My Name is Ana Clara Silva Ferreira; I’m 20 years old. I play like a girl, and I’m proud of it.

I started using the phrase ‘Play Like A Girl’ for our girls’ football team on social media. What used to be a phrase of derision (to belittle people) we use to show how good we are.

We even made a one-minute film about it. I’m so proud that we inspire others to ‘Play Like A Girl.’

Growing up in Complexo da Penha, Rio de Janeiro, can be challenging. My mother and grandmother worked hard to provide for us, and I saw their daily struggles.

Despite the challenges, my family and community supported and inspired me to pursue my dream. And my dream was football.

Where we grew up, you face two paths; sometimes, desperate people choose the wrong path. Our community treats this as usual, but it’s not normal. Friends who choose the wrong path can end up dead. This is our reality.

Here the hopes and dreams of children are not invested in or taken as seriously as they deserve to be. But we keep dreaming, hoping that a few opportunities may arise to fulfill our dreams. SCUB is helping make a difference.

For us, football is more than just a game. Football gives us a goal to work towards. As I pursued my passion for football, it opened doors I never thought possible.

When I was seven years old, I watched my dad coach a group of boys playing football on the street near our house. As a girl, I lacked the resources to play with other girls. My first game was with a boys’ team during a tournament.

I vividly recall how at the end of the match, we were tied, and they chose me to take the penalty; a lot of people were gathered, most of them shouting my name; I can still smell the ball and feel the nervousness because I had never taken a penalty with everyone seeing.

So, I kicked the ball, closed my eyes, and I could only hear people screaming, cheering, and celebrating, saying that it was a great goal, even though I didn’t see it.

Despite the challenges of being a girl in a male-dominated sport, I never gave up on my dream.

As part of the SCUB football program, I became a Comms Trainee, collecting and sharing stories from our football culture and community. SCUB has inspired me and given me confidence in my voice.

I continued to play, train, to push myself to be the best. And my hard work paid off. I became a professional footballer for Vasco, a club in Rio. But I was let go when they disbanded the women’s football team.

But I didn’t give up. I kept pushing, and eventually, I landed a job as a Junior Social Media Analyst for the company Global Act.3, a partner of Adidas, monitoring the assets of Adidas-sponsored athletes. It was a dream come true.

Not only could I work in a field related to sports, but I could also help the children in my community.

Looking back on my journey, I realize that football gave me a sense of purpose and a goal to work towards, and it opened doors that I never thought were possible. But my journey was not without its challenges. As a woman in football, I faced discrimination, stereotypes, and a lack of resources. But I persevered.

My top three values are persistence, respect, and perseverance. We can achieve anything we set our minds to through persistence.

Through respect, we can create positive relationships with others and ourselves. And through perseverance, we can overcome any obstacle that comes our way.

I’m so grateful to my family, community, and football. These are the pillars of my life; without them, I would not be where I am today.

My message to girls starting their football journey is simple: continue, no matter what. The road may be tough, but the rewards are worth it. And remember, Play Like A Girl!

To celebrate the FIFA Women’s World Cup, we’re proudly showcasing Play Like A Girl, a football storytelling program from Brazil.

The storytellers are part of the Associação das Crianças de Rua Unidas (SCUB) organization in Rio de Janeiro.