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#soccermakers II: Terry Kegel Shows Us Reasons To Care

#soccermakers II: Terry Kegel Shows Us Reasons To Care

For our second #soccermakers story (share stories here!) we'll revisit one of our favorite soccer storytelling inspirations, Terry Kegel.  I first met Terry in 2009 and asked about the launch of his documentary,I Speak Soccer.  A teacher in Seattle, Terry continues to get people involved in the story of soccer as a unifying language and experience.  While we caught up with him in early June to find out how he's made the most of the last few years since the debut of his film, it turns out he was busy organizing the inaugural West Seattle Cup, which he hosted for the Emerald City soccer community a few weeks ago. (Check out West Seattle Cup highlights on YouTube and the Cup's Facebook page here. More info about it later in the interview!)

The thing that Terry has now told us twice is one of the best and most powerful ways I've ever heard put into words about the impact that #soccermakers like him are having through soccer.

"We have a responsibility to teach our kids more than how to pass the ball.  We need to teach them to be interested in knowing that person receiving their pass."

Read on for Q&A with Terry:

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When did you start working on I Speak Soccer and what was your original vision or motivation for it?

The idea for I Speak Soccer came out of my experience in 2001 playing pickup with a bunch of mostly African immigrants in a small town in France.  I was fascinated with the simple power of connecting with another human being through a common passion.  That connection sparked an intense curiosity to learn more about my new teammates.  How were they similar?  How were they different?  Then, the more I traveled, the more this exact same experience repeated itself.  Connection through soccer, curiosity about differences.  Connection through soccer, curiosity about differences.  With soccer as my language I traveled the world for the next four years, building connections, exploring differences.  The experiences wove together and began to tell a more general story about two aspects of soccer that are most beautifully apparent in its pickup version: cultural diversity and community-building.  I was inspired to become a sort of advocate for that perspective on the game.  The film, I Speak Soccer, was my attempt at expressing that perspective.

What was your biggest take away from the experience of making your film?

One of the most rewarding responses to my film that I ever received came via email.  I actually wrote about it in our last interview:

"I got an email the other day from a mother who had seen the film with her son.  She said her son, who plays on a select team, asked her to walk him over to the local park to join a pickup game where a friend of his plays with his Latino friends.  They didn’t speak English but they welcomed him right in.  She said the film really changed his perspective on soccer.  This is what excites me about soccer in America.  I want to help open up the eyes of our youth players to the depth of soccer.  I want to help them wake up to the potential of this sport.  I want them to realize that they speak the most well-known language on earth, and that represents so much potential for connecting with people across other barriers.

This is a movie about soccer, but more than that, it’s about travel.  I think of travel as interaction across borders.  Those borders may be political borders halfway across the world.  Or they may be the less talked-about borders of race and class within your hometown. Soccer transcends that.  I think we have a responsibility to teach our kids more than how to pass the ball.  We need to teach them to be interested in knowing that person receiving their pass.  In a country that really struggles to make these connections across differences both internationally and domestically, soccer represents such amazing potential."

Where was the single coolest place you visited and was there anywhere you want to stay!?

Brazil!

Where were you with the film a year later, during the 2010 World Cup? Did you go to South Africa?

The film premiered on Hulu (free) the week before the 2010 World Cup kicked off, so we got a lot of attention online.  It was great to reach a wider audience and spread the message of pickup to balance out all the other soccer hype that US media was suddenly hungry for at the time.  And we were able to make over $4,000 through Hulu views.  100% of our profits are donated to Right To Play so I was excited that not only were people able to watch the movie for free, but their doing so had a real positive impact for children on the other side of the world.  That felt good.

I did not go to South Africa.  I went to Brazil to watch it on TV with my friends. 

What's the latest for I Speak Soccer? 

We've just relaunched our Facebook page in hopes of getting Hulu to put it back up this summer (we need some social media attention to convince them it's worth it), www.facebook.com/ispeaksoccer .  Currently, the film is available for streaming (in the US and internationally) for a small fee-the links are on our website.

