Reflections part 3: Dreaming of Community, Being an Ally

Out of this trilogy, this third part is the hardest to write because it requires a certain kind of honesty. In order to actualize a vision of community through sport, one has to have participants and allies; people who share in what you do or at least enjoy, like, love the thing that you offer.

It has always been hard for marginalized people to take up public space, to redefine mainstream institutions in order to meet their needs and wants. Sport is no different in this regard as many marginalized athletes have had to facilitate their inclusion in sport and challenge deep-seeded prejudice in order to have access to basic rights, funding, and opportunities (see Chantal PeticlercWaneek Horn-MillerJesse Owens, Renee RichardsJohn Carlos, Michelle DumaresqMuhammad Ali, Megan Rapinoe, Rick Hansen, Fallon Fox to name a few!).

For many decades now sports such as basketball, baseball, American football and soccer have been a pathway for some marginalized athletes to have a thriving and lucrative career (although this, for the most part, has applied to able-bodied men who are marginalized by race and class). But what about those who don’t fit in to prescribed norms in professional sports and get paid practically nothing? What about the folks who are not famous and don’t compete at the elite or professional level? What about those who engage in sport later in life? Where do we fit in?

While I don’t want to attribute what I’m doing at LUYC to the revolutionary, I do think it’s different. When I first started operating LUYC there were (and still are) lots of opportunities for women to play soccer, but futsal notsomuch. Nowadays there a few options for futsal, more opportunities to play soccer albeit in a coed atmosphere and the interest in all of this is growing. However, transgender athletes still very much get left out of the conversation of recreational sport, but I hope this changes. LUYC is operating within a city that is very active around sport leadership and recreational programming. To exist and be doing well in this context has been a wonderful surprise.

The thing about operating a business with social entrepreneurism as a tenet is that not everyone shares your principles, recognizes the value of what you’re doing and why, and/or thinks of sport as anything more than fun and being health conscious. People have their differences and these differences become evident the more you dive deep into what makes people tick in sport and in life. And with so much choice available and the freedom to pick what is convenient, how does a “specialized” community thrive and grow? How does one measure success in this context? How do groups stay open and not insular?

I struggle with these questions all the time. I celebrate what I’m doing “right” and agonize over if I’m doing something “wrong”. I fear failure. I fear people’s disengagement. I wonder if going at it alone requires too much energy and emotion. I wonder if working within a Collective puts too much stress on interpersonal dynamics. I try and shift my expectations, but then I realize PART OF DREAMING IS HAVING EXPECTATIONS. When I let go of all of this and enjoy myself, I am reminded that LUYC is really fucking fun, and participants reciprocate because they are feeling the good times too.

To be a leader requires putting yourself out there with people, in other words being vulnerable; it also requires having a thick skin so that you are able to refresh and begin again when and if need be. Being an ally requires understanding what is being asked of you, understanding the issues, the history, the differences, and how you can use yourself for the greater good. It’s a huge task, but I thrive off of it and challenging others to do the same.

How many of us have investigated our place in the world and how that has been constructed as beneficial and/or disadvantageous? How many of us choose what is familiar instead of gravitating towards what is different and ultimately balancing the two? What is it that we think we need from people – nothing or everything or what feels just okay? How generous do we think we can be with each other and is it possible that we can give more?

LUYC is a project that reflects my lifelong interest in social justice, sport, community and leadership. I experience such satisfaction and joy from seeing people have fun and make new connections when participating in LUYC programming. And I gain more confidence and conviction in what I’m doing when participants express a shared understanding of the meaning behind Lace Up Your Cleats, but, as expressed the work does come with challenges.

Ultimately, LUYC will exist for however long it does. I have yet to see or measure its impact, but it is teaching me so much about myself and community. And I am constantly grateful to those who have and continue to support this endeavour through their participation, words and actions. YOU ARE THE BEST and WE ARE DOING THIS TOGETHER.

Reflections part 2: Let’s Go Back a Bit to Where this All Started

3 years ago I was introduced to futsal by a friend who is both a soccer fanatic and a sport organizer. He was hosting casual coed futsal games in the west-end of Toronto for players who were intermediate to competitive – I tried it one night with his group and immediately felt it would be an excellent game for women and transgender folks who wanted to develop their skills. So that’s where that part of the story starts.

As you can tell, Lace Up Your Cleats (LUYC) is more than sport, it’s about community. I use sport as a vehicle to create connection, inspire fun and support individual empowerment as a player and person. I think for the most part I succeed in these goals and I try to tweak LUYC so that it appeals to more and more people.

In my early twenties I was involved in the activist scene in downtown Toronto, which was racially diverse, included people on all points of the gender spectrum, some had disabilities – some didn’t, mostly-if-not-exclusively queer, feminist in nature, there were people who identified as working-class, as hipster, as everything you could imagine. I tried to find my place in all of that, but it was hard. I was young, insecure, overwhelmed, in pain and generally alone. I wanted to belong and I wanted to be loved – doesn’t everyone?

I was friends and lovers with so many different people. I worked with those who had been activists for years and some that were newbies. I saw people change genders, change partners, fuck-up and do good work all at once. It was an illuminating time and it taught me that: A. I wanted to be a part of social change; and B. I was drawn to leading and creating community that was comfortable, down-to-earth, inclusive and challenging (in a good way).

So I learned these things, but I also racked up a lot of hurt, misunderstandings, burnt bridges that towards the end of my twenties I had had enough. I couldn’t be and fuck in the thick of it anymore, it was just too much. At the same time, I fell in love again with sport, particularly soccer (and then futsal), and embarked on a journey of self-discovery in sport. I became a certified soccer coach, I worked in sport as a leader and facilitator and then I launched LUYC, partly on a whim and partly because I yearned to create a sport community that spoke to my needs and the needs of so many like me who had experienced, and continue to experience marginalization both within the broader echelons of society and within specific niches and identity groups in Toronto.

I like to think of LUYC as a project in order to keep my expectations of it and myself in check, but I also don’t want to downplay the success and coolness of what I’m doing, where I come from and how my past and current experiences have shaped my approach. I love community, I love connection, I love sport and I love fun. None of that should be difficult, it should all be easy. That’s why LUYC started and why it continues.