There are two major passions that I have watched God develop and use in my life in unique ways I would have never have imagined. One passion is the love for science and the other - the love for soccer.
In Chariots of Fire (which I have never actually seen all the way through, but have heard the story plenty of times…), the main character makes the statement “I feel God’s pleasure when I run”. Well, I can easily say I feel God’s pleasure when I play soccer. (I also often feel God’s pleasure when I run, but this is more temperature and location dependent.) When I play I can’t stop smiling. The game is beautiful. A perfect shot, a perfect pass, a perfect save – it should be appreciated like fine art.
Luckily, everywhere I have lived, I have been able to meet up with new people and build relationships over the common passion of futbol. Here’s what this has looked like in Cape Town both for me, personally, and with my kids at Bridges.
Last year I started playing with a 5-a-side women’s team out in Cape Town. I would drive out every Wednesday night. The level of play was pretty low, but it was so nice to kick the ball around and be on a team again. That team fell apart and blended in with a new 5-a-side team and league that plays every Thursday night at a the Hellenic Club next to Greenpoint Stadium (built for the World Cup in 2010 - such a beautiful stadium!). We’re different from the other teams in our league in that we are from all over the globe – South Africa, Columbia, Sweden, and the US. It is such a nice group of girls and we work so well together as a team. I love playing with them and seeing how both friendships and on-field team dynamics have been building and solidifying. I have loaded up the Bridges van with groups of students who wanted to cheer on our team and it has been magic! It’s so fun to play for my students and to be supported by singing and dancing and be fueled by their enthusiasm! My students are so encouraging and full of joy and they love passing it on to others. My team loves it and keeps asking for them to come back. I’ve also enjoyed that that is part of my life I can share with my students and involve them in. It also helps the girls to see a high level of women’s soccer that they can strive for, and shows the boys that girls can actually play! I’m going to keep rotating through groups of cheerleaders and bringing them out as often as I can.
Also last year, we started up the first real soccer program at Bridges. We only had 11 boys at the school from grades 8-12, and not all of them were keen to play soccer, so we picked up a few girls as well. Thandazwa played in every match with the boys and Mimitha joined in toward the end of the season. We also filled in the team with two of the house parents and myself… Some days it was fun to coach the team and other days it was really frustrating. I could tell some of the older boys were hesitant to be coached by a girl, thinking I would be too easy on them during training and basically make them play ‘like girls’. This battle to win their respect as a coach was frustrating, but in the end, they still wanted me to play on the field with them, so I guess that meant something. One of my favorite games last year was playing against Bridge House, the rich prep-school about 5 min down the road from Bridges Academy. There was a very clear color line between the two teams (them being white rich kids, our team being black poor kids from the townships). Our team looked very rag-tag – mismatched uniforms, a huge range of age and size, and that we were made up of both boys and girls. They did not take us very seriously at first, but later changed their mind as we whooped them! We also had a huge crowd of Bridges students cheering us on with drums and everything. It was beautiful.
A coach from a local club team noticed that our team had some girls playing for us and asked if any of them would be interested in playing for them. They followed up this year and signed 7 girls on to their squad! Mimitha, Thandazwa, Nelisiwe, Nangamso, Asanda, Bongeka and Asive have been going to practice in Paarl two times a week and games on the weekends. Thandazwa is a star. She is naturally talented, but has improved so much after having consistent coaching and playing with other girls. She is so tough and is developing some amazing skills. The other girls are new to soccer and are also improving tremendously! They come back from practices talking about how much fun they are having. It’s such a great opportunity for them to interact with other girls their age and to be involved in a serious sport. I have been the most impressed by Nelisiwe. She is not the sportiest of our students but has LOVED playing. She talks about her friends on the other team and is developing into a defender not to be messed with… The development of women’s soccer in Africa is very close to my heart and I love to see my girls getting involved in it and loving it! I have been able to see a few of their games and have really treasured driving them home afterwards and re-capping the games with them, encouraging them on things they are doing well and giving them ideas on how to improve. It’s actually nice to NOT be the coach in this situation but to see it as something we can share together as players.
We are just starting up the season of Bridges Academy soccer and have a few matches scheduled against Bridge House soon. We had a practice Wednesday afternoon that I absolutely loved. The boys all worked so hard and took the practice seriously, but enjoyed it as well. Their passing and communication was great and they pushed hard through the whole practice. One of our best players is Lunga – one of our new Grade 7 students this year. He has so much energy and ball control and can read the game incredibly well. I didn’t feel any of the lack of respect I felt last year for being a girl coach and can’t wait to work more with this group of boys. I was so encouraged and am hopeful for what we can do as a team this year.
A couple requests to throw out – We had a bunch of soccer cleats donated from groups that have come from the states in the past and I was able to hand them out to almost everyone on the team, but there are still a couple boys who couldn’t find cleats to fit (most cleats were for kids and we have high school boys). If you know of anyone who has used cleats they want to get rid of - especially men’s size 8.5-10.5, let me know. Also – it would be nice to have a whole team set of matching soccer socks – preferably white or blue, and shin-guards (I don’t think we have ANY of these, and they are much cheaper than doctor’s bills for broken shins). If anyone would be able to donate any of these, please also let me know.