Your perspective as an elementary school teacher- has that influenced your outlook on being a soccer educator in this country!  Feel free to comment on that if you want.

I am a Kindergarten teacher.  Learning and community-building are so fundamental to my profession, and to me.  I truly believe, cliche or not, we are better together.  As my experience making I Speak Soccer taught me, it all starts with connection.   The more interconnected, the stronger the community.  Now if I can strive for that in my classroom community, why shouldn't I be striving for that in the greater community: my neighborhood, my city, my country, my world.  As I look beyond the idyllic walls of a Kindergarten classroom to the "real world", I see polarization.  It's a recipe for disaster.  And it's been exactly that: disaster after disaster after disaster.  When individuals or groups of people in our midst feel hurt, insecure, misunderstood, or unacknowledged, the whole community loses.  In the end, we are all impacted.  Because in the end, we are all on the same team.

One thing I love about pickup soccer is its fluidity.  Teams are constantly reforming.  As the game drags on, players come and go, and teams reorganize to make it work.  In formal soccer, when we put on that uniform and we hire that neutral party to resolve conflicts, we focus on our differences and actually distance ourselves from knowing the other team.  They are the opponent, the enemy.  They are different from us.  That is a human tendency and it happens off the field as well.  When we over-emphasize our differences and label others as "opponents", we distance ourselves from fellow community members.  At best, this shows up as ignorance; at worst, hatred.  For me, the solution is a rediscovery of what connects us and a realization that we are all in this together.  It is important to acknowledge and learn about our unique differences, but ultimately, we are better together.  This was my message in I Speak Soccer and it continues to be my message in my classroom and in the West Seattle Cup.  

Was there a moment over these past five years where you knew you'd follow up with other cool soccer stuff?

You're gonna think I'm just saying this, but in all honesty, last year I was rereading the interview we did in 2009…actually that very same quote:  "We have a responsibility to teach our kids more than how to pass the ball.  We need to teach them to be interested in knowing that person receiving their pass."  Suddenly those words kinda slapped me awake.  As so often happens to Americans who return home after some time abroad, I quickly fell back into my routine, comfortably isolated from the rest of the world.  Rereading that quote woke me up to who I'm committed to being in the world and how soccer can support that mission. 

So you were inspired to take on a massive new soccer project?

In June, billions of soccer fans from around the world celebrated the kickoff of the FIFA World Cup, arguably the most popular international sports competition.  Soccer writer Simon Kuper calls it “the moment when the planet becomes a family.”  We believe in the unifying power of this simple game.  What an opportunity for our community!  It is our responsibility to capture this moment and take an active role in sharing this opportunity with our children.

As parents, coaches, and educators, we know our children and we know the challenges they face.  A child’s journey towards adulthood follows a meandering path that weaves between two principal questions: who am I? and who is on my team?  Identity and Community.  Children need our support in reaffirming their identity and building their connections with a community.  The alternative is unacceptable.  Shame, loneliness, ignorance, arrogance, apathy, exclusion, hatred, violence: these are real threats to a healthy community, threats to our children’s future.  It is up to us to create a new future, to create a community built on respect and teamwork.

The West Seattle Cup is a co-opetition, a combination of competition and cooperation.  Competition is a powerful motivator; it is what makes games fun.  However, as our children’s role models, we believe it is our responsibility to guide them to always see the bigger picture.  In the end, with all our wonderful individuality, we are more alike than not.  The more we interact, the more we realize that partnership is possible between any two individuals.  Even between “opponents.”  Suddenly, our concept of team expands and we genuinely feel a greater sense of community.  

Whereas fears about differences typically stagnate and impede conversation and connection, the West Seattle Cup will encourage an acknowledgement and celebration of those differences and, at the same time, it will inspire a discovery of common purpose.  

What was the format of the tournament?

