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Common Goal and 12 football for good organisations have teamed up to design an inclusive and accessible toolkit for the soccer community to empower LGBTQ+ adolescence in sports.

For many, soccer is a 90-minute refuge: they step on the pitch, cleats are on, worries off, and they play free. But that’s not the case for everyone. The problem at hand is that soccer, as liberating as the sport is, isn’t this way for everyone, especially the LGBTQ+ community. The problem is systemic and it doesn’t only affect young players, but 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.

For instance, in the United States alone, only 24 percent of LGBTQ youth say they play a school sport, compared to 68 percent of a national non-LGBTQ sample. In an interview with Human Rights Campaign Foundation Director of Public Education and Research, Ashland Johnson, Johnson said: “In the athletics space, we’re missing hard numbers. Most LGBTQ advocacy focuses on pro sports, then college sports. But there are not enough resources invested in the youth sports space. Even though this space impacts more athletes, has broader engagement, and has the potential to share the lives, ideas, and perspective of so many young people — and therefore, our notions of inclusion in society.”

In light of the lack of safe spaces for all youth to participate in meaningful sports, Common Goal has teamed up with 13 football for good organizations across four countries in North America and the Caribbean on the signature project, “Play Proud,” a youth-focused gender & sexuality empowerment program that aims to make the game more inclusive and accessible for adolescents of all backgrounds, genders, and sexual orientations. The project aims to equip coaches and mentors with the skills and knowledge to establish safe spaces and guided LGBTQ+ adolescents to participate in sports at the youth-level with confidence. Play Proud is a global initiative transforming soccer teams around the world by giving coaches the education and training they need to make sure every young person feels safe and accepted.

The first cohort of organisations participating in Play Proud includes Canada SCORES, America SCORES, Sacred Heart 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.

Beginning with a focus in North America and the Caribbean (NOCA), Play Proud aims to establish a stigma-free discussion on such historically taboo topics to develop, destigmatize, and design safe spaces for youth to thrive in soccer. Words like “inclusion” and “accessibility” always pop up in these types of discussions and so does the question, “what do sex, gender, and orientation have anything to do with soccer?” The answer is everything beginning with those two words. Soccer is known to many as a religion, a lifestyle, and undoubtedly, a tool to catalyze social change. As empowering as the game is, the invitation to play is subtly restricted to “the norm” of people that we’re used to celebrating — subversively pushing out those who can break the glass ceiling. This is where Play Proud comes into play.

Play Proud is a programme designed to be applicable and successful in soccer programs around the world for young people of any background, structured to be a mobile movement, suitable anywhere. By bringing together experts from around the world with knowledge in youth-focused sports programs, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and professional sports, Play Proud will provide constructive inspirational resources that can be distributed accessibly to any organization using sports to engage young people.

In its first segment, the project is working intensively with 22 coaches delivering over 100+ hours of workshops and training. 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 youth.

Success within the Play Proud signature project is a little different then most football fans will be accustomed to. It’s not just about scoring goals but equipping young people with the skills to score, celebrate, and succeed. For instance, at Starfinder Foundation, coaches and mentors actively establish a safe space for young people of all backgrounds, catalyzing soccer as a tool to provide support systems and communities that kids need to thrive. There, they foster organic growth to ensure that the realities that these young people face are only temporary.

For some of these adolescents, like Will Sigler, this was a lengthy reality engulfed by rumours and prejudice. “It gives people like me will power to be yourself while still being an athlete,” Will expresses about what Starfinder enabled for him. At Starfinder, he was acknowledged, accepted, and acclaimed for who he sees himself as, not only or merely a gay man, but also an athlete and a community member, worth more than any goal scored.

Play Proud is not just about letting young people score goals or “fixing” what they see wrong in themselves, but rather providing them with the tools to embrace who they are, understanding that there is no “fixing” in an identity that isn’t broken. Success in Play Proud isn’t measured by the number of LGBTQ+ Allstars, MVPs, and coaches, but rather the confidence that is instilled in young people from diverse backgrounds; that these are paths tangible for them to pursue — that the field is undoubtedly a place for every forward, midfielder, and defender to play proud.

About the Project

Working to create safe spaces and diversity initiatives, the “Play Proud” project works from the bottom-up to serve the future pro athletes, community shapers, and encouraging coaches that the next generation will be cultivated by.

Play Proud is a program designed to be applicable and successful in soccer programs around the world for young people of any background, structured to be a mobile movement, suitable anywhere. By bringing together experts from around the world with knowledge in youth-focused sports programs, LGBTQ+ advocacy, and professional sports, Play Proud will provide constructive inspirational resources that can be distributed accessibly to any organization using sports to engage young people.

In its first segment, the project will bring together 3,600 coaches and 62,000 youth directly, with the potential to globally connect 35,000 coaches and 2.5 million youth.

What is a Common Goal Signature Project?

Common Goal members pledge a minimum of 1% of their football earnings with which they can support specific organisations from a particular region or addressing a specific topic that is close to their hearts; or support Common Goal Signature Projects, which aligns several players behind high-impact initiatives that involve the expertise of several organisations. The Common Goal Signature Projects emphasise the importance of collective power to achieve social change and draw their effectiveness from the collaboration of experts within the field.

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