6 Ways Soccer Girls Grow on International Service Trips

Lessons Learned from a Berky Mother and Daughter

Guest Author: Andrea Montalbano

14440627_1252893721408623_4927986307104990910_nAndrea Montalbano is the author of the Soccer Sisters book series and founder of the Play It Forward Project. She was a Hall of Fame defender at Harvard University and a former supervising producer on the TODAY Show on NBC. She is also a coach, a mother of athletes, and an international advocate for using sports for education and gender equality.

Andrea enjoyed her four years as a starter on Harvard’s soccer team and serving as a co-captain her senior year of college. She’s excited to share her love of the sport with others, including her daughter and two-time Berkshire Soccer Academy attendee Lily.

Spreading the Sport of Soccer

Coaches Across America

Last summer, our family took a service trip to Armenia with Coaches Across Continents. CAC is an amazing charity that uses sport to promote education and social change all over the world. We spent three days in the capital, Yerevan, and then went out to some of the small villages where girls have little to no opportunity to play soccer.

Andy in Armenia     YT2-DSC_0052-825x550

We played a lot of games based on soccer drills to elicit conversations about the roles of girls and women in society and to encourage communities to give girls more opportunities on and off the field.

The trip has had a lasting impact on my family in some surprising ways!

My Top 6 Incredible Lessons Learned From Our International Service Trip

  • International Language of Friendship – Soccer has always been my kids’ favorite sport, but after this trip, they also understood that it is a sport that connects them to others around the world. None of us speaks Armenian, but as soon as we put the ball down, we were laughing and making friends. It’s an eye-opening experience to travel the world and have an immediate connection with people by just passing them a ball. No matter where your family goes, just bring a ball with you and you will have a way to relate to people everywhere. This was especially rewarding for my family.  My husband is Armenian-American, and having the kids play soccer with local kids gave them an easy way to identify with their Armenian heritage.
  • Kid Ambassador – My daughter Lily first traveled to Armenia with me in December 2014 when the U.S. Ambassador asked me to spend a week talking about the importance of girls playing sports. It isn’t easy to coach through a translator, so I ended up using Lily (10 at the time) to demonstrate all the drills. Lily’s presence and participating allowed the kids to relate and relax. They were not intimidated by her; on the contrary, were surprised and impressed that a girl could be so skilled. As for Lily, the positive reaction that she elicited helped her understand that, even as a child, she could be a role model. This was a powerful lesson and really brought home how fortunate she is to live in a country where girls are encouraged to play sports.

  • Sisterhood –Lot of unknowns preceded this trip. It reminded me of when Lily first went and worried whether she would like her cabinmates or make friends. These are normal questions and fears.  It turned out that she had so much in common with the girls at camp, and their common love for soccer fostered immediate bonds. This was something we found on our trip, as well. As soon as the girls began to play, they were connected by the sisterhood of the sport.  Fatigue, thirst and all out effort brought them together, and they connected in so many important ways. Lily and I both have made so many dear friendships through sport – and sharing this sisterhood with girls half way around the world was profound.
  • Gratitude – We often take for granted the fact that our daughters can go to a soccer camp like Berky and play soccer and a host of other sports in school, leagues or tournaments. In Armenia, Lily saw first-hand that the opportunities simply doesn’t exist for many girls around the world.

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  • Awareness — The trip’s influence is also evident in Lily’s schoolwork. She was recently assigned to write about someone who took chances and impacted the world. She selected the founder of the National Organization for Women and iconic feminist Betty Friedan. When she had to write an argument paper, she decided to write about equal pay for the women’s national soccer team. This trip has opened her eyes in so many unexpected ways.
  • The Joy of Soccer – When we sign up our girls for soccer, I think we hope they play so that they have fun, make friends and learn some skills. But organized sports can easily become hyper-competitive and over-professionalized. So I really work to find experiences for Lily and her brother that refocus them on the pure joy of playing. Being a Berky parent has been a big part of that. This service trip was another way to bring us back to the reasons we play – fun, friendship, and life lessons. It also inspired me to start the Play It Forward Project, a movement to encourage kids to bring the core values of sportsmanship into their communities. Lily not only helped me create it, but she has embraced it. The other morning, I woke up to find Lily baking muffins before school. “I want to bring them to the security guard at school to thank her for making me feel safe.”

Get Involved

If you want to support Coaches Across Continents, you can check out their website. They don’t offer trips for families as a rule, but here are some organizations that do and some others that use sport for social good here at home.

Woza Soccer Organizes soccer service trips for teens https://www.wozasoccer.com/

Positive tracks supports sport related community service projects www.positivetracks.org

Global Goals Women’s World Cup to be held in NY this September http://ggwcup.com//

Soccer Without Borders uses soccer to support positive change all over the world

https://www.soccerwithoutborders.org/

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