Thoughts of the trip to South Africa

By David Carr

Mike Rakys, Sheri Huckleberry, Dave Carr and Gerard Akindes After arriving in Johannesburg after a long flight from the US, we collected our 12 bags of clothes, t- shirts, and electronic gear and headed for the Parktonian Hotel in downtown Joburg. We caught up with Judy McPherson of Play Soccer and mapped out or first trip to Weiler's Farm and the beginning of our two week stay in South Africa. We were greeted by 40 young coaches/instructors at a local elementary school about 40 km outside of Joburg. The initial session focussed on teaching the youngest children. The Play Soccer program is already established at Weiler's Farm but the young coaches/instructors of the Play Soccer curriculum had not had much preparation into the physical, cognitive and psychosocial development of the youngest participants. This is where we began.

Practice plan The young coaches/instructors who were involved in this program were tremendous. Their interest in learning and their readiness to participate was wonderful to see. They were very eager to share their thoughts and ideas and show us what they had been doing with the children in the Play Soccer program. We had over 200 children involved on this first day and it was interesting to observe the methods the young instructors used to engage the children (some of whom were as young as three). The Play Soccer Curriculum uses a technical instruction model for soccer, combined with a number of health related and social issues woven into a 48 week program. We witnessed the scheduled program as laid out in the coaching manual that had been developed by a young Argentinian coach. The children spent a lot of time in lines and because of a limited number of soccer balls, skill practice was minimal. There were themes for the health and social content that was stressed by the young coaches and all of the kids took part by answering questions posed by their instructors.

This would be repeated in three other sites over the next week and we were able to see upwards of 75 young coaches/instructors work with well over 1000 children. Each site was located within the communities where everyone lived. The living conditions are very poor. It is difficult to report on and something that one should experience in person to gain a true understanding of the importance of programs like Play Soccer. Out challenge is to engage the children in more opportunities to play the game in a developmentally appropriate format that includes the valuable health and social skills information that is the backbone of the program. My challenge is to replace much of the technical skill practice with a tactical games framework to help children play the game. We will use a Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) Model that we have successfully created for US Youth Soccer and has been adopted by all 55 State Associations in the US.

Sheri and Dave - Football for Hope Center KhayelitshaWe were fortunate to be able to attend the opening of the first Football for Hope Center in Khayelitsha which is located outside of Cape Town. It is a massive "Township" of an estimated 1-1.5 million people, all living in very substandard housing (shacks). The Football For Hope Center is built in the middle of the community and features a building with a variety of rooms and a synthetic turf field that measures 40 m by 20 m. It is perfect for small sided games. The downside is there is only one. There are other similar spaces in place that feature a combination of dirt and grass and it would have been nice to see kids playing pick-up games in these spaces. We witnessed a 5 vs.5 tournament involving eight teams of 13-15 years from across South Africa. This was after the opening ceremonies that included national and local dignitaries and FIFA's President Sepp Blatter.

A demonstration program was put on by GrassRootsSoccer which is a Non Government Organization (NGO) who use HIV/Aids Education as their focus. GrassRootsSoccer is similar to Play Soccer but they are quite a bit bigger and were tapped by FIFA to showcase the educational component that is delivered through football (soccer). I was very disappointed in their approach to teaching and it sent a very poor message that was picked up by the media that represented dozen's of countries who showcased the event worldwide. Punishing children physically and eliminating them from participating is something that must be challenged and changed. It is clear we have a lot of work to do. First we have to deconstruct a model of instruction that does Coaching edutaion sessionnot work well and construct a new, developmentally appropriate model that focuses on Coaching the Whole Child.

We had a wonderful experience that was truly eye-opening. The children are eager to learn and play (two critically important components) and the coaches/instructors are dedicated to helping children learn critically important skills and play the worlds favorite game. We now need to give them the tools and the framework to help them.

David Carr, Ed.D.