Countries from around the world will turn their eyes to Qatar in late November for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Thirty-two teams will compete to be crowned the top of the class in men’s soccer.
Even so, the playing field for women’s soccer continues to grow. Two alumnae of what is now the School of Communication at Virginia Tech are taking their own shots at goal with a mission to grow the women’s game.
Brittany Gropp ’11 and Betsy Haugh ’16 are scoring at building the game in unique ways.
Gropp long has been a soccer fan. She grew up playing the sport competitively, claiming to hang with the best of them. While studying abroad in Malaga, Spain, in 2010, Gropp was shocked to learn that the idea of a girl playing soccer was foreign to most in the area.
“Everyone thought it was so strange that I knew so much about soccer,” Gropp said. “They didn’t believe that I knew how to play well. I was laughed at when I asked about playing co-ed. People thought it was so absurd that women would play with men.”
Still, Gropp loved the culture of Spain and eventually moved to Madrid for two years, where she taught English and participated in volunteer work to transition into the nonprofit sector. While there, the country’s women’s team competed in the World Cup for the first time in 2015. It opened a lot of doors for Gropp to begin planning the future of more girls playing soccer in Spain.
“I started planning the idea,” Gropp said. “I wanted to do something, not only because I love soccer, but because it’s a total injustice if we’re not allowing girls to play. You’re learning so many valuable life skills through the sport. It prepares them to do whatever they want to do in life, whether they go pro or not.”
The seeds of FutboLISTAS were planted. While still working for a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., Gropp started building the foundations of an extracurricular activity for Spanish girls ages 5 to 12 that would teach English and life skills through the game of soccer.
In the summer of 2018, Gropp found herself considering a move back to the U.S. in search of career advancement opportunities. She decided to embark on the Camino de Santiago, a renowned network of ancient pilgrim routes across Europe, and had her “aha” moment.
At the conclusion of the pilgrimage, it was clear that she didn’t need to leave Spain for her next career move. Her business venture, FutboLISTAS, became a reality, forever changing the trajectory of girls’ personal development in Spain.
“I was like, ‘You know what. I’m going to give this nonprofit a try,’” Gropp said. “I couldn’t see myself leaving [Spain] if I didn’t at least give it a chance.”
Gropp found a local business partner to navigate the bureaucracy and legalities. She launched a crowdfunding campaign in concert with the 2019 Women’s World Cup. With a successful campaign, FutboLISTAS’ first 10-week pilot program took place in 2019.
“There are so many other amazing skills that girls can and will learn if given a chance to play,” Gropp said. “Every parent should want their daughter to play because of these skills — leadership, teamwork, communication, perseverance – the list goes on and on.”
Plus, learning English is valuable.
“For those parents who aren’t convinced enough about how those life skills will help their daughters to develop into incredible humans, in Spain, the English language is huge.” she said. “School age kids under 12, 99 percent of them are in English-Spanish bilingual schools. Anyone who has tried to learn a foreign language knows it’s so much easier to learn that language when you’re immersed in it and doing fun stuff versus in a classroom reading a textbook.”