International Youth Day: How the Power of Play Bridges Cultural Divides

As a professional soccer player for 13 years, I had the privilege of competing at the highest levels and the honor of representing the U.S. Women’s National Team at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

If you’re like me, you love the Olympics and are excited about the 2016 Summer Games in Rio! Mega-sporting events, like the Olympics, Paralympics, and World Cup, showcase the years of commitment and hard work that athletes have put into their sports. Plus, these international competitions remind me of some of my favorite days playing with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team.

Today is special because it marks the United Nations International Youth Day. For me, International Youth Day provides an important moment to recognize the incredible impact that kids all around the world can have on their communities. I am reminded of my experiences traveling to New Zealand, Samoa, Egypt, and Jordan to connect with young people through soccer. Since retiring from professional soccer, I have had the opportunity to serve as a U.S. Department of State Sports Envoy. Through the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Diplomacy exchanges, I have traveled overseas to share my passion for soccer with young people around the world, showing that hard work and dedication are universal values, no matter where you’re from or what language you speak. 

In New Zealand and Samoa, I trained young athletes and met with educators on how to grow the sport of soccer. In Samoa, while training a group of boys, I noticed two boys playing with one cleat each. I asked them, “Why do you two only have one cleat on?” “Wouldn’t it be easier to play barefoot?” They replied, “We only had one pair and we didn’t want the other to have to go shoeless.” As they said this to me, I heard the coach yell, “Sharing is caring!” A huge smile came over my face. This story was one of many on how playing sports at a young age is not just about the competition or the glory of winning, but about sportsmanship and unity -- because in the end, we all win when we support one another. 

During a trip to Egypt and Jordan, I followed up with some of the emerging women leaders who participated in the U.S. Department of State and espnW Global Sports Mentoring Program (GSMP) and observed how they are using sport as a vehicle for positive change in their communities. GSMP is the flagship component of the Empowering Women & Girls through Sports Initiative, which pairs emerging women leaders from around the world with top American female executives in the sports industry. In my role as a sports envoy, I led soccer and strength clinics with women and young girls in the underprivileged communities and at Syrian refugee camps in Jordan.

It was a gift to share the pure joy that each of the girls and women felt as they were allowed to feel a sense of freedom and joy while playing soccer. Even in my days of playing professionally, I never experienced the gift of giving back as I did during this trip. As time passed, I realized I was the one who was being inspired and filled with joy. Yes, I was bringing happiness to others, but the exchange was mutual and a gift for everyone involved.

These experiences exhibit the power of play and common love of a sport. During these Olympic Games, let’s remember the importance of engaging young people around the world, since who knows, they may become our future Olympians, Paralympics, and leaders of the world.

About the Author: Lori Lindsey is a retired professional soccer player, Olympian, and U.S. Department of State Sports Envoy.

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U.S. Sports Enjoy Lori Lindsey poses for a photo with children at Emirates Refugee Camp in Jordan. [Photo credit to the University of Tennessee -- cooperative partner of the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Diplomacy Division]
U.S. Sports Envoy Lori Lindsey gives a "high-five" to a child during a visit to Jordan Emirate Refugee Camp. [Photo credit to the University of Tennessee -- cooperative partner of the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Diplomacy Division]
U.S. Sports Envoy Lori Lindsey participates in a soccer clinic at the Emirates Jordan Refugee Camp. [Photo credit to the University of Tennessee -- cooperative partner of the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Diplomacy Division]
U.S. Sports Envoy Lori Lindsey shakes hands with a man during a visit and soccer clinic at the Emirates Jordan Refugee Camp. [Photo credit to the University of Tennessee—cooperative partner of the U.S. Department of State’s Sports Diplomacy Division]
Posted by Lori Lindsey
August 12, 2016

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