Socialization through Sports for Immigrant Children
By Cassius Christie
From 1994 to 2017, the population of immigrant children in the United States grew by 51 percent, to 19.6 million, or one-quarter of all U.S. children. Although social isolation can be experienced by adult immigrants, some can argue that the effects of social isolation on immigrant children is more impactful.
Childhood development experts say that children benefit from a sense of belonging, and this can be especially true for young immigrant children. Immigrant children face a higher risk of outright bullying than non-immigrant children, and often deal with frequent micro-aggressions related to their choice of food, clothing, religion, manners, and other customs. These situations can overwhelm immigrant children and place them at greater risk of social isolation among their peers.
Soccer Without Borders (SWB) is a non-profit organization that can be found in 11 countries across the world. Since its start in 2006, it has positively impacted the lives of immigrant children from more than 65 nations.
The organization was built to address three issues that young people from underprivileged countries often face: a lack of safe spaces where young people feel cared for, have a voice and can experience the joy of sport; a lack of opportunity for youth to actively explore social issues and community challenges; and a lack of social capital and access to potential opportunities for education, employment, and personal growth. The five SWB programs in the United States help newly-settled immigrant, refugee, and asylee children navigate their new environment and support their growth and development. Collectively, these programs post a 95 percent high school graduation rate and a 90 percent friendship rate with someone from another culture.
Kat Sipes is the Senior Program Coordinator for SWB Baltimore. She has been with the organization for five years. Her job entails running the main middle school site in Baltimore, overseeing other program sites, training coaches to best lead and support their students, and much more that isn’t in her job description.
Sipes started off volunteering with SWB Baltimore as a student while attending Towson University, and after graduation she was offered a full-time position. Her days consist of office work, prep, and event planning before the hour and a half of ESOL-integrated soccer practice in the afternoon. After soccer is over, the students then move on to another hour and a half segment, but this time period is devoted to academics. Students get a lot of homework help, as well as basic English support.
Sipes loves working for this organization because of the team she gets to be a part of. “This is somewhere you want to come every day,” Sipes said. Kat prides herself on the happiness that SWB brings to the children they work with as well as their families, and she appreciates the memories made and knowledge gained while assisting these children along their journey of growth.
Much like Sipes, who is breaking social barriers in her hometown of Baltimore, Jessica Brady is an immigrant from the Philippines, who helped her son Chris Brady break down social barriers in his hometown of Quakertown, Pa. Chris and his mother helped found a lacrosse program for Quakertown high school and created a new community for future students.
“Everyone who had a hand in getting my hometown a lacrosse program was really supportive,” Chris said. “There were a lot of people who contacted us that had lacrosse experience, and they really helped guide the program. It was hard at first because we were new. We had a lot of ups and downs but in the end, there was a sense of pride and teamwork,” said Chris.
“Being the only Asian kid on my team never caused any problems between teammates, but against other teams the racism was inevitable. My teammates and I got along so I never had to worry about race or being different from them,” Chris said.
Although lacrosse and soccer are two very different sports, the use of team athletics to provide unity is something they both share. An introduction to a sport can change a young person’s life and motivate them to excel in other areas. Whether it’s on a large scale like SWB’s programs or a smaller scale like Chris’ sports program, the creation of community along with an exciting activity holds the same positive impact.