have decided to spend my professional career on a soccer field. Occasionally I wonder if this is a meaningful endeavor: Does soccer matter? If it does matter, how? When the girls in the Like a Girl program had a video call with the Tibet women’s national soccer team, one of them exclaimed with a joyful surprise, “Oh my God, they look like us.”
As a white, upper-middle class girl from the suburbs, I have always had older women soccer player role models who look like me. My heroes were Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, and Brandi Chastain. This, though, was the first time Tu Lor had seen older women who look like her, who are refugees like her, playing soccer for a National Team.
Women like Tu Lor do exist; and they do play soccer. Women of color, immigrant women, refugee women, low-income women, urban women — they play this beautiful game, too. They play in city parks and rec centers. They play in urban cultural and community leagues. They organize their own teams and coach themselves.
There is a vibrant ecosystem of immigrant, refugee, and low-income girls and women who play soccer in our Minnesota cities. But right now, these athletes are largely left out of mainstream soccer systems. College coaches recruit at club showcases. These girls don’t play club soccer. To the college soccer system, they are effectively invisible.
If we, as a soccer community, don’t know that whole groups of soccer-playing girls exist, what are we saying to those girls? If we are not investing in urban, low-income spaces, I believe we communicating to these girls — who walk long distances to the park to play, who play in sneakers because they don’t have cleats, who play between homework and cooking for their families — that they do not matter.
Like a Girl’s mission is to celebrate these girls. We see them.
We host the Like a Girl College Showcase Tournament in urban communities. We invite college coaches into cities to watch girls’ abilities, in order to facilitate connections to college soccer and higher education.
At our first Showcase, two college coaches came and offered 11 college scholarships. This year, 15 college coaches attended. College opportunities are beginning to blossom.
I know Like a Girl matters to me. These girls give me the privilege of answering with a full-hearted ‘yes’ whenever I question if my career on a soccer team matters.