The West Seattle Cup brings together teams of elementary-age children and their parents representing different countries to participate in a World Cup-style soccer tournament.  Each child and parent, or intergenerational partnership, registers together for a country team with which they choose to identify.  For some, their identification might be based on their recent emigration from a particular country; for others, their connection might be more indirect, through relatives, friends, or travel.  The 32 teams, made up of 448 children and parents, will represent the diversity of our experiences as a community. 

In the weeks leading up to the tournament, each team, led by a captain, comes together in a manner of their own design.  This might be a soccer practice, a service project, a dinner potluck; in the spirit of community-building, it is self-determined and therefore will look different for each team.  Through whatever forum they choose to unite, the team must complete these two requirements: all team members must meet in person at least once and all children, with the assistance of their parents, must prepare a 2-minute presentation about one aspect of the country they are representing.  For example, the child might present information about the country's people, location, language, history, culture, or government.  Or, he or she might share a personal anecdote as it relates to that country.  The preparation for this presentation will necessarily involve meaningful conversations between parents and children, which will promote identity exploration and encourage intergenerational understanding.

On the morning of the tournament, all teams (children K-5th grade with their parents) gather together for a meeting and warm-up.  Once play starts, there will be two small fields hosting games simultaneously.  Throughout the day, each team plays three games.  During the five minutes preceding each game, intergenerational partnerships from opposing teams spread out around the field and sit down in foursomes.  For example, a Nigerian child and parent sit across from a Cambodian child and parent.  The children exchange presentations, teaching each other about their countries, with the assistance of the parents as necessary.  The strength of a diverse community depends on its people’s willingness to acknowledge and learn about each other’s differences.  This kind of generous and humble listening is the foundation for any future cooperation across those differences.

A whistle signals the end of these conversations, players stand up, and play begins.  The game consists of two halves, the first organizes players by country teams.  Players experience the challenge and excitement of intergenerational teamwork, unified by a common cultural identity.  At halftime there is an important switch, reinforcing a flexible concept of team. The second half organizes players by generation teams, for example, Nigerian and Cambodian children versus Nigerian and Cambodian parents. The two parent captains, one from each team, work together to coach the children and maintain an organized and fair game for all.  During this half, players experience the challenge and excitement of cross-cultural teamwork, unified by a common generational identity.  With each smile, pass, goal, and high-five, players feel connection and community, and, together, we realize that we’re all on the same team.

As an extension of the on-the-field activities, the event hosts a museum of displays and a presentation of performances in the space between the fields, which will celebrate and teach about our cultural diversity.  Each team will host a tent where written versions of the children's presentations will be on display along with pictures, food, music, and other artifacts about the country.  There will also be opportunities for live performances and cultural presentations on stage throughout the day and during the mid-day ceremony.  Taking a break from the action on the field, participants can take advantage of these different opportunities to interact with their neighbors and learn about the world.  

How will the tournament benefit the broader community?

In addition to directly engaging the 448 players who participate on the field, the West Seattle Cup will bring together the broader community in a variety of supporting roles.  On the sidelines, fans will cheer on their team, contribute to cultural displays and presentations, and learn from the displays and presentations of other teams.  Local businesses and organizations will pool together their resources to donate uniforms and equipment.  Volunteers will work together to provide logistical support in the running of the event.  These supporters, coming together to produce the event, will necessarily experience their own version of the tournament's mission of creating teamwork.

All participants in the West Seattle Cup, whether players or supporters, will become empowered leaders in our neighborhood.  The experience of expressing individual identity and discovering cross-cultural and intergenerational connections will inspire the kind of leadership that creates a productive and healthy community for all.  These leaders, drawing upon this expanded sense of teamwork, will go on to forge new personal friendships and initiate cooperative professional projects, which will serve as examples to peers of a new way of living in a diverse community.  

And how did it go?

it was not your traditional soccer tournament with winners and losers.  The winner was community.  We had a "Community Scoreboard" and this was the final tally:

  • Conversations For Understanding: 485
  • Goals Scored Together: 453
  • Ignorance: 0
  • Polarization: 0

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A huge thanks to Terry for taking the time to talk soccer. More video about this year's successful launch at WestSeattleCup.org.

-jr

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