Written and Photos by Brandi Marie-Friedrich Mitchell
The scene is nearly always the same: a middle-aged woman dressed in loose athletic shorts, a numbered jersey, cleats, shin guards and thick socks pulled to her knees is asked in everyday conversation, “Oh, are you going to your kid’s soccer game?” She strengthens her stance, takes in a breath and explains casually, “No, actually, I’m going to my soccer game.” Then, the usual response follows, “Oh, you are a coach!” Another opportunity to represent the shifting demographic of sports presents itself. “No,” she replies firmly, “I PLAY soccer.” Silence.
In many ways, the 2019 Women’s World Cup is still having to prove itself as a “media-worthy” event just as much as female athletes older than 25 are having to deal with the disbelief that they are athletes in an intensely physical team sport. The determined fans pushing for visibility of women’s professional soccer globally are reinforcing a movement to increase participation of women and girls at all levels and ages.
Amateur soccer teams, leagues and eventually, tournaments, for women beyond college-age found their footing in the late-1970s. The girls who were about to benefit from Title IX (the 1972 United States law giving males and females equal access to education, including school-based sports) had mothers, aunts and grandmothers who saw an opening to their own involvement in soccer. (Read more about the history of women’s recreational soccer in the United States in the book, “Kicking Grass Taking Games: Women fight for their right to play the beautiful game” by Maddi Davidson, 2018). Women could finally move from being “Team Mom” to being “Coach,” “Referee” and “Player.” These founding organizers recruited players over the years and continued growing the sport. Opportunities to compete for ages over 30 established a solid base by the late 1990s. Larger competitions such as the IOC Master Games, US National Senior Games (including participating state and local games), Canada’s Master Championship, and Huntsman World Senior Games have brought women’s age 50+ soccer competition to a far-reaching audience from major cities to suburbs and rural regions.
On an even larger scale, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a framework for female athletes to take action through the sport they love. Of the 17 “Global Goals” set as targets in 2015 to “end extreme poverty, fight inequality and injustice and fix climate change for everyone by 2030,” the San Diego Soccer Women organization advocates for Good Health and Wellness (Goal 3), Gender Equality (Goal 5) and Reduced Inequalities (Goal 10). The power of play and connection with team sports is a force for development. The focus on these three ideas connects soccer women to the powerful messages they are sending to their community to counter discrimination based on age, gender, physical ability, sexual preference or parental, marital or citizenship status.
The women’s recreational soccer community members are proud supporters of the athletes in the Women’s World Cup and of the UN Global Goals. We should all be free to play...at every age.
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