"GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAL!" Arms waving, hearts pounding, and celebratory images of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, and the Brazilian Marta Vieira da Silva swirl in young girls' imaginations.
This is one impact of an intensive week of soccer clinics in Nicaragua. Leading up to the launch of Secretary Clinton's Women's World Cup Initiative, sports diplomacy through soccer captivated the attention of nearly 500 youth and 50 coaches in Nicaragua May 15-21, 2011. Capitalizing on a growing interest in the sport, the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua invited two accomplished female coaches from the United States to ignite a passion for the game among girls aged 10-16.
U.S. invitees Ann Cook, assistant coach at Penn State University, and Kara Lowery, assistant coach at Lock Haven University in Pennsylvania, exuded energy, enthusiasm, and a love of the game on soccer fields across five Nicaraguan cities. Unable to contain their enthusiasm for the visit, girls and boys appeared on the fields ready to play while Ann and Kara trained local coaches on techniques and skill development. Putting this knowledge into practice, the local coaches assisted Ann and Kara in drills and training with the eager youth. Mini-matches brought the lessons to life, and soccer ball giveaways had the kids clamoring for recognition of their soccer trivia knowledge. The Embassy also passed out t-shirts, ball caps, and goalie gloves to encourage participation in the sport.
Building on the youth activities, Ann and Kara spent two activity-packed afternoons drilling and practicing with the Nicaraguan National Women's Team, emphasizing athletic and professional opportunities for female soccer players. The under-20 team accepted a friendly challenge from visiting U.S. university players, who were in town to support the non-governmental organization (NGO) Soccer Without Borders, and capped the coaches' visit with an afternoon match in the new Nicaraguan national soccer stadium. The magnitude of the visit reverberated in the excited chants from young girls in the stands and the grateful expressions of awe among a team of 8-year-old girls invited to take the field and shake hands with the women of their national team.
The soccer clinics empowered girls to see themselves in a new light -- as athletes, trailblazers, and equals to boys. Likewise, the clinics showed the boys the versatility, capacity, and intellectual and physical equality of the girls. Developing this confidence and understanding fuels the self-esteem and leadership potential of the girls and women in Nicaragua, opening the door for greater contributions to society.
The seed is planted, skills identified, and interest inflamed. On to the Women's World Cup excitement!
Related Content: Video (in Spanish) | Photos | Women's World Cup Initiative -- Empowering Women and Girls Through Sports