This past weekend the staff joined together for the first time to attend the WKNEDERLAND Grassroots, Multicultural, Football Festival in Amsterdam.
This was the first time the majority of the staff has joined together from around the world to collectively evaluate the players, coordinate for the future, and assess the overall game plan for leading these young women on the mission to being 2016 SAFF Champions.
This was a fantastic event with men’s and women’s team representing their nations to compete on a high level. It was great for our men’s and women’s teams to be at the fields supporting each other, and throughout the weekend our team’s spirit, passion, and energy drew a larger and more avid fan base. On game one, we might have felt alone, but by the end of the weekend we had supporters from Afghanistan, Peru, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Netherlands, Suriname, Indonesia cheering us on as the team soon became fan favorites.
The goal of the trip was to provide an opportunity for Afghani players from all over the world to be evaluated for the National Team Pool. We had an amazing turnout of players, some who have competed for Afghanistan before and some players brand new to the program. It was great to see the team bond so quickly.
The team had its challenges, starting with speaking 8 different languages on the pitch. It took about 3 games to find the right positions and balance the substitution patterns to build cohesiveness and consistency in the play. The game plans were ever changing due to the diversity in styles of the opponents. The Cape Verde, Suriname, and Netherlands teams were quite strong and pushed us to our limits mentally and physically.
Yet, the fight in these women never faltered.
We opened the weekend by explaining to the team what we look for as a National Team Staff.
We kept the message very simple, your skills as an athlete and a player will not drastically change this weekend, you will be what you will be, so just play!
What we are looking for is:
As a staff we walked away on Sunday feeling like, WOW, we have a team!
Not because every player was Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, or the women of the 1999 USA WNT, but because we have a group of women with the character of champions deep within them. They just have never been encouraged to unleash their best, and we are excited to open pandora’s box for them!
So, the soccer was great, spending time collaborating with the staff was excellent, but as you can tell, what I loved most was learning more about each player. It was a hectic and busy weekend, as the girls played 3 games back to back on both Saturday and Sunday, but between games we were able to spend some time just connecting.
We have such a passionate group of women, and the number of times I heard “this is like a dream come true,” was too high to count. These women, like so many girls and boys around the world, just want to represent their country with pride. They want to do something great in the face of their people. The number of them that explained the moment in Afghanistan when the Men’s National Team won the 2013 SAFF Championships, and the violence in the nation stopped for just that moment. Everyone, regardless of thoughts and beliefs, joined in the streets and celebrated together. Hearing them share their personal stories of this event, and the feeling it gave to their country - Just One Moment, One Game, One Championship.
This feeling that Nationalism could trump sexism any day of the week, was definitely felt. These women united a nation during the weekend. They started as just one team as they heading into their first match against Cape Verde, and by the time they had reached the semi-final match, the corner of the field was lined with fans and supporters cheering their country’s name. One sideline had a slew of new supporters, and the men’s team came and watched the entire match after their dramatic final game.
It was a moment that captivated the tournament, and what a beautiful scene of two nations competing for the pride of their people, that is what the beautiful game does for the world, and that is why we play!
So as we finished our first weekend together as a staff: Khalida, Haley, and myself, we all walked away knowing this group of women have the heart to achieve their dreams, now we are onto the process of teaching them how to prepare their mind and bodies to play on the highest international level! The journey is just beginning, but they all seem up for the challenge!