Sports: a love that needs no language

How people are universally able to unite over sports


This was on the empty field behind the school where we started a game of soccer together. Photo by Emory Heath

Tabitha Mendez

I’ve never really cared for soccer, unless you count the couple months I spent at the age of six, running away from the ball instead of towards it. However, in the summer of 2019, I took a trip with my church youth group to Haiti and saw the sport in a completely different light.

On one of my first days there, I was at the school we were working with to pick up supplies for the latrines we were going to build. There were a couple little boys there who were following us around with a look of curiosity and a soccer ball. One of my friends walked over to a grassy area and started passing the ball back and forth with the boys.

All that was on the field was a ball and a goal, but that was all they needed. We quickly joined them, chasing each other down the field and seeing who could get to the goal first. It definitely wasn’t a typical game of soccer played between white lines on a turf field, but it was still so much fun. I even saw my competitive side coming out for the first time in my life.

The soccer ball started to become a daily necessity during our trip. We brought it with us from place to place as we moved through the different villages, meeting new kids in each area. No matter where we were, there were always groups of kids who seemed so intrigued in spending time with us, and as soon as we would pull out the soccer ball, that look of excitement would show up time and time again.

This was one of the two boys we met the first day at the school who wanted to play with us. Photo by Tabitha Mendez

In one of the villages, we even managed to gather our entire youth group in a giant circle with a bunch of neighborhood kids. We were kicking the ball back and forth across the circle, which to me was one of the most memorable and fascinating parts of the trip.

We were able to connect with these kids so quickly, and all it took was a ball. There was a language barrier, and at times it seemed like we were from two completely different worlds, but sports were able to bridge that gap. 

Playing with everyone helped me recognize that sports unites people, regardless of language. I knew that people across the country often unite over their favorite football and basketball team, but I never really thought about it on a larger scale with the whole world.

At the time that we visited, there were a lot of professional soccer games going on, and I remember seeing a big shack with a tiny TV and a ton of guys crowding inside. Even though it was hot and humid, all of them fit in this tiny area, cheering and watching together. Some of our leaders even joined them inside, and they were quickly welcomed as they continued to celebrate. 

One of the most fascinating things I’ve come to realize about sports is the unfailing love that fans have for it. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, what your job is or what language you speak, you can create a bond with someone with just a ball. 

Towards the end of my time there, my friends and I were doing our best to communicate with the little Creole we had learned and talk with some teens around our age. I remember telling one of them about myself, and when he found out my last name was Hispanic, he asked which team I was supporting in the upcoming Mexico vs. Haiti soccer game.

I told them I wasn’t a huge soccer fan, but I would support team Haiti for them. A few weeks later when I was back home, I remembered that conversation I had and quickly checked my phone to see that Haiti had lost to Mexico 1-0, and wondered how it must have felt for all the fans in Haiti.

I still reflect on these moments whenever I’m at a game, or thinking about sports. I’m reminded of how amazing it is that billions of people from different parts of the world are able to watch, play and unite over their love for the same game, which to me is incredible.