Sports Diplomacy in Canada’s North Scores with the Youth of NWT

Lori encourages young players to pursue their dreams at the Soccer Festival in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

U.S. Women’s National team player Lori Lindsay visited Canada’s Northwest Territories June 17-22. This highly-anticipated event was the second stop on Lori’s sports diplomacy tour and the first by a U.S. women’s national team athlete to the Land of the Midnight Sun.

After hours of driving through the wilderness in a SUV stuffed to the brim with a precious cargo of nutritious snacks and soccer balls, the envoy arrived in Fort Providence – a remote community of 800 residents situated on the mouth of the mighty Mackenzie River and on the traditional lands of the Decho First Nations.

Clad in national team soccer gear, and rocking her distinctive blonde locks and a winning smile, Lori’s presence immediately energized the participants of her first soccer clinic at Deh Gah School. As she kicked the ball around with the students she talked about how the game teaches teamwork, leadership and communication skills that will help them succeed in life, both on and off the field. After the clinics concluded, the young players lined up for photos with Lori and each participant received their very own soccer ball. Later that evening, as we strolled along the Mackenzie River we witnessed a host of impromptu soccer scrimmages in backyards all over town.

Traditional outdoor pursuits and sports of all kinds are a staple of life in Canada’s northern communities, which also boast their own indigenous sporting traditions. Next for the envoy is Behchokö, a settlement of 2,000 people on the shores of one of the largest freshwater lakes in the world that is embraced by the traditional lands of the Tłįcho people. According to the NWT Soccer Association, our program partner, this area known for producing some of the best soccer players in the north. At Chief Jimmy Bruneau School there are speeches, soccer and smiles. Under the sunshine, the dirt field becomes a playground of possibility as excited kids pursue the ball, leaving trails of dust in their wake. Their enthusiasm for the sport is palatable. Two young sisters who dream of representing their country on the field chat excitedly with Lori as they pose for photos. Later in the day the scene repeats itself at Elizabeth Mackenzie School. After each of the clinics, Lori signs the soccer balls as they are presented to each one of the participants in order to practice and further develop their skills at home while maintaining an active lifestyle.

The last stop for the envoy is also the largest. With a population of 20,000, Yellowknife is the closest North American city to the North Pole. Lori spends the morning at the final selection camp for the young women who will represent the Territories at the upcoming Western Canada Summer Games. Working with their coaches, she leads them in scrimmages and drills as she discusses the importance of teamwork, determination and dedication. Later, at William McDonald School, Lori interacts with members of Yellowknife’s junior soccer teams at a territory-wide festival which is designed to encourage the love of the game at an early age. She practices heading drills with aspiring young girls and participates in a shooting exercise with athletes so tiny the balls are almost knee high.

In interviews with local media Lori states, “It’s been great to visit the different communities and see how they embrace the game, and how some communities revolve around soccer.” The trip to Canada is Lori’s first international sports envoy trip and she sums up her experience as “wonderful” and “empowering”. Lori’s favorite part was seeing how joyful the kids were when receiving a new soccer ball as well as their excitement while playing the game. She hopes the participants in the clinics gained as much from her as she did from them.

Summer in the Land of the Midnight Sun is marked by constant illumination. At night, the daylight retreats into a soft golden dusk and the sun is born again only a few short hours later. Under this exceptional brightness one can sense that they are literally on the top of the world with the ability to see things in a new light. For Lori this experience signaled a rebirth of sorts – “It reminds me why I love sports so much….it really is a way to transcend socio-cultural differences and bring people together”.