By Adeboye “Richard” Olaniyan —
When Dr. Lindsey Blom was growing up, women playing soccer was not commonplace. It wasn’t until the 80s, after the signing of Title IX of the Education Act that participation of women in collegiate sports started increasing steadily. Her love for the game started at a local church league, where she played with mostly boys.
“At seven years old, I was playing 11-versus-11 on a normal-size adult field,” Blom said about her daunting introduction into the game. “I have no idea how I fell in love with soccer because only two people touched the ball throughout the whole game.”
But fall in love she did. Blom went on to play soccer in high school, college, and at the semi-pro level, and she also coached. During this period, she wrote a book to help people with no experience with the sport survive a soccer coaching stint.
Peacebuilding through Sport
Since joining Ball State University in 2008, Dr. Blom—now a professor of sport and exercise psychology in the School of Kinesiology—focuses her research endeavors on how soccer can be used to promote peace and effectuate positive social change within marginalized communities. From Tajikistan to India to Liberia, she uses soccer as an opportunity to help children learn crucial conflict resolution skills as well as basic life and empathy skills. Blom—the recipient of the Mid-American Conference 2021 Outstanding Faculty Award for Student Success—incorporates a “train-the-trainer” model of teaching by collaborating with local coaches and youth sports development authorities in specific communities, which ensures that benefits derived from her programs remain after she leaves.
In 2018, the U.S. Department of State, through its mission to India’s Public Diplomacy program, successfully funded Blom’s project, “Leadership through Sports for Jammu and Kashmir.” The $70,000 grant paired with nearly twenty thousand dollars in support from Ball State helped fund Blom and her team’s year-long effort to assist local sports administrators in Jammu and Kashmir (located within the larger Kashmir region, a disputed geographical area between India, Pakistan and China).
The project had two phases. First, a week-long collaborative workshop was held in New Delhi, India. Second, a formal mentoring program was established that included a virtual meeting with coaches from the United States. The focus of the workshop in the first phase included leadership and training education for coaches and administrators that focused on countering violent extremism, conflict resolution, and building positive relationships with the youth. The second phase focused on improving the knowledge capacity of the administrators in local youth sport development programs.
An Athlete, a Coach and a Scholar
In the academic sphere, Blom’s research has produced articles and case studies about the effectiveness of her “soccer for peace programs.” In Peace and Development Indicators in Liberia Youth through Sport for Development Programming, published in 2020 in the Journal of Peace Psychology, Blom and her co-authors examine the impact of the Life and Change Experienced Through Sports (L.A.C.E.S) program on the youth in three Liberian communities.
The program, according to the paper, “seeks to use sport and character activities to cultivate aspects of positive youth development including social responsibility, personal relationships, peace, and purpose to support the healthy development of Liberian youth.” A survey conducted for the study showed a slight decline in “attitudes toward violence and increases social responsibility, purpose, and relationship with coaches,” which could greatly impact the lives of the youth in those communities.
Similarly, in Grassroots Diplomacy through Coach Education: Americans, Jordanians and Tajiks, published in 2019, Blom and her co-authors examined the effectiveness of two sports diplomacy exchange programs funded by the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The programs which ran in the countries of Jordan and Tajikistan were aimed at promoting mentoring and training for local coaches to develop sport and youth development programs.
The authors, while acknowledging the limitations and challenges of such programs, note that, “As these two programmes in Tajikistan and Jordan demonstrate, using soccer within two-way sport programs designed for the common good for all involved rather than for a competitive political advantage can contribute to soft power diplomatic goals because of the global popularity of the game.”
As violent and extremist groups in some regions of the world continue to recruit vulnerable youth, programs like Blom’s offer a peaceful alternative of belonging and hope, all made possible through a simple love for the sport of soccer.
Dr. Lindsey Blom currently serves at the graduate coordinator of the sport and exercise psychology graduate program in the Ball State School of Kinesiology.