Common Goal Collective Project: Play Proud

Creating inclusive environments for young LGBTQ+ People

For many, soccer is a 90-minute refuge: they step on the pitch, boots are on, worries off, and they play free.

The problem at hand is that football, as liberating as the sport is, isn’t this way for everyone, especially the LGBTQ+ community.

This problem is systemic and it doesn’t only affect young players, the issue exists at the coaching level too, where many coaches don’t feel as if they are properly equipped to guide and mentor LGBTQ+ athletes.

In a worldwide survey conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, 42% of all LGBTQ+ adolescent respondents felt that their community didn‘t accept them.

In July, phase two of the Play Proud Project comes to its conclusion.

In 2019, Common Goal launched the Play Proud Project – a project designed to make grassroots football organisations, programmes, and communities around the world inclusive for LGBTQ+ communities.

Since then the Play Proud Project has included a collaboration with 22 Common Goal partner organisations in 14 different countries.

Coaches and mentors are trained in the Play Proud methodology to offer LGBTQ+ inclusive programming to young people from some of the most underserved communities in Europe, Africa and Asia.

To date, 47 coaches have received 200+ hours of inclusivity training, with 406,950 young people indirectly impacted by Play Proud programming.

But there is still a long way to go.

And with plans to impact as many as 2.5 million young people around the world come the project’s end – we are just getting started.

Phase 2 Coming to an End

In the summer of 2020 following a successful rollout of the Play Proud project across North America and the Caribbean, Play Proud diversified the participatory regions of the project and branched out to locations spread out across seven new countries and four new continents.

In total, six new organisations were engaged to help equip coaches and mentors with the skills and knowledge to establish safe spaces for LGBTQ+ adolescents to participate in football at youth-level with confidence.

The organisations involved were Grassroot Soccer, Slum Soccer, Altus Sport, Street League Youth Football Club Rurka Kalan and the Denis Law Legacy Trust across Italy, Indonesia, India, Zimbabwe, South Africa, England, and Scotland.

Due to the coronavirus, the programme moved online in August 2020 and participants came together every two weeks online for workshops, discussion groups, lectures, and more and will run until 21 July 2021.

By empowering and educating coaches and young leaders from within Common Goal partner organisations, Play Proud is ensuring more footballing environments around the world will provide inclusive, welcoming environments for all – irrespective of gender, race, sexual orientation or creed.

“Being part of Play Proud for the last 11 months has been a fantastic experience,” said Findlay Harkins, a Streetsport Assistant and football coach at the Denis Law Legacy Trust in Scotland.

“Play Proud has really pushed me to consider how inclusive our programmes and sessions are. And has more importantly given me the tools to potentially improve them.

“It has given me the confidence to challenge more discriminatory behaviour and this has already had a direct impact on our work and opened up positive and productive discussions with participants that before would not have happened.”

The programme has been implemented through residential training weeks for football coaches with expert-led sessions, virtual mentoring and organisational development processes.

“Play Proud has played a big role in my life, it has changed me and it has shown me that as coaches, we can be change-makers in our society and our communities,” said Witness Moyo, a football coach as Grassroot Soccer in Zimbabwe.

“Now I’m equipped with the knowledge of how to provide an inclusive environment for those from within the LGBTQ+ community and spread the word to everyone who takes part in our footballing sessions.”

As the project continues it grows the potential to reach over 3,600 coaches and 62,000 youth, with the potential to globally connect 35,000 coaches and 2.5 million young people.

How It All Began

In 2017, in the United States alone, only 24 percent of LGBTQ+ youth said they play a school sport, compared to 68 percent of a national non-LGBTQ+ sample.

That year, In light of the lack of safe spaces for all youth to participate in meaningful sports, Common Goals teamed up with 12 Football for Good organisations across six countries in North America and the Caribbean (NOCA) region to design an inclusive and accessible toolkit for the football communities to empower LGBTQ+ adolescence in sports and to tackle discrimination in football.

The first phase of the programme launched in 2019 and the first cohort of organisations participating in Play Proud included Canada SCORES, America SCORES, Sacred Sports Foundation, Fútbol Más, Project Goal, Pure Game, the Sanneh Foundation, Soccer in the Streets, Soccer Without Borders, South Bronx United, Starfinder Foundation, and GOALS Haiti.

After undertaking the programme, 85% of coaches said they felt empowered to pass on the lessons learned to young people following it with 77% of participants reporting that their football programmes are safer and more inclusive.

Furthermore, many coaches and mentors feel equipped with the skills and knowledge to establish safe spaces and to guide LGBTQ+ adolescents in the participation of football at youth-level with confidence.