(Guest post from Coach Adam at Soccer Shots Los Angeles)
In one of the many adventures that I have participated in, this story shows the power soccer has in uniting strangers from completely different walks of life.
Back in 2008, I was very fortunate to travel to South America for six months.
Everywhere I went, literally everywhere, there were soccer fields that seemed to sprout up from grass, concrete, and half finished buildings whose various levels seemed to defy architectural logic. Soon, it became quite apparent how important the game is to our neighbors to the south.
Kids begin the game at such a young age, and play with such ease; it is no wonder why the continent holds 9 World cup titles, with five coming from Brazil alone!
As a soccer lover, I felt right at home. Of the four countries I visited, (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, and Bolivia) each of their citizens welcomed me in similar yet different fashions. But one trend that maintained consistent was their eagerness to drop everything and include me in the many games that I played with local adults and children. All that I needed to say was donde esta la partida? Translating in English to where is the game? If there was a ball and any sort of makeshift goal, a game would begin in the time it took to get two sides together.
My most memorable experience by far, was the trip I took to the DEEP coastal jungle of Ecuador. By boat, (and I mean a canoe with a motor) the village of San Miguel is a five hour ride from a river outpost in the middle of the jungle, which is a four hour bus ride from a major city. Hopefully that paints a picture as to how remote this place was. Upon arriving, we disembarked with our backpacks to a village whose residents are of African descent.
Stepping onto shore, it was both heartwarming and sad that these people completely welcomed us without any question to their humble village. Heartwarming because it showed the human capacity for goodness and humility and sad because I questioned if these gracious people would be embraced in the same fashion back home.
For five days we lived amongst the great people of San Miguel. They had little to no money and sustained themselves through bartering with different villages that dotted the sides of the river. We celebrated Easter with them, (which was a mix of African and Catholic tradition) we ate with them, danced with them, and of course, played soccer with them.
After one of the older teenagers approached me in what appeared to be a combative stance, I thought I might need to talk my way out of a pickle.
But instead he asks in English, “are you English”? “No”, I said. “I am actually American. “ Soon we got lost in language translation. So I fell back on my customary “Tienes una pelota? Donde esta la partida? He replied, “eres un jugador?” (You are a player?) Si, por supuesto. (Yes of course.)
From the time I spoke those words to the time we were playing was no more than five minutes. Soon, all the older kids in the village had joined us and we began our intense game of soccer, San Miguel style.
Soccer, San Miguel style consists of playing on a cement field complete with bits of glass and shards of broken concrete. Oh, and some of the kids play barefoot! Soon the kids are bleeding profusely while we play with a ball no bigger than a large softball.
So here I am playing in a steamy jungle, with kids who are playing barefoot on concrete, and running circles around me.
This was quite humbling for me as I claim a pretty good mastery of the game. We continued this as a daily ritual for the short time we were there. And while language was at times an obstacle, the game of soccer helped level that obstacle if even for 30 minutes.
I wanted to share this story because sports, especially soccer can act as a unifying force. In my case it brought together groups of people whose lives couldn’t have been any more different. We see this every four years during the World Cup. There is always one country participating who is suffering from some form of civil strife. Yet whatever is happening in that country at the time, there is always unification around their team and their fellow countrymen. Even for just a month, people can put aside their differences and embrace a similar and powerful cause.
If soccer can help unite a country, think of the impact it can have on the youth around the world. We need to harness the positive power of the world’s greatest game and expose it to as many kids as possible. In the process, we might just end up saving the world.
Soccer Shots Los Angeles