On a sultry September night in Fort Worth, a group of students seemingly impervious to the hot weather continue their soccer game as dusk turns to dark.
From a distance, you can see the ball moving quickly from player to player like an elementary school game of hot potato as they constantly communicate in a language you can hear but not understand.
That language is Vietnamese, and the group of students make up the “V-Frogs,” an intramural soccer team at TCU comprised of students from the Vietnamese Student Association, or VSA for short. The V-Frogs compete in both indoor and outdoor intramural soccer leagues, and their team has played together consistently for more than three years.
Contrary to the sporting culture in the United States, soccer is the biggest sport in Vietnam. In fact, according to freshman defender Kien Nguyen, many children grow up playing the beautiful game wherever they can.
“I started with a plastic ball, just playing on the street in my neighborhood,” Nguyen said. “When I was a kid, I knew nothing except soccer.”
Nguyen, 18, grew up in Hue, Vietnam. He has always loved the game, but he stopped playing in high school to focus on his schoolwork.
“I got called into the school team three times, but [my mom] wouldn’t let me go because she did not want my studies to be disrupted,” he said.
Now, as a member of the V-Frogs, Nguyen has been able to find a healthy balance between soccer and his classes. The same can be said for Hy Dang, a freshman from Da Nang, Vietnam. Dang is Nguyen’s roommate, and he plays as a forward for the V-Frogs.
Both Nguyen and Dang have enjoyed tremendous success this season with the V-Frogs. The team is 3-1, with wins over the Pi Kapp Freshmen, the Bayern Munich Z Team, and Lambda. Their only loss came to the undefeated Delt A team, and they were still competitive in that game, losing 6-3.
When asked about the success of their squad, Nguyen identified their outstanding team chemistry as one possible cause.
“We have synergy because we have been playing together a lot,” he said. “I’m a freshman, and this is my first year on the team, but I can feel it—sometimes during the [soccer] games we play in the commons, the upperclassmen call out the plays and they execute them.”
The team leans heavily on its veterans to set the tone. Several students on the team have played for the V-Frogs for three years now, giving them tremendous chemistry together. Both Nguyen and Dang feel the upperclassmen do a great job of bringing the team together, allowing them to be greater than the sum of their parts.
“People support each other. The upperclassmen make sure the whole team plays, with no exceptions. That’s the main thing—they make the team unite,” Dang said.
The indoor team has some help off the court, too. Every game against the V-Frogs feels like an away game with the tremendous support they receive from the VSA. At any one game, the squad could have as many as 10 to 15 other Vietnamese students cheering them on, giving them the motivation to run the extra few yards or make the final pass that other teams might not.
The cheering section the V-Frogs have is a perfect illustration of what makes the Vietnamese Student Association so successful. Their Facebook page lists three main goals: strengthen student unity, represent Vietnamese students’ voices, and enhance diversity.
From the perspective of both Nguyen and Dang, the most important task accomplished by the VSA is assisting students in the transition to life as a college student at TCU.
“When you come here, you seek out Vietnamese people,” Nguyen said. “We eat the same food, we share the same experiences, we share basically everything. Our childhood was totally different [from Americans], so when you see people who are the same as you, you can adjust more easily.”
“[The VSA] makes me feel like I have another family. That’s the big thing—they are like my brothers and sisters,” Dang said.
The V-Frogs are one way for Vietnamese students to feel more at home, but they are also an excellent example of the power of sports. In a time where national anthem protests and corporate strong-arming of professional franchises are tearing people apart, the V-Frogs have shown how sports can also bring people together.
The importance of the V-Frogs cannot be fully understood through their flawlessly executed passing sequences, nor through the sweat that drips from their faces as the minutes turn to hours in late-night pickup games. No, their value is in the ability to make students from a country halfway across the globe feel at home.