We use soccer as a vehicle for positive change, providing refugee and immigrant youth with a toolkit to overcome obstacles to growth, inclusion, and personal success.
History: In 2006, Soccer Without Borders was born of a vision for an alternative educational space for marginalized youth, where the interpersonal environment was safe, compassionate, and influential enough to inspire healthy choices and personal growth.
The issue we address: Newcomer youth (refugees, new immigrants, and asylees in the United States) represent an extremely vulnerable and at-risk population. Even with individual strengths and resilience, traumatic background experiences and economic disadvantage create barriers to success. Without English language proficiency, they can feel isolated, demoralized, and risk academic failure. In fact, youth with limited English proficiency have a national high school graduation rate of around 60%. Innovative solutions are needed to engage and connect these youth to the community, educational resources, and healthy activities.
Program Development: In the initial years, SWB focused on soccer-based activities to build cohesive team relationships across linguistic and cultural differences, honing and refining coaching strategies. Over time, we developed an understanding of the multiple needs of our participants, and of our capacity to deliver targeted interventions off the field as well, the combination of which would authentically improve outcomes for both youth and their families. The inclusive team environment remains the platform; we added goals related to language development, academic advancement, physical health, and social capital to help our youth transition through adolescence and into adulthood.
Youth join Soccer Without Borders at varying levels of soccer ability, English ability, and comfort in their communities, making flexibility and innovation key. Our evidence-based design is intentionally adaptable to local context and resources, while consistent in the three pillars of program of soccer, education, and community. The balance and dosage of these activities in a safe and welcoming team environment led by a trained and committed coach creates a powerfully influential environment that is focused on the development of the whole person over many years. Our design is underpinned by the following elements, rooted in research:
Physical Activity: Physical activity is associated with improved academic achievement, including grades and standardized test scores. Further, such activity can affect cognitive skills, attitudes and academic behavior, including enhanced concentration, attention, and improved classroom behavior (U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2012).
Mentorship: Youth that are in mentoring relationships for 12+ months have improved self confidence, are less likely to drop out of school, have improved attitudes about their future and have improved psychosocial and behavioral outcomes. What's more, boys with mentors are two times more likely to believe that school is fun and doing well academically is important. (National Mentoring Partnership)
Social Capital (Team and Community): Research suggests that sport has the potential to promote community identity, coherence and integration and that people actively involved in sport are more likely to play an active role in the community in other ways. (United Nations)
Language Development: The research on acquiring and remembering language has long linked action with words: we remember phrases like "throw me the ball" better, for example, if we are actually tossing a ball than if we study it in a textbook. (How Youth Learn)
Sports Participation:Longitudinal studies have shown that children and youth participating in sport, when compared to peers who do not play sport, exhibit: higher grades, expectations, and attainment; greater personal confidence and self-esteem; greater connections with school; stronger peer relationships; more academically oriented friends; greater family attachment and more frequent interactions with parents; more restraint in avoiding risky behavior; and greater involvement in volunteer work. (TrueSport Report)
Our adaptable program model leverages the universal language of soccer and the interpersonal safety net of a team to create a platform where youth advance academically, develop personally, make healthy lifestyle choices, build social capital, and develop English language skills. SWB Colorado has effectively delivered the program model, expanding the ages served and the program depth each year (currently 30+ weeks/year, 8 to 12 hours/week detailed in the "Comprehensive List of all Programs"). Partnerships with resettlement agencies, schools, youth soccer clubs, local companies, and other non-profits also play a significant role in our ability to deliver the program year-round.
While the tangible implementation strategies and design are critical, SWB programs are effective in large part because youth don't feel like they are in a "program." The SWB model taps into young people's love for soccer, building a bridge between the game, the classroom, and their new community.
Our 100% free, year-round program in Colorado serves more than 180 newcomers ages 7-19.
"The reason why I join SWB is that I get to meet with new people and able to start conversations. In the past few days, weeks, months, and year, I've learned a lot of new stuff and will able to get to work on things I've not thought of doing it. SWB is a great program for me. It change my lifestyle. It taught me how to treat other people with respect, sharing & caring. Soccer isn't something that you can fake - it is a feeling, a passion, a lifestyle."- Mamo: SWB Colorado Participant