More Than a Game
Written by Brianna Canty
Language is communication. Spoken, heard, written, read. It can be emotional; it can be physical. It unites us. Language gives us words to use, expressions to mimic, the tools we need to draw links between us and others. A common denominator, invisible threads crisscrossing the globe.
In 2015 when Girls Soccer Worldwide (GSWW) traveled to Coronel Bogado, Paraguay, language is what separated them. Not everyone on the trip spoke Spanish and very few people they met spoke English.
But there was one place where it didn’t matter whether they knew English or Spanish, where they could communicate with more than just words. They didn’t have to speak the same verbal language because they all spoke a deeper, more physical sort of language.
The girls found a soccer field.
Walter Pratte was born and raised in Argentina, where soccer is a way of life. In the creation of GSW, Walter coupled his passion for the sport with his desire to give back to the community of Coronel Bogado—the same town that had opened their arms to him over two decades ago when he was playing soccer there semi-professionally.
During that first visit to Paraguay, Walter and his wife Pamela saw the problems girls in that community faced: poverty, lack of education, and lack of opportunity. Every girl needs something and deserves everything. But where does soccer fit in?
When asked about the role sports play in addressing these issues, Walter said that soccer is the “connector.” It is the ticket in to these communities, the forum with which to ask “How can I help you?” Soccer is the love language, the way those who are passionate about the sport can communicate.
GSWW aims to destigmatize girls in sports in Paraguay, to provide them access to education and financial support, to create opportunities where before there were few. Sports, and soccer more specifically, became the perfect means to affect these changes.
But change is far from easy.
“Soccer always gave me opportunity. I met a lot of people through soccer, I met great people through soccer. People that I never thought were going to make an impact in my life and they did. I give that to the sport because that’s what the sport is, you know, connections and relationships.”
The Barriers to Break
Walter sees the barriers to young women playing sports in Paraguay and his home country of Argentina as engrained in the culture.
Girls aren’t allowed to play sports.
They didn’t want to play.
Girls are delicate, fragile.
They can’t play a rough sport.
This was the mentality GSWW encountered in 2015 in Paraguay. That was the way it had always been—no need to change anything when nothing is broken.
Yet, in that small town near the southern edge of Paraguay, change is exactly what happened.
With that first trip, and on every trip since, GSWW has helped change minds. Female high school athletes from the Bay Area walked into that town with a soccer ball under their arms and a confident set to their shoulders. They connected with girls in that community, showing them that girls can play sports, that girls can be strong. These groups of young women, from different places and walks of life, get to speak the language of soccer together.
In 2018, Las Pioneras was created. It was the first all-girls soccer team formed in the community, providing a “an opportunity for girls to have access to an equal playing field and space to play the beautiful game of soccer.” Forming this team was the spark that lit the flame of change; the beginning of an unstoppable chain reaction. Today, in towns surrounding Coronel Bogado, girls have started their own soccer teams and organized tournaments. They carry themselves with confidence, proud of the fact that they are female soccer players.
Opportunities are growing, cultural stigmas are breaking little by little. There is no going back. Things are changing…and these girls are not going to stop playing.
Soccer is the foot in the door for towns like Coronel Bogado. Once that match is lit, once the girls start to play, then a connection is born. By leading with sports and inviting girls in local communities to share the field with our Ambassadors, we get the chance to ask them what they need.
We don’t have to speak the same language. As Walter said, we “just have to bring the soccer ball.”
The Gift of Sports
Sports reward us with more than just a score—sports give us human connection. They are the triumph of the human spirit, the way we push our boundaries and ask more of ourselves. They make us into leaders, hard workers, quick thinkers. Sports show us we can do anything when we have others around us. They can forge bonds. They can inspire us and help us dream.
Soccer is a universal language, a love language that unites us across oceans and cultures and beliefs. This is the arena, the field, that Walter and Pamela use to communicate the message of Girls Soccer Worldwide. Through soccer, young girls are empowered to dream bigger, soar higher, and break barriers. They learn to have confidence in themselves and the courage to use their voices, thereby empowering others to do the same.
Soccer helps them change.
Soccer helps them rise.
Girls Soccer Worldwide!
To learn more about Girls Soccer Worldwide and what we do, click here.
To learn more about the role of sports in our programs, check out this page.
Want to see how Las Pioneras, the first girls soccer team in Coronel Bogado, got started? Watch this video!
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