Soccer Without Borders, an international non-profit that uses soccer as a vehicle for positive youth development, is teaming up with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (“ECA”) Sports United Division for the Inter-American Women’s Soccer Exchange.
In partnership with the U.S. Embassy of Managua and FENIFUT, the Nicaraguan Soccer Federation, the soccer exchange kicked off last weekend in Granada. The soccer exchange is perhaps the most comprehensive effort by the U.S. to support the growth and development of girls’ and women’s soccer in Nicaragua.
Soccer Without Borders, locally called “Fútbol Sin Fronteras,” arrived in Nicaragua five years ago to promote the empowerment of women through women’s soccer. With a steady base of participants who enjoy activities and workshops, as well as practices and games in a local boys’ league, Fútbol Sin Fronteras has had a positive impact on the lives of many girls in Granada. Still, there remains a lot of work to be done.
There are still many obstacles to the development of girls’ soccer. Economic and cultural barriers are consistently thwarting strides to build more support for the Women’s National Team. And the lack of consistent playing opportunities, proper coaching and equipment, and a safe space to play also deter women athletes from playing the world’s game.
During the five years that Soccer Without Borders has been working in Nicaragua, the growth of girls’ sports has been steady but slow. There is still only one division for the Women’s National League, compared to four divisions for men’s soccer. In Granada, the recreational league is expanding but has yet to develop into a girls’ youth division. The national women’s league had only three teams last year and school teams are virtually non-existent. Nicaragua has no similar law to the U.S. Title IX, so limited school resources for sport and other extra-curricular activities are usually not divided equally, which means women’s soccer gets shorted.
This week’s soccer exchange organized by Soccer Without Borders brings to Nicaragua a 16-member team of recently graduated U.S. Women’s NCAA soccer players to work with the growing community of women soccer players in Nicaragua. Ann Cook, Mary McVeigh and Maren Rojas, a trio at the forefront of U.S. women’s soccer as players and coaches, will lead the U.S. participants. They will be assisted by Lindsey Whitford, the Granada Program Coordinator for Soccer Without Borders and a former NCAA student-athlete at Lewis & Clark University.
The roster of players includes an impressive array of former NCAA student-athletes from across the United States. Players span all three NCAA Divisions and eight NCAA Conferences: The Big 10, The Big South, Conference USA, The Ivy League, Middle Atlantic Conference, New England Small Colleges Athletic Conference (NESCAC), Northwest Conference, and PAC 12. As a group, participants represent ten elite U.S. colleges and universities and hail from 10 different states.
Exchange players and coaches will take their experiences and talents to three Nicaraguan cities this week, leading a series of skills clinics and coaching clinics with a focus on engaging girls, team-building, skill-building, practice design, and coaching strategies for young female soccer players and leaders.
The U.S. exchange team started the week in Diriamba, then moved to Managua, and will end their journey this weekend in Granada. In each location, the U.S. players are holding skills and coaching clinics as well as playing in two showcase games against Nicaragua’s National Women’s Team, the Selección Nacional. Their match on Tuesday ended with a 4-1 victory for the U.S. Exchange team, but a rematch tonight, Thursday March 28 at 3 p.m. in the Estadio Nacional, promises to be exciting!
On Saturday the team will hold a coaching clinic at 8 a.m. and a skills clinic open to all the girls of Granada at 9 a.m. At 11 a.m. on Saturday, the team will play its final match against the Veteranas of Fútbol Sin Fronteras at the Intecna fields. All are welcome and all three events are free!
This event represents a major development in the promotion of women’s soccer in Nicaragua through a newly bolstered partnership between the U.S. and Nicaragua. Soccer has been the uniting force in this partnership, sending an inspiring message to aspiring female athletes throughout Nicaragua.