“In 2011 we were working in Uganda with 93 children, most of them former child soldiers and victims of the awful Civil War that has ravaged that region for decades,” said Nick Gates, the founder and CEO of Coaches Across Continents (CAC), an organization that is a global leader in the Sport for Social Impact movement. “One of the boys, Michael, wrote down his story for us, and it stopped us in our tracks. His village was taken over by the Joseph Kony’s Lords Resistance Army, and Michael was given a choice,” said Gates.
“With a gun held to his head, he was ordered to murder his parents with a machete. If he complied, they would spare his own life, and those of his siblings. If he refused, the LRA would kill all of them.”
“The logic from the LRA was that if children didn’t have parents, then they had nowhere to go back to and were more likely to stay with the LRA and not try to escape. I wish I could say Michael’s story is unique, but it is not. Coaches Across Continents uses sports to help these children to rediscover their voices and find hope in a sometimes cruel world.”
I often write here about things that, in the grand scheme of life, are pretty small. I speak about how much free play time your kids should have in practice, how much playing time an 11 year old should get, and how multiple sport backgrounds benefit kids in so many ways. But when it comes down to it, lets face it, these are first world problems.
Today I am writing about Coaches Across Continents because I think it is important to take a step back from our everyday problems, and acknowledge the true power of sport. I think it’s important that our players, coaches and parents recognize all the things we should be grateful for, such as where we live, and that we do not have to wake up and worry about our town being invaded, or our siblings abducted, or a life of extreme poverty and little hope.
Today I want to tell you the story of Coaches Across Continents, and help them to grow and expand their organization. You can help by simply by watching the video below this article. Once the video gets 5000 views on You Tube, they will receive a large donation to help them fund and expand their programs, which are currently in 27 countries around the globe.
All you have to do is watch the video, and you can make a difference in the life of a boy like Michael, or a girl trying to find her voice in India. If this sounds like something that is worth 10 minutes of your time, then please read on to learn more about Coaches Across Continents.
Nick Gates founded CAC as a non profit in 2008, but it was not his first foray into the sport as social change movement. After playing college soccer at HarvardUniversity, Gates founded Play Soccer in 1992, an organization that used soccer to teach life skills, and educated over 1,000,000 children by 2005. In between stints as an English Premier League Executive, Gates travelled the globe studying the power of soccer, and recognized that sport could be the avenue to bring about social change.
“It was the most amazing experience to play soccer in the streets with children all around the world, to see how quickly we could capture their imagination, make them laugh and show them different ways to play and think,” said Gates. “What was needed was not another NGO doing the same things as some of the wonderful existing groups; what was needed was a group who could educate and train teachers, coaches, and volunteers so that they could use soccer to change lives. We need to addresses these needs and ensure that children are hearing the same messages from teachers on important social issues like HIV, gender issues, and tribal roles.” Thus Coaches Across Continents was born.
Today CAC works with partners throughout the globe, and is not only changing the lives of those it works with, but its staff and volunteer coaches as well. CAC Global Strategist Brian Suskiewicz, a former college soccer player at BostonCollege, started as a volunteer in 2010 after over a decade as a college soccer coach in the US. “There is a famous quote by Bill Shankly that says, ‘Some people think football is a matter of life and death. I assure you, it’s much more serious than that.’ It was not until I saw Coaches Across Continents’ work globally that I believed in the power of football to change the world,” says Suskiewicz.
“We work in developing communities,” he continued, “where sport is being used to change and challenge existing the status quo. This can mean re-integrating former child soldiers into society, challenging traditions and promoting equal rights of girls/boys and women/men in society, educating and behavior change regarding sexual transmitted infections including HIV, promoting child/human rights, and other life skills. These are proper life and death issues in many developing societies, many of which we now take for granted in the United States.”
Coaches Across Continents uses soccer-based games to teach four main modules. These are (1) conflict resolution including social inclusion, (2) female empowerment including gender equity, (3) health & wellness including HIV behavioral change, and (4) life skills. The games themselves are the teachers, where various metaphors and analogies are learned by the participants, leading to real life change right on the field.
The goal of the programs is to produce self-directed learners, people who can recognize a problem, create a solution to that problem, and implement that solution. By creating self-directed learners through their programs and partnerships, CAC enables local coaches, leaders, and players around the world to solve their own social issues in a locally-relevant manner.
“West is not necessarily best,” says Suskiewicz. “We need tens of thousands of people globally who can solve the world’s problems, starting on their own doorstep. Creating self-directed learners is the goal of higher education. We are simply doing it in a non-traditional classroom, at a place where everyone loves – the soccer field.”
You can help Coaches Across Continents to expand their programming into more countries in 2014 and beyond, simply by watching their new video below about their programs in India. If you want to learn more about their programs throughout the world, you can visit their website at www.coachesacrosscontinents.org, and even make a donation to this amazing organization.
And if you are like my wife and I, you might consider volunteering and spending a few weeks of 2015 in Africa, Asia, or South America, working alongside Brian and Nick. You may discover first hand the awesome power of sport to change lives, not only the lives of the kids you work with, but your life as well.
Maybe I will see you there.