Maybe the most important work of the Lansing Youth Football Club team isn’t what happens on the field.
Sure, soccer matters to the dozen and a half guys on the team. Almost every day the players carpool to Lansing’s Francis Park for two or three hours of practice. Occasionally they scrimmage teams from Grand Rapids. They train for tournaments in Detroit, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
“This (team) is our passion,” said one of the team’s captains, Damber Magar. Like most of the players on this independent soccer team, Damber’s family are Bhutanese and came to Lansing as refugees from Nepal. Damber’s family was resettled through St. Vincent Catholic Charities in 2010.
At a practice this summer, their coach, Bai Lee, was especially working on positions with the boys and young men who’ve been playing the game since they were toddlers. Some of the players are brothers; a few knew each other when they lived in refugee camps, where children would crowd onto fields to play pick-up “football” games. Others practice with the team with little experience but a desire to connect.
“We don’t care if they don’t know how to kick the ball,” laughed Damber. “We will help them. … After a few months, a few years, they start playing well. They can handle themselves when they’re playing with other people. We can see their skills.”
But after practice, he said, “(the captains) try to tell them not about soccer, but about life.”