The professional women footballers Joanna Lohman from the US and Lianne Sanderson from England have founded the JoLi Academy to support women’s football in regions of the planet where it is difficult for girls and women to play the sport. They started their journey earlier this year in India, in the state of Jharkhand and the two tell me how it came about, what they have done so far and their plans for the future.Joanna Lohman was born in Silver Spring, Maryland (USA); Lianne Sanderson hails from Lewisham in England. Both women have played international football for their respective countries, have being playing top level football for many years and now they want to give something back to the beautiful game.
Lohman’s experiences have instilled a desire to pour her efforts into football programs and motivational services of JoLi Academy, while Sanderson focused her energies on working with children to strengthen their athletic prowess and character. Sanderson seeks to bring that same focus to players the world over with JoLi Academy.
When and how did the idea for JoLi Academy arise and when did that idea become reality? Did it take some time to map it out and determine exactly what you wanted to do, how to set it up, etc.?
- The idea firstly originated, due to my brother living in Chennai (India). He works in the US Consulate as a Vice-Consul. Lianne and I planned a month-long trip to go see him and to explore a country full of unique experiences. At the time we thought to ourselves why not make a fusion of this trip with our unique soccer backgrounds.
The original idea was called “Indian Vision”, the goal of this was to share our experience, passion, and knowledge for the game of soccer with the All India Football Federation (AIFF) with the intent of evolving and growing the women’s game. Lianne and I both know how hard it can be for women to have the opportunities she and I have had in the world of soccer. Coming from the Western part of the world we have advantages as females that some women in other countries don’t get. One of these advantages has been to play professional soccer for both country and clubs all over the world, from the United States all the way to Spain. What drove us to this idea of “Indian Vision” was the burning desire we had and still have to give back what we have gained from years and years of playing this beautiful fulfilling sport. We have learned qualities such as confidence, drive, ambition, determination, leadership and focus which are essential not only on the field but also in the day to day life off the field. We want to share our experience and we want to help by making an impact mainly in developing countries where soccer, especially women’s soccer is minimally supported and under developed. It is with all of these important things in mind that we focused on this mission with the hope and intention of building long lasting relationships and long term positive impact not only with individuals but with whole countries.
At first the aim was to partner with Play3rsport in helping with the training and development of the AIFF, the aim was to do this by having a 4-7 day camp in Goa (India) during the month of January 2012. We will work with the AIFF and the female players to develop their game and help put their team forward in the global standings. The gear will be provided by Nike and the camp will be held in Margao, Goa home of one of the few turf fields in India. The initial camp will be the start of a 4-5 year program that works with the AIFF to assist in their qualification for the 2015 and 2019 Women’s World Cups. This was all the original idea that came with “Indian Vision”, but things ended up moulding and taking a different shape. We originally wanted to work with the Women’s National Team (WNT) and the AIFF but we got introduced to YUWA and we felt that the biggest impact would be made at the grassroots level in one of the worsts areas of India, Jharkhand.
Once you established that you were going to start the academy, what were your plans for it? Were you looking for a specific location (did you look at other places aside from India as a place to launch the academy)?
- When we decided that we were going to start the JoLi Academy our plans apart from the ones mentioned in the previous question were to supplement the training and development of young female players by executing a series of annual 4-day Academies. JoLi will mentor young athletes around the world and increase their opportunity to secure a post-secondary athletic scholarship. This was the original motivation behind JoLi, and this hasn’t changed since we established the academy. However a couple of things have changed from the beginning. The original thought which came along with “Indian Vision” was to set this project in Goa which is where the AIFF train, and like mentioned before where there is one of the only turf fields in India.
But when YUWA came into the picture we decided that Jharkhand would be a much better scene in order for JoLi to make a long lasting permanent impact. YUWA was founded in 2009 by Harvard Graduate, Franz Gastler, with the aim to use girl’s soccer as a platform for the social development in rural India. I would like to put emphasize on why we ended up picking Jharkhand and YUWA for this project. Jharkhand is one of the poorest, least literate and most lawless regions in India. It is the top source of human trafficking in the world, where an estimated 30,000 young women are trafficked every year. If you want to learn more about YUWA and its amazing organization which only strives to improve and develop girl’s lives and put a smile on their faces you can do so by going to their website: www.yuwa-india.org .
Your first planned project is India 2012. What made you choose India? Also, you say in the packet that this will be an annual academy. Any other countries in mind for the future?
- Yes, we want to create a long-term relationship with the organizations we are working with in India. We also have plans to take JoLi Academy to other provisionally ranked nations around the world. We are already thinking about countries such as Bahrain and Grenada. We also want to establish something domestically (USA) to work with kids closer to home. So keep your eyes out for this.
How many months, days, hours, did it take to get the project off the ground and rolling?
