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Capitalizing on Cultural Competency

Capitalizing on Cultural Competency

As I sat down to write this blog, I saw a tweet from superstar Carli Lloyd announcing that, with less than a week before the U.S. Women’s National Team match against Portugal on August 29th, 44,100 tickets had been sold, breaking the USWNT attendance record for a stand-alone friendly. I was so excited upon hearing this news, not just because they are so deserving of the recognition they’ve received, but because breaking this record would allow young girls and aspiring soccer players a chance to see themselves reflected in this sport. (In the end, the match drew a record crowd of 49,504!)

My background in STEM, culturally responsive pedagogy, and research methods has given me the opportunity to work with everyone from teachers and school administrators to police officers on the importance of cultural proficiency and promoting equity through their lens. I am a scientist at heart, but I’ve always had a love for the sport of soccer.

As a black girl growing up in Miami, I never saw soccer as a sport for me because it had always been a predominately male sport. I remember watching soccer with my daddy and simultaneously screaming “GOAAAAALLLL” until our lungs collapsed. You see, my family is from Haiti and soccer (better known as foutbòl to Haitians) is the most popular sport in Haiti. But even with it being the most-watched sport in my household, I never thought that I could be a soccer player. Maybe if I was a little girl and turned on the television to find Carli’s excitement, maybe then, I would have seen myself reflected as a female in a male-dominated sport, and just maybe I would have felt included.

So when I was asked by the U.S. Soccer Foundation to be a guest speaker at the their Soccer for Success National Training this summer, I jumped at the opportunity. The four-day event brought together coach-mentors from across the country who spent the long-weekend learning and engraining themselves in the new curriculum so that they, in turn, can return home to train their community members on how to deliver the Soccer for Success program to local youth. In addition to teaching soccer fundamentals (being coaches), these individuals are also trained to teach children critical life skills (they are also mentors), earning them the title of a coach-mentor.

It’s my belief that, in order to be a good coach-mentor, you have to understand the youth you serve. With this in mind, my presentation focused on culturally responsive practices that create inclusive communities. My goals were to share strategies to help youth development professionals establish safe spaces for their youth by building both knowledge of themselves and others, and to unpack cultural competence. The ultimate goal was to create an environment where we could have rich conversations about increasing opportunities for youth to see themselves in this sport.

So what role does cultural competency play in the lives of coach-mentors?

The first thing we addressed during my presentation was respecting and honoring our unique cultures. Culture encompasses a variety of factors, such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, spirituality, disability, the list goes on. Simply put, culture is how we do things around here. There are aspects of culture that are surface-level and are external and/or observable processes – like language or dress.

Then there are deeper, immaterial parts of culture that we cannot see. To truly understand youth and those vast communities we serve, it is imperative to move past surface culture and unpack beliefs, values, and thought patterns. Eye contact is a perfect example of deep-level culture. In my Haitian culture, direct eye contact with elders is traditionally considered rude; yet, growing up in American culture, my teachers would constantly request that I make eye contact when speaking or being spoken to. I quickly learned that what I thought was a sign of respect was not “the way we do things around here!”

In your community, you will meet youth from various cultures. Some aspects of their cultures are easily observable, but there are others such as personal space, preference for competition or cooperation, and definition of obscenity that will not be observable. In order to establish meaningful relationships, you must move past a surface-level understanding of your community and the youth you serve.

Additionally, you must move towards being culturally proficient. During the session, we spoke about the Cultural Competency Continuum. At the bottom of the continuum are values and behaviors that do NOT enable people and organizations to interact effectively in culturally diverse environments (i.e., cultural destructiveness and cultural incapacity). In the middle is cultural blindness and it is least discernable but has damaging effects. An example of this is “I don’t care if my players are pink, brown, or polka dot. I don’t see color. I treat all my players the same.” Well, coach, if you don’t notice you have a polka dot player on your team, you’re either color-blind or you’re missing an opportunity to bring their polka dot experience onto the field.

Next, you move to cultural sensitivity (where you recognize and are willing to learn about differences) and then to cultural competency (where you can effectively work in cross-cultural environments). Last is cultural proficiency, where you see differences and respond proactively, affirmingly, and you’re seeking opportunities to improve cultural relationships.

Adapted from Lindsey R., Robins, K. N., & Terrell, R. (2009). Cultural Proficiency: A Manual for School Leaders. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. 

Moving from Theory to Practice

I can’t change the past, but together we can change the future for today’s youth. We can ensure that more children from underrepresented populations see themselves reflected in this field. Even if they don’t aspire to be professional soccer players, being exposed to soccer teaches our youth lifelong lessons such as discipline, leadership, resilience, collaboration, and sportsmanship – lessons every young person can use.

