By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – For a little over a year PlayLife, a Rio de Janeiro-based, expatriate-founded initiative, has been working to fight stereotypes and social stigmas against girls playing soccer in Brazil while also teaching additional sports, English classes, and personal development skills to the young people who live in the city’s lower-income communities.
PlayLife currently has approximately fifteen girls who participate in the football (soccer) program and fifteen boys in the basketball program. Both the girls and boys have practice and attend an English class every Saturday. As there has been difficulty finding fields and places to play and schedule practices on, PlayLife also offers two additional practices on the beach during week.
The idea for PlayLife began shortly after American expatriates Shanna and Ky Adderley, both collegiate athletes, moved to Rio de Janeiro in 2012. Failing to find adequate sports and competitive activities for girls and the youths of some of Rio’s favela communities including Vidigal, the husband and wife team decided to create the opportunities themselves.
“These are good kids who just need something to do,” Ky Adderley, who came to Brazil to work with education reform, stated in a release. “We want to play a positive role in their lives so they can do the same for others as they become young adults.”
“One of my favorite coaches I had was when I was in high school, he used to always say, ‘how you play your sport, is how you live your life,’ Shanna Adderley stated the release. “That’s how we came up with the name PlayLife.”
When asked about her personal experience with sports, Shanna Adderley told The Rio Times; “I was an All American student athlete in college and received a scholarship to Montana State University. I’m 37 now and graduated in 2000. I can say that without receiving an athletic scholarship, I don’t know that I would have been able to attend college. Sports brought me an opportunity that I may not have otherwise had.”
In an effort to secure more opportunities for its members, PlayLife partnered with the Global Girl Project, a Los Angeles, California-based organization. With their help, PlayLife will send one girl from the Vidigal favela community to California for two months as a cultural exchange.
For the young soccer player, named Thaynara, this will be her first time leaving the country, applying for a passport and visa and her first trip on a plane. PlayLife hopes the exchange will help Thaynara to experience a bigger world, including the chance to see the popularity of women’s soccer in the United States.
“My generation,” said Shanna Adderley, “can give thanks to amazing players like Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy who opened the world’s eyes to women in soccer as the U.S. women’s team became one of the strongest competitors in the game, We also had Title IX come into law in the 70s so girls were at least given opportunity to play and be exposed to the sport. Now, just about every young girl out there in the U.S. has at least played the game at some point in their childhood.”
The growth of women’s football (soccer) in Brazil did not parallel that of the United States. In fact, from 1941 through 1979 it was illegal for women to participate in sports that were “incompatible to their feminine nature.” To this day, despite the success of female Brazilian players like Marta and Cristiane, the sport of women’s soccer receives minimal support both financially and in terms of interest and respectability.
“I would love to say that over the past year since starting the project that there has been a huge change in the community towards girls soccer,” said Shanna. “But the truth is, there is still a lot more work that needs to be done. The stereotypes that surround girls soccer in Brazil have existed for a very long time and they will need to be given opportunities to be coached and play on teams in order for them to show their community that they belong on the pitch and not just the sidelines.”
In addition to the girl’s soccer practice, the boy’s basketball practice, the English classes and the cultural exchange, PlayLife also has plans for a track team.
When asked the additional future goals for the program were, Shanna said; “My vision for PlayLife would be for us to grow the current programs we have, expand into some other areas in Rio de Janeiro, and make the program sustainable so it can continue even after we one day leave Brazil. Then we intend to start PlayLife in the states as well as other countries where we can connect with like-minded people who want to continue with our vision.”
Five main volunteers currently help with PlayLife’s English classes and sports training. The primary English teacher is American, Linnea Rading and she is helped by an American School teacher, Tamara Conneely, British volunteer, Colin Ives and American, Hunter Pittman.
“We are always looking for volunteers who want to help with our efforts,” said Shanna Adderley. “There is still a lot to do and we would like to grow our social media side to help spread the word and have the support needed in order to grow.”
For more information about PlayLife, see its Facebook page.