Experience report Chattanooga September/October 2022

In the late summer of 2022, I was able to gain an insight into VfL Wolfsburg's exciting StrongHer project at its partner club, Chattanooga FC, in the USA. As a trainer educator, I mainly accompanied VfL's StrongHer initiative at the Chattanooga Foundation, in addition to other projects, and was in communication with the trainers on site.

The StrongHer project gives socially disadvantaged girls from the region in and around Chattanooga,  (Tennessee,) access to soccer, which teaches them about community, social interaction in sports, and team sports characteristics such as fair play, respect and equality. In addition, the girls learn what it means to play on a team, to follow rules, to make their own decisions, and to feel a sense of belonging to a group. With two training sessions a week as well as a game day day on the weekend, the girls repeatedly gain new experiences in working together on and off the pitch. They are divided into fixed training groups according to age and have a coach as a permanent point of contact. The interaction of the coaches in the training sessions was very positive, and their positive, educational and motivating coaching sparked a lot of joy in the girls. It was great to see how much fun the players had in the training sessions and with StrongHer VfL shirts, there was a great sense of belonging.

In addition to the game day on the weekend, the girls have a workshop that covers topics such as discrimination, education and equal opportunities, which is presented to them by external speakers. As such the girls develop important information on socially relevant topics as a group, in addition to sporting competition.

Besides the dialogue with the trainers of the StrongHer initiative, I also accompanied other projects of the Chattanooga Foundation, which likewise provide regular soccer training for children and young people. The coaches were very interested and open to new training ideas and methods, which made the visit profitable for all sides.

My task in the first week was mainly to observe the training sessions, which gave me a good insight into the daily training routine and the behavior of the coaches. After the training sessions, I met with the project managers to discuss my thoughts about the daily training work and potential ideas for the future. In the second week I was in direct contact with the trainers during the training sessions and was thus able to contribute my own ideas to the daily training work.

All in all, it was an exciting and wonderful time to accompany the daily training routine in the USA and to observe the joy and gratitude of the children and young people in their common togetherness on and off the training field. The StrongHer girls can gain important experiences through soccer, what it means to be part of a team and to develop a sense of community. It is a great VfL project in Chattanooga that will continue to give many girls access to sports in the future.

Jorma Depke
VfL Wolfsburg Academy – coach instructor