Two years ago, FC Kansas City players sat around a table in a Bible class when one of them mentioned a group called “Athletes in Action”. The international organization describes itself as “geared towards equipping athletes, coaches, and sports enthusiasts to grow in their relationship with Jesus and to multiply their lives with other people.”
The discussion turned into a mission to be carried out by the organization in Ethiopia – a mission that addressed Reign FC as a striker and member of this Bible meeting, Shea Groom.
One month later, Missouri-born Liberty was in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa and participated in a sports pastoral program for some of the football teams in the region. But there was another mission: to bring a new perspective on football in this part of the world. Groom would be so overwhelmed by what she has experienced that she made a second visit during the NWSL off-season last year and will make a third visit in December.
“The area we went to does not have the resources and access to the knowledge or trainers that many American football coaches have,” she told FIFA.com. “I was with a few other male players and ran a four-day clinic for over 60 coaches.
“We’ve gone through what a normal week would look like, which we would do technically and tactically, even though the language barrier was tough. But it was really cool that football is a language spoken around the world, and although we could not talk about how our day went, we were able to keep up with what’s happening on the pitch. “
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The world has a way of convincing us “we can’t”. I can’t go to Ethiopia again. I can’t be fully funded again. I can’t be the only girl on the trip. I can’t coach over 60 male coaches for a 4 day clinic. My story can’t make an impact on the other side of the world. And while the world has its own way, God does too. The 10 days I spent in Ethiopia were incredible. Filled with challenges, pushing comfort zones, meaningful conversations and beautiful friendships formed. We ran a coaching clinic for over 60 coaches from across Ethiopia, I spent time with a women’s professional team there (and also got offered a contract…), we trained chaplains to walk alongside these teams and we experienced football in its most simplest form—a ball on a dirt field. But the best part of all was that we experienced God’s faithfulness to His people firsthand. With our most dire needs, in times where we did not feel adequate—He simply voiced…you got this. And because of that, we thrived. So to ALL of the people who were a part of “my team”—THANK YOU. You afforded me an opportunity I will cherish forever. To “the boys”, thank you for pushing me (quite literally most of the time), for valuing me as a woman and for believing in me when this has been such a year of doubt. God is so so good y’all. Take a step and I promise He will do the rest. Can’t wait for Year 3.
Groom admitted it was not an easy introduction to coaching as she had never held a session in her career. Here before her were 60 men who were told by a woman what to do in a country where women’s football is still relatively underdeveloped. But with her experience as a player and the ability to show off what she can do on the field, Groom soon won all doubters.
“It’s intimidating to get up in front of 60 men and try to teach football, but I think I decided on the first day, as soon as they see me on the pitch, they’ll respect me,” she said. “They learned very quickly that I had something to offer them, and beyond that, they were extremely respectful.
“It’s definitely a stigma if a woman puts on a pair of boots and goes on the pitch, but at the end of the day they have considered me a good footballer.”
During his stay in Ethiopia, Groom trained for two days at Saint George’s Soccer Club, which has both a men’s and a women’s team. There she was able to connect with some of the women and girls who are part of the club and to learn about some of the challenges they face to just train.
Groom recalls a rondo game during a training session and says she is used to playing in a five by five grid. On this occasion it was ten times ten and ran eight miles during the session.
Importantly, interaction with some of the women and boys and girls will leave a lasting impression on Groom, especially when she realized what kind of equipment was available for training sessions. For this reason, Groom will return in December and is ready to inspire even more players in Ethiopia’s capital.
“It was incredible to talk to so many of these women,” she said. “You should see some of the shoes they are playing in – I think that was one of the biggest effects on me. Some of the youth teams were playing socks, and one of the most powerful things I’ve seen was when I looked down and this little kid had the biggest smile on his face, even though his shoe had a massive sock over it to hold on to it. because it had no shoelaces.
“They do not complain, we played in a field of volcanic rock and you would not know the difference, they have a smile on their faces, it was a humiliating experience.
“I am looking forward to the third year, knowing that it will bring something different, and I’m prepared for it, and I feel like I can only show young girls, even if they do not play football, no matter what platform you are on are, you can do so much with it.
“This is just something I can give back to the game I love in another part of the world.”