I like to use these tips & tricks to help me along the way:
The work that we do is critical for social change. Collectively, coach-mentors have the ability to work with children who don’t know that soccer can be a life-changer. By honoring, affirming, and respecting our cultural differences, we model what young people need to see in order to do the same – but to do that, we must go first.

Dr. Patricia Morgan is the Science, Health, and P.E. Coordinator for Fayette County Schools and completed her dissertation on the role of race in the classroom at Georgia State University. In addition to this work, she employs her expertise as an equity, diversity & inclusion consultant. In her free time, she enjoys binge-watching Netflix series and traveling. She is on a mission to see 50 countries and 50 states by 2022. 

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Our Partners

  • adidas

    adidas, the Foundation's Safe Places to Play - Mini-Pitch Partner, supports providing children in underserved communities with safe play spaces nationwide. adidas strives to be the globally leading and most popular sporting goods brand. Dedicated to innovation,  adidas embraces creativity and seeks to be socially responsible in all facets of its brand. For more information, please visit adidas.com.

  • All Sports Enterprises, Inc.

    All Sports Enterprises, Inc. is the U.S. Soccer Foundation's preferred artificial turf supplier and installer. Whether you are building a new, or renovating an existing facility, All Sports Enterprises, Inc. has the materials and professional installation crews to outfit your entire complex. With over 30 different manufacturers to choose from, All Sports Enterprises, Inc. will assist you in selecting the right products for the right application. Its intallation crews are experienced, certified, and will work with you and your staff to make sure your project is a complete success.


  • APT

    APT (Advanced Polymer Technology), the Foundation’s Partner for Acrylic Coating Products, is a global leader in high performance sports surfaces. APT provides people around the world with safe, reliable, performance enhancing surfaces. APT’s Laykold Masters acrylic surfacing system will be the official surface of an estimated 500 mini-pitches. For more information on APT, please visit www.sportsbyapt.com.

  • AstroTurf

    For athletes and soccer enthusiasts, AstroTurf® is redefining how synthetic soccer fields are built and perform. The brand offers advanced, state-of-the-art synthetic turf systems with proprietary engineered technologies. A growing number of clubs, high schools, colleges, professional sports teams and municipalities continue to select AstroTurf’s LigaTurf-branded products for their premium quality, technical superiority, and safety. To learn more, visit the company’s recently redesigned website, www.astroturf.com/soccer. - See more at: https://ussoccerfoundation.org/article/astroturf-partners-with-the-u.s.-soccer-foundation-as-a-national-partner-for-field-building-program#sthash.FL8E8bAM.dpuf

  • CHA

    CHA Sports, the Foundation's Supplier for Soccer Facility Design and Planning Services, provides community partners with expertise in soccer facility design. CHA Sport's full service approach allows the company to build world-class projects without breaking budgets. For more information, please visit chacompanies.com

  • Hunter

    Hunter Industries, the Foundation's National Partner for Irrigation Equipment, is one of the world's leading manufacturers of irrigation equipment for turf, landscape and soccer fields.  Hunter Industries' focus is on landscape irrigation with a significant part of its business centering on the proper care and maintenance of sports turf. For more information, please visit hunterindustries.com. Please contact Lynda Wightman, 406-273-3073, lynda.wightman@hunterindustries.com with any questions regarding the U.S. Soccer Foundation's grants program.

  • Johnson & Johnson

    Johnson & Johnson, the Foundation’s grant partner, is dedicated to supporting the next generation of female leaders by providing greater access to girls’ youth soccer programming in underserved communities nationwide. As the world’s largest and most broadly based healthcare company, Johnson & Johnson strives to create healthier communities, and put a healthy mind, body and environment within reach of everyone, everywhere. For more information, please visit www.jnj.com.

  • Kwik Goal

    Kwik Goal, the Foundation’s Official Supplier for goals, seating, boundary equipment, training equipment and coaching accessories, will be supporting a variety of Foundation programs and initiatives including: Soccer for Success, National Training and the Safe Places to Play program. Over thirty years ago, Kwik Goal was founded on the revolutionary concept of providing transportable goals for coaches at all age levels. Since that time, Kwik Goal has continued to focus on helping coaches and soccer programs create safe and dynamic learning environments by supplying high quality, safety tested soccer goals, field equipment and training equipment to the domestic and international market. For more information, please visit Kwikgoal.com.

