- Shea Groom will visit Ethiopia for the third time this December
- The Reign FC forward has attended as part of group called ‘Athletes In Action’
- Groom trained on a field made of volcanic rock in nation’s capital
The FC Kansas City players were sat around a table, during a bible session two years ago, when one of them mentioned a group called 'Athletes in Action'. The international organisation describes itself as being 'focused on equipping athletes, coaches, and sport-minded individuals to grow in their relationship with Jesus and multiply their life into others.'
The discussion moved on to a mission that the organisation was going to be carrying out in Ethiopia – one that appealed to now Reign FC forward and a member of that bible session, Shea Groom.
A month later, the Liberty, Missouri native found herself in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on a sports chaplaincy programme for some of the football teams in the area. But while there, there was another mission: to bring a new perspective on football to that part of the world. Groom would be so overwhelmed with what she 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 doesn’t have a lot of resources or access to knowledge or coaches that a lot of American soccer coaches would have,” she explained to FIFA.com. “I went with a few other male players, and ran a four-day clinic for over 60 coaches.
“We ran them through what a normal week would look like, what we would do technically and tactically, although the language barrier was tough. But it was really cool that soccer is a language that is spoke all around the world, and while we couldn’t communicate about how our day was going, we could with what happens on the field.”
Groom admitted it wasn’t an easy introduction into coaching, having never led a session before in her career. Here before her were 60 men, being told what to do by a woman, in a country where women’s football is still relatively underdeveloped. But with her experience as a player, and the ability to show what she was capable of on the field, Groom soon won over any doubters.
“It’s intimidating getting up in front of 60 men and trying to teach soccer, but I think I decided on the first day, as soon as they see me on the field, they are going to respect me,” she said. “They learned very quickly that I had something to offer them, and beyond that moment, they were extremely respectful.
“There is definitely a stigma when a woman laces up a pair of boots and takes to the field, but at the end of the day, they looked at me as a quality soccer player.”
While in Ethiopia, Groom also spent two days training with Saint George’s Soccer Club, which has both a men’s and women’s team. There, she was able to interact with some of the women and girls who are part of the club, and to learn about some of the challenges they face simply to train.
Groom recalls a game of rondo (a football training exercise) during one training session, saying she was used to playing in a grid of five by five. On this occasion, it was ten by ten, and ran eight miles during the session.
But importantly, it was that interaction with some of the women and young boys and girls that will leave a lasting impression on Groom, especially when she noticed what sort of equipment was available to them for training sessions. It’s for this reason that Groom will go back in December, and she is ready to inspire even more players in Ethiopia’s capital.
“It was incredible to talk to so many of those women,” she said. “You should see some of the shoes they play in – I think that was one of the biggest impacts on me. Some of the youth teams were playing in socks, and one of the most powerful things I saw was when I looked down and this little kid had the biggest smile on his face despite his shoe having a massive sock over it to help keep it on, because it didn’t have any laces.
“They just don’t complain though. We played on a field made of volcanic rock and you would not have known the difference, they have a smile on their face. It was a humbling experience.
“I’m excited for year three as I know it will bring something different and I’m prepared for it. I feel like just being able to show young girls, even if they don’t play soccer, whatever platform you’re given, there’s so much you can do with it.
“This is just something I can give back to the game that I love, in a different part of the world.”