Interview with Boyna Bear, advisor of Native American Soccer Coaches Committee.
What does the Native American Soccer Coaches Committee deal to and where does it perform its activies?
Our committee is set up to identify, support, and provide resources to Native American players, coaches, and communities. The United Soccer Coaches organization (formerly the NSCAA) has provided our group a platform to offer coaching education. We have applied and received grants for individual coaching education courses as well as community coaching education courses. One of the ways we were able to coordinate a community coaching education course was through the Indigenous Soccer Cup. The Indigenous Soccer Cup (ISC) was hosted by the non-profit, Southwest Youth Services. The ISC was a recreational level, youth tournament for Native American players. The ISC would host games half of the day and offer youth wellness workshops the other half of the day. One of the workshops that was offered at the ISC was an NSCAA State Diploma (now designated as the Level 2 Diploma). Our hope was that the players and coaches who received their coaching diploma would go back to their communities and start soccer programs. Unfortunately, the ISC was not held this year and it doesn’t look like it will be held next year. We will be hosting a coaching education course in Tulsa, OK this spring. Tulsa has a high Native American population and we hope to identify players and coaches that are currently playing. Representatives from our coaches committee are strongest in Oklahoma, Arizona, New Mexico, and Washington state. Our groups biggest challenge is in identifying Native American players across the country. The state soccer associations do not track ethnicity so we use facebook and mostly word of mouth to identify Native players, coaches, and communities that are playing soccer or that are interested in starting soccer programs.
How popular is soccer among Native Americans?
It is hard to gauge the interest level among Native American communities across the country. We have some players that are playing at the highest levels of youth soccer and we have some communities that have never played soccer before. Identifying Native players and coaches is our biggest challenge. In my experience, I would say that the majority of Native communities are not playing soccer as a collective group but that individuals living in urban areas are playing.
When did native communities in America start playing soccer?
There are over 500 Tribal Nations in the United States so it is hard to say when or if Native communities are playing soccer. I will say that the North American Soccer League (NASL) increased youth participation and awareness of soccer in the United States. Having world class players like Pele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Best, and Chinaglia playing in the NASL lended to the quality and credibility of the league. Although the NASL folded, the overall impact of the league created a soccer movement in our country which included Native American players like myself. Major League Soccer started with players who were able to watch NASL games when they were children.
Is soccer more practiced by men or women?
Based on my own experience, both men and women participate at equal levels. There are no cultural limitations that I know of that would prevent both sexes from playing.
What are the most representative soccer athletes for Native American among women and men?
Chris Wondolowski is the first male Native American player to play for the USA in the World Cup finals. He was selected to play in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. We are extremely proud of his accomplishments as well as how he represents Native values off of the field.
Temryss Lane played professional soccer for Baling IF in the Swedish womens league.
How many Native American coaches are there and which results have they achieved?
This is hard to answer because we are still in the process of identifying coaches. We have coaches that are coaching at the collegiate level and youth level but we have not identified any coaches that are coaching at the professional level. Dano Thorne started the NIFA group in Canada and his women’s team has won the gold medal at the last 2 World Indigenous games. One hosted in Brazil and one hosted in Canada.
How much is soccer practiced among young people compared to other sports?
I would say that basketball and American football are the most popular sports in Native Communities. Soccer is growing and we want to provide more and more opportunities for our kids to participate. The US Soccer Foundation has shown an incredible interest in growing the sport in Native communities. We hope that interest in soccer will grow and that Native communities will apply for grants that the US Soccer Foundation offers (Safe Places to Play, Soccer for Success, and the Passback program).
How important is soccer to prevent alcoholism?
Our group believes that offering a positive outlet for our kids will serve as a deterrent to poor choices off of the field. Our emphasis is on celebrating the inherent strengths in our Native communities. Character traits such as Courage, Resilience, Humility, Honor, and Mindfulness represent values that our Native communities hold in high esteem. If our kids focus is on these positive attributes and our coaches focus is on celebrating and modeling these values, we feel that soccer will provide the type of environment that will allow our players and communities to thrive.
Are there teams representing Native American Communities?
Not in the United States. Once we identify players in tribes, communities, and regions of the country, we would like to form a team(s) that can compete at high level tournaments (ie Dallas Cup) or in College Showcases.
Many Native American Tribes have been developed a lot both economically and demographically. For example Florida Seminoles have many business activities while the Navajo Nation is made up of thousand of citizens. Would it be possible for one of these communities, or for all of them, to create a franchise that could take part in championships such as Men’s USL and Women’s WPSL?
This would be great! However, there may be cultural restraints depending on the Tribe (ie they may not allow people from outside their communities onto their land during ceremonies). Also, if we are talking about USL or WPSL teams, not all the players would be Native…or perhaps none of them. On the business side, soccer in the USA has seen impressive growth in the past 20 years. Tribes may see this as an opportunity but I can’t speak to the level of interest.
What result did you achieve in the World Indigenous Games?
We did not have a US team participate in the World Indigenous Games. Our hope is to identify and coordinate a team to participate in the next WIG.
How important is the inheritance of the ancient Pasuckuakohowog game for Native Americans?
I think any time we can tie culture relevance into soccer and why we play, it is a good thing. Building connection and pride in our history, has made us resilient.
English translation of the questions by Silvia Della Rossa