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Duluth Native Teaching and Coaching Soccer in Uganda

Duluth native Lisa Berg has taken a personal love of soccer and turned it into an opportunity to positively impact the lives of others. Berg grew up playing soccer in the Northland, and eventually took her talents to the field at the  University of Minnesota. In her experiences playing at the U of M, Berg met some individuals who inspired her to pursue a growing interest in helping young women in Africa get introduced to soccer; something that has long been held as off-limits for women in many parts of the continent.

Lisa was kind enough to share her experiences with us at B105, and we thought it was appropriate to share the inspiring and positive story of a fellow Northlander. Her’s her story, in her own words:

There is an interesting disconnect between my experience growing up as a millennial and the experience I’ve had while traveling abroad to Uganda, Africa. I’ve always been a multi-sport athlete persuaded by female and male sports heroes of the 90’s such as Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, and Shannon Miller. I’ve seen what I want and I’ve gotten it. I never considered that there females in the world who haven’t had the opportunities and support that I’ve grown up with.

In 2006, I visited Uganda for the first time with the encouragement of Mary Kabi, a Ugandan Soccer Player, and a former professor from the University of Minnesota, Jens Omli. I met with them while in Minnesota and asked, “What can I do to help girls soccer in Uganda?” Mary’s one reply was, “Just go!”.

After playing college soccer and coaching soccer, I packed 5 suitcases full of donated soccer balls and equipment and took 3 months to explore what girls soccer, or football, was like in Uganda. I was confident that I would find teams to coach, motivated players, and high level of play. My journey took me from thinking about what I could do for the country to a more relational level of why the country lacked girls soccer players and why their society didn’t like girls playing sports. This humble approach to sharing the world’s game with Uganda brought me many connections with girls and women in Uganda.

Fate brought me together with Professor Omli once again while I was coaching Division I soccer for Arkansas State University. He called and asked if I wanted to be a part of a vision to impact over 100,000 youth in Uganda through coaching education. You see, Uganda has had war and HIV wipe out their population of adults in the country. There are millions of orphans and communities without leaders. Coaches are someone a child will listen to and by bringing education about mentoring, leadership, and love to these coaches it will impact communities and raise up the nation. This is where my passion lies and I agreed to this adventure. The International Sport Connection is a dream that Dr. Omli formulated with help from Stone Kyambadde, featured in Steven Covey’s 8th Habit, and other coaching greats. The ISC vision is currently funded by the SportsUnited Division of the US State Department.

Fast-forward to November 8th, 2011, I am a research assistant with Dr. Omli at Texas Tech University. We are have completed the second year of the International Sport Connection Soccer Coach Exchange and we are preparing to conduct a training for Ugandan Basketball Coaches in May 2012. As if this dream wasn’t enough, I have been contacted by the Federation of Uganda Football Association, FUFA, to be the Technical Advisor and Assistant Coach of the Women’s National Soccer Team.

Fulfilling my dream of coaching on the international level is even sweeter knowing that I will get to make history and work with a barrier-breaking group of women who will change the history of women in sport for their country. These girls grew up practicing with boys but never being allowed to play in a game. Girls who playing barefoot with a soccer ball they handcrafted out of banana fibers. Girls taken advantage of because that was the price they paid to be a part of the men’s game of soccer. Girls who got beaten and ridiculed for playing a sport they loved will get to fulfill their dreams of getting to play the game they love with a coach who believes in them and loves who they will become because of all of this.

I can remember sitting in the stands of Soldier’s Field watching the 1996 Women’s World Cup match featuring Mia Hamm, Tiffany Milbret, and Brianna Scurry. I remember that feeling of admiring a woman and being inspired to do great things. I see these Ugandan Women’s National Team players having the same impact on a twelve year old girl sitting in the stands dreaming of being great. The emerging of women’s soccer in American of the late 90’s is happening now in Uganda and in Africa and I’m honored to be a part of it.

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