As part of our 20th Anniversary celebration and the “Together, We Are Soccer” campaign, we are launching an interactive way to share soccer stories on social media. Using the hashtag #WhyIPlay, we are asking people around the country and around the world to tell us why they play soccer.
Truth be told, I’m not your traditional soccer fan. I didn’t play soccer as a child. My middle school, high school, and college in Canada didn’t have competitive teams. I’ve never owned, let alone even put on a pair of cleats, in my life. But in recent years, my love of the sport has grown and it’s taken every ounce of self-control to contain my excitement and not make a scene when I think about the upcoming World Cup.
One of the things I love most about the beautiful game is the way that it inspires me. Given soccer’s popularity around the world, it reminded me of a speech given by Nelson Mandela when he addressed a crowd at the inaugural Laureus World Sports Awards ceremony in Monaco.
“Sport” Mandela said, “has the power to change the world. It has the power to inspire, it has the power to unite people in a way that little else does. It speaks to youth in a language they understand. Sport can create hope, where once there was only despair.”
For many, sport is a leisure activity, a pastime or a hobby. For others, sport is a social gathering based on shared interests or devotion to a team and city. But within many recreational athletes or avid sports fans, there lies a belief that sport has so much more to offer.
On December 5, 2013, I watched my social media feeds fill with the news of Mandela’s passing. Heartfelt messages from around the world honoring his life and legacy reminded me that the ways to inspire change are not always where we think we’ll find them. Sport is not your traditional diplomacy tactic or global development tool, but neither is sport just a game or hobby. Values learned through sport such as teamwork, fair play, and respect transition from on to off the field and become part of our behaviors and attitudes that help shape the world.
It becomes so much more than just “why I play”, but it’s “why I coach”, or “why I love soccer”, or “why I support soccer as a tool for youth development and social change.”
At the Foundation, we truly believe that sport, specifically soccer, offers so many positive opportunities for youth. Sport helps promote the healthy development of youth, providing both physical and educational benefits. While the benefits of sport are clear for the individual, so too, can it be used to strengthen societies. Through coaching and positive mentorship, sport can encourage the development of confidence and leadership skills in children, allowing them to be positive role models in their families and communities.
As we turn 20 this year, it is important for us to reflect on the power and the impact soccer can have on all. We’re celebrating the last twenty years, but we are encouraged and inspired as we look ahead towards the next twenty years. Now it’s your turn to tell us why you play. Join us on Twitter or visit the Supporters Wall and using the hashtag #WhyIPlay, tell us what soccer means to you.