“Studying the game closely made one understand team effort. Some players were too selfish. Others combined and cooperated well. In life, it was the people on your own side you had to watch and understand, more than your opponents even.”
Sierra Leone, Social Learning, and Soccer by Paul Richards
When I first started to play soccer as a young boy, I thought, moved, and spoke as a child. I understood the game as something fun that you do to the best of your ability. As I grew up and started coaching, I began to see the game differently. The childhood joy is ever present and now it has an added dimension. It’s no longer simply an exercise of innocent pleasure; I see the field and the players as a microcosm of life and as a platform for educating courageous people. I believe the way we carry ourselves on and off the field is an expression of resistance in an oppressive world.
Of course, history is complex and rife with struggle, and yet, in some respects our collective story is very simple. We can explain the lived experience of people around the globe by focusing on just a couple of ideas that have shaped our world until this very hour. Chief among them is racism; the concept and practice of ensuring that those inferior people are systematically and perpetually cut off from opportunities and self-determination both economically and politically. Allied with racism is the two-headed monster called colonialism and imperialism, the idea that superior populations have the right to take whatever they wish (including actual bodies) from the wretched and forlorn members of the human species. These are some of the themes of our story and their presence is irrefutable.
What I’ve come to realize, and what soccer reinforces, is that in every struggle there is an internal battle within a larger conflict. The fight on the outside may be much more visible but the fight on the inside is no less consequential. Indeed, the larger struggle that everybody can see is often lost because of the war within. This is just as true for individuals as it is for groups. We struggle in our personal lives and our professions all the time because of the demons we fail to overcome inside ourselves. Sports is one of the places where we can see very clearly what can happen to teams (and fans) who cannot overcome the tensions they have within.
To be clear, when it comes to injustice in society, the presence of internal struggles between members of the same group doesn’t lessen the reality of the overwhelming forces of oppression they face from the outside world. This is true regardless of the identity of the oppressed group. Certainly, the presence of greater unity and harmony in their inner circles doesn’t guarantee success. However, it would make the possibility of collective victory in their larger war much more probable. Without togetherness there is no hope for lasting systemic change. There can be no victory in the larger war—against ruthless and unforgiving opponents—without awareness, understanding, and triumph in the war within.
On the soccer field, the war within is exemplified by how invested each player is to working for the group. Team cohesion is highlighted by the spatial relationships and the communication between the players as they solve problems in real time. Truly successful groups have a standard of excellence that infuses everything they do. Their camaraderie shows in how they combine in possession, how they lift one another up in times of struggle, and how they celebrate their achievements together. My mission is to nurture players who are courageous enough to build this kind of community on the field in order to develop the tools to combat injustice in any aspect of their lives.
The most personal internal tension that has shaped my life is the relationship between African-Americans and Africans living in the United States. Truthfully, we have all been coerced to ingest the same poisonous fumes of white supremacy, oppression, and subjugation, just simply from different sides of the globe. We must understand that not only are Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Dr. King, and Malcolm X aligned with one another, they are also aligned with figures such as Patrice Lumumba of Congo, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso. We must be aware of revolutionaries like these.
When I think about a righteous battle for liberty, I don’t think about George Washington or 1776; I think about 1804 and the heroes of the Haitian revolution. My struggle has been to come to terms with the reality of belonging to both a legacy of fratricide and a global legacy of unapologetic and fierce resistance to oppression. I aim to make a difference in the world, however small, even though I come from a land that has been constantly plundered for its riches. I take solace and great pride in knowing that my people have survived the unthinkable, our most enduring tradition is courage.
Honestly, I’m in awe of what black people have accomplished in a land that was never intended to be for them. It’s beyond laughable and absurd that the nation persists on believing that people of the African diaspora should be grateful to America instead of the other way round. The “shithole” countries we disparage and actively keep impoverished have produced some of the most talented, competent, and courageous people the world has ever known. We would all do well to understand that our collective battle is to cast aside the lies we tell ourselves about who we are and what has happened here. Only then can we live in a way that upholds the lofty rhetoric of freedom and justice for all. Only then can we teach our children the meaning of solidarity so that when they play, learn, and grow together they can create a better world than the one we leave for them.
Copyright ©2018 The Black Detour All Rights Reserved.