  • MLS WORKS

    MLS WORKS, Major League Soccer's community outreach initiative, is dedicated to addressing important social issues and serves as a platform for both League and club philanthropic programs. MLS WORKS seeks to establish Major League Soccer as a leader for improving the lives of people through sport. MLS WORKS is committed to improving the communities where we live and play our games by executing national programs and legacy projects, charitable giving campaigns, and undertaking various initiatives in underserved communities.

  • MTJ Sports

    MTJ Sports is honored to be a corporate partner with the U.S. Soccer Foundation and its Safe Places To Play program. We believe in working with our customers as a true business partnership. We cultivate & drive healthy relationships through our core business values and provide premier turnkey services for sports surfaces & equipment from design & manufacturing all the way through the installation process. For more information please visit our website at www.mtjsports.com or contact our president, Mats Jonmarker, directly via email at mats@mtjsports.com.

  • Musco

    As a proud corporate partner of the U.S. Soccer Foundation, Musco is dedicated to helping the major charitable arm of American soccer create new opportunities through high-quality sports lighting. Their Total Light Control—TLC for LED™ technology is engineered as a system with lighting, structural, and electrical components designed to work together for streamlined installation and long-term reliability. TLC for LED delivers superior field lighting while eliminating glare and spill from impacting surrounding neighborhoods. And Musco’s long-term warranty covering parts and labor means U.S. Soccer Foundation partners don’t have to handle any maintenance on their system, or pay for it, for 25 years. Visit https://ussoccerfoundation.org/grants/ to learn more about the grant program and application process.

  • SCORE Sports

    SCORE Sports, the preferred provider of shin guards to the Foundation’s Soccer for Success program, is a family-owned and operated business specializing in sports equipment, uniforms and apparel. SCORE is an industry leader and has been involved in the sports community for over 40 years. SCORE outfits athletes with high-quality uniforms that SCORE develops, designs and manufactures in the U.S. SCORE takes pride in working with various non-profit groups and causes to give back to athletes who may need some extra support to play the game they love. SCORE is environmentally cautious with the materials it uses for its products and does its part in minimizing our environmental footprint. SCORE proudly offers a wide variety of products to provide customers with a one-stop shop for all your soccer needs. For more information, please visit scoresports.com.

  • Soccer.com

    Soccer.com, the Foundation's National Partner for Soccer Equipment and Uniforms, was founded in 1984 to provide high quality soccer gear at reasonable prices through its nationally circulated catalog. Soccer.com embodies a passion for the game that extends to the people who play, coach and support soccer. For more information, please visit soccer.com.

  • Sport Court

    Sport Court®, the Foundation's Supplier for Futsal Surfaces, has been the industry leader in modular athletic flooring for over 30 years. With more than 50,000 installations worldwide, and the largest and most experienced network of authorized dealers, Sport Court® delivers innovative, durable, high-performance solutions for a variety of sports and activities. For more information, please visit sportcourt.com. Please contact Lauren Gillian at lgillian@sportcourt.com for any questions regarding Sport Court's corporate partnership with the U.S. Soccer Foundation.

  • Target

    Target announced a national partnership with Safe Spaces to Play in 2017, along with a million commitment to build 100 new soccer play spaces with the U.S. Soccer Foundation by 2020. This is the latest initiative in the Minneapolis-based retailer’s multi-dimensional approach to the sport of soccer, bringing the game to more kids and families across the country, and unlocking access and increasing involvement at all levels.

  • TGI Worldwide

    TGI Worldwide, the Foundation’s National Partner for Visual Branding (Signage, Event Décor, Pageantry, Sponsorship Activation), Perimeter Field Board Systems, Creative Services and Event Operations is proud to support a variety of initiatives and programs throughout the United States. Headquartered in the U.S., TGI is an internationally recognized sports marketing company delivering high profile Visual Branding, Live Event Management, LED, and cutting edge Digital Sports Applications to enrich the experience at major events and deliver commercial impact for sponsors and partners. The company has a 20-year history in providing its various solutions for many top-tier domestic and international events, organizations, teams and companies, with proven success and turn-key solutions across 1000+ events, 160+ cities and 50+ countries globally.

    For more information on our services, please visit https://www.worldwidetgi.com or contact Mike Squire at msquire@worldwidetgi.com / Phone: 312-371-5852.

  • World Soccer Shop

    Launched in 2001, World Soccer Shop is an online soccer retailer based in Birmingham, Alabama. It carries one of the world’s widest selections of officially-licensed products from the sport’s top brands and teams. World Soccer Shop is passionate about soccer and endeavors to spread the beautiful game around the world, especially to those in areas of need. For more information, please visit www.worldsoccershop.com.

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