If you think that girl power is missing in Armenia, let GOALS- Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer prove you wrong. An all-girl football league is all about empowering young ladies to engage in sports and most importantly, break stereotypes.
What first started as a mere liking to play football with the village girls soon became bigger than it was initially hinted. Once a concept is born, it tends to grow into something larger than expected, particularly when it deals with social issues in the 21st century.
Annie: How was GOALS conceived?
GOALS: “I had the idea originally, because I was a Peace Corps volunteer and I like to play soccer. I noticed that none of the girls were playing. I had a very active, confident host sister and I asked her why she doesn’t play football, to which she replied that the boys don’t let her play, they never pass the ball. We’ll just have to start our own girls’ football team, I thought.
We initiated a girls football club there, and later I was connected to other football coaches who also had a girls’ team through the FFA.The whole thing really was an Armenian-driven project. If it had been just me, a foreigner, saying I would start all this, it would have never been carried out. But when a bunch of Armenians come together who are enthusiastic about it, the chances of it happening get higher”, says Zach Theiler.
The initial reactions of the families may have not been very positive, but involving their parents created a safer impression and perception of their girls practicing the sport. On top of that, including the families during the games also helped change their minds on the matter of women being leaders. Some girls had to prove to their community and family that they were apt to do this, and that it was okay. A few even complained that their girls were being encouraged to play football.
GOALS is not about pushing them to do something they don’t want to be a part of, it is up to them to decide whether they want to or not. Helping them break the stereotype is vital and critical. Not all female soccer players look like men, they will not become masculine, they will not want to stop studying, they will not become careless. Sports is supposed to be a hobby, not a restriction.
Changes have been noted in the perception, women leaders aren’t looked upon as a negative, unladylike recognition as before. Parents have become more supportive once they saw what the girls have achieved, they are now proud. Once the idea is established in one parent, it becomes easier for others to find it secure and comfortable.
Annie: Would you say that there are evident changes in the community?
GOALS: “Well, you cannot change everything immediately, it is an ongoing process. What we do is very hard. Breaking stereotypes in Armenia, changing the visions of the girls is a very sensitive subject, especially in the villages. Most of them haven’t been in Yerevan, they do not know what happens behind the walls they live in. One of our success stories that we are proud of is that we created a united team that consisted of different villages and took part in tournaments in Yerevan.
By being a part of this they are given the opportunity to see over and above. The girls are changing, their vision is changing. They know more about what goes on in the world now, they are more aware of their rights through our social impact games. Basically, they see more and they learn more. That is one of our main objectives”, according to Anna Tadevosyan.
Along with the soccer league, GOALS uses a curriculum which is called sports for social impact. Essentially, they are games for developing life skills and becoming critical thinkers, and to indirectly address gender issues. After-school extra-curricular activities are being established as a stable program. Coaches, trainers, educators, teachers and such take part in interactive games, similar to sports, but discuss issues concerning the community throughout the game.
There are teams of leadership, gender equality, team-building and so on, and the interactive games are dedicated to exchanging views on such topics. Emphasizing on the leadership aspect is the central concept. The good thing about those social impact games is that they are all self-directed learning.The girls aren’t provided with answers of how others think about the issue. There is no right or wrong answer, just their answer. Although at first it had been a bit of a challenge to get the girls to talk since they were afraid of expressing themselves, they were shy. But in the end they slowly opened up and became more active.
Every girl is approached individually since they come from different backgrounds. Addressing issues must be done carefully with each girl as it is a delicate subject. Co-ed activities give both boys and girls the chance to interact in a safe zone and do physical activities on an equal level, since it can be difficult to get the boys to see the girls as their equals on the field. Gradually, they have expanded their prospects and their views, and now have wider perception of their capabilities.
There are monthly reports on the progress, both negative and positive aspects of the activities are submitted. Fundamentally, the games have shown that doing such activities more often will only have good results.
Teaching through games isn’t as easy as it seems, which is why sports for social impact trainings are held. Educators from all around the region of Lori are brought together to be taught how to use those games, as it can be a complicated procedure to learn through playing. Guest speakers, generally women guest speakers are invited who can be cited as an inspiration to the girls. Providing them with different sources of encouragement is beneficial and effective.
Summer camps are another thing that GOALS offers. Girls aged 12 to 17 can join the camp. They are presented with the opportunity to play soccer and gain direction from professional coaches. Throughout the camp, the participants are not only taught football technical skills, but they also take part in competitive exhibition games. Grit, courage, determination and confidence are what these camps tend to build in the participants.
Annie: How has Coaches Across Continents boosted the people?
GOALS: “Coaches Across Continents, which is a leader in global sport for social development, is a partner who develops sport for social impact games to be used throughout the world. The trainings we conduct, help us to create spaces for brainstorming and discussion about social issues such as human rights, equality, health, etc and empowers participants to solve their problems.
The coaches regard it very encouraging and promising, to change the girls’ lives in such a productive way. As a woman coming from Iran, we’re not allowed to go to stadiums there, which is why I am personally very passionate about GOALS and the summer camps in CAC. I find it deeply inspiring” claims Lorik Hartun.
So why focus on villages? It is up to GOALS to carry out the mission. Expanding in regions is the main emphasis in order to concentrate upon young ladies who come from impoverished backgrounds with the help of collaborators everywhere throughout the country. Despite the fact that their intention isn’t to have a professional football team, but to promote a healthy lifestyle and break stereotypes through sports, nevertheless they are in favor of it and will wholeheartedly support professional football players if it comes to that.
GOALS is growing bigger and bigger. More girls are willing to join, more trainers are willing to coach. The people want to be a part of it. The community is now very supportive of the project. The mayor of Goris helped pay for the girls to come to Yerevan, the hospital took responsibility to treat them in case of injuries.
The institutional support they have received from Armenian groups has helped the project immensely to become a part of a bigger picture. Leaving an impact even on only one girl does a lot. To be given the chance to play. To make more friends. To see more than they have ever seen in their lives. To know that they can do anything no matter who tells them they can’t.
Annie: Where does the motivation come from?
GOALS: “I think the girls generally motivate themselves. The friendships they form in the team present themselves as the basis of encouragement and motivation. I myself have seen the girls play, they tend to be stronger than boys, they are more likely not to fall down and blow off an injury, because they have something to prove.
Given the opportunity to practice more, I believe the girls play better than the boys. Just watching them play with boosted willpower is incredible. The drive is coming from themselves. So far, it has been an uphill battle full of excitement and thrilling moments” says Victoria Dokken.