My mum always said that from a very young age, I sought out the people on the edges of society and made it my mission to make them feel welcome. I would always seem to be drawn to the kids at school who didn’t have as many friends, and it was important for me to try to be there for those who struggled.
It wasn’t something that I really saw in myself until I started working with the street football team, and I realised how much happiness it brought me to make a difference in people’s lives.
There had been a street team in Norway for quite some time but it was mainly just for men, partly because there are a lot of vulnerable women who just wouldn’t feel comfortable in a mixed-sex environment.
That’s where the Sandviken IF street team comes in. It offers a safe society for women who have been struggling with several factors in life – from mental health to substance abuse.
Twice a week I took up the position of coaching there, and if I learned one thing about myself, it’s that I’m definitely not manager material! I’m far too impatient to watch from the side-lines, and I loved when there was an uneven number in training so I could jump in and get amongst it all.
Luckily coaching wasn’t my most important role; what was far more critical was to create a space for these women where they felt welcome, happy, and supported. Yes, it was about making a team work to the best of its abilities, but the benefits of that weren’t necessarily seen on the field.
As I don’t have an education in psychology or therapy, I needed to take a step back from getting too close, as I haven’t been trained on how to dissociate myself from the hardships that these women have had to face, or how to help them overcome their difficulties.
However, I can be a friend. They know they can trust me and open up to me and the other women, and helping them in this small way was so rewarding.
The women told us how nice it was to finally feel like they belonged somewhere; to have a break from the society that so often pushes them away. It didn’t matter if they had a background in football or had never kicked a ball before, everyone was on the same footing.
They were all part of something and working together to be better – whether mentally, physically, or just in the moment.
To start with, the sessions were from 10am until 1pm, which incorporated breakfast, lunch, and training. But we found that more and more people wanted to stay for longer and get more out of the initiative. So, we extended it. Some of them even started to volunteer at the club grounds on matchdays, because they felt like part of the team.
It’s so heart-warming to see these women, after everything they’ve been through, leave their background at the door and just come and play football; to be carefree and happy and more than a little competitive at times. For me, this kind of wellbeing and enjoyment should be accessible to everyone at least occasionally – but, of course, there’s a lot of work involved in making this a reality.
Women’s football has experienced such a surge in popularity in the last few years, with rapidly growing market potential, and I think as players we have the responsibility to show that we can really make a difference. This is our chance, when people are truly beginning to notice us, to speak up, help out, and be real role models for kids – on and off the pitch.
Unfortunately, I have reached a stage in my career that to accomplish all my professional goals while working another job in logistics, I have had to take a step back from my work with the street team and focus on my game.
I’m still very much an ambassador for the cause, and I’m still in touch from the side-lines as much as I can be. It’s just about taking the time to do what you can and using your skills and platform to spread a bit of good in the world.
Many people might have taken this role with the view of getting into coaching in later life. But as I’ve already mentioned, that part wasn’t really for me. What it did confirm is that I want to use my time to help others, to be there for people who struggle.
So, although I love football and it’s a dream to play professionally, when I finish my playing career, I want to retrain in order to work in a hospital emergency room – where I can offer comfort and care to people in the moments they need it most.
In our series #CommunityChampion, we highlight a professional footballer’s activities to help impact the lives of other people in his or her community. Every two weeks, we put the spotlight on another player.