- It has been a non-stop rollercoaster ride to say the least, we have been tied with JoLi Academy 24 hours, 7 days a week, we even dream about it. It is extremely tiring and consuming but we absolutely love it. It is something we have so much passion for and this carries us through the tough times. This drive and determination will continue because JoLi Academy is our career, our future and our main passion off the field.
You often see academies and soccer camps just strictly focus on soccer training. How important was it for both of you to have an academy that teaches both soccer and life lessons and mentoring?
- It is essential to have an academy that teaches both soccer and life lessons. A game like soccer teaches you so many critically important characteristics and qualities which are tied to achievement and success in a persons life. Sport, especially soccer, provides the opportunity to learn to work as a team, push through adversity (loss), and provides an outlet of motivation and inspiration to become the best.
What are the long and short term goals for JoLi Academy?
- JoLi Academy short-term goals range from providing an enjoyable and unique experience for the AIFF and YUWA young athletes to demonstrating/instilling confidence, self-respect, focus, drive, determination, and hard-work, to name just a few. We want to give these girls hope and an outlet for happiness.
The long-term goals would include effective and proven nutritional programs, language studies (English), and greater educational opportunities both domestically and abroad. In all honesty, we would like to change these girls’ lives but we realize we must take it one step at a time.
You have received through social media (Facebook/Twitter), a massive amount of positive feedback from your fans about the academy. What does that mean to you and did you expect to positively affect so many people so quickly?
- This aspect of JoLi Academy has been such a pleasant surprise. We know that we have a lot of supporters but the outpouring of it all has been overwhelming. The JoLi TV Commercial Competition is evidence of this. Also, our Facebook page is covered with positive messages that are incredible encouraging. We knew we had a special organization when we formed JoLi Academy but the amount of inspiration we are supplying others also inspires us to push harder and dream bigger. We want to spread the awareness even further. This is only the beginning. It is the first project of many and JoLi Academy will motivate and inspire millions of people in its lifetime.
The academy seems like a massive undertaking. In addition to Lianne, do you have others who are involved? If so, do you want to mention their names and talk about how they came about in terms of helping out and what they will provide.
- There are so many others to name, here a few of them
Ingrid Green – She has been a driving force in this project since day one. Incredible organizer and pratical thinker!
Kristin Lloyd – She is building our fundraising platform – her work has been essential to our progression
Alex Bitaine – She is researching shipping options for JoLi Academy and helping with the Public Relations – another amazing contributor
Natalie Smith & Elly Deutch – Working on marketing, promotional, and networking opportunities for JoLi Academy
Nathan McDonald & Justine Fitzgerald – Offering up legal consultation in the effort of creating the LLC
Sandeep Mancha – Helping with background info on India and also documentary filming
Sukhmani Singh – Helping with background info on India and also documentary filming
Talona Cortez – Participating in fundraising ideas
Franz Gastler – Founder of YUWA who has been incredibly supportive and enthusiastic about JoLi Academy since day one
Neel Shah (Libero Sports) – Coordinating our efforts with YUWA and the AIFF – putting JoLi in touch with all the right people
Stephanie Smalls Gaines- Creating a JoLi Academy t-shirt for our auction
And the list goes on and on…
I want to give special thanks to our Commercial Participants who dedicated their time and energy to the project. Our families who have been uber supportive. Last but not least, all of the JoLi Academy followers on FB, Twitter, and beyond that make our jobs completely worthwhile. They are the reason we wake up every morning with smiles on our faces.
How can you help JoLi Academy?
JoLi Academy is now accepting donations through its website www.joliacademy.com !
All of the funds collected will be used to support JoLi Academy in their mission in India 2013. This includes: shipping essential goods for the YUWA athletes, nutritional supplements, and documentary filming. Three things that will help to change these young women’s lives.
BE JOLI: “Kicking through the wall”
Now is your time to donate and support. WE NEED YOU. Together we will change the world.
What was the India experience like?
- India was a life changing experience for both JoLi Academy and the girls that were involved in the India 2012 project. The impact that JoLi Academy made was felt immediately as this was the first time the AIFF paired up with an NGO. Yuwa (NGO) hosted the 16 National Team players, while Lianne and I coordinated 12 different training sessions for close to 50 girls from all different backgrounds, up bringing, and social strata.
Although many of these girls come from very little, they were the happiest children we have ever come in contact with. Compared to most Westernized countries, they have nothing, yet the relationships they build with one another trump any material possession.
JoLi Academy India 2012 was an enormous amount of hard work. Lianne and I were exposed to a completely new environment and often times we were exhausted, starving, and freezing cold. However, complaining never was an option because when the lows hit, the players were there to always pick us back up. How could we complain when we are given so many opportunities in life?
Our next big Project in India is that the JoLi Academy plans to host a 2013 tournament in India that involves Yuwa and Magic Bus (another NGO in India that makes a tremendous impact).
Published with permission from Arunava about Football.