Coaches Across Continents: Life Skills for a Better World Through Soccer
Take a moment sometime to observe the sideline of a typical U12 game in the US.
Think about the conversations you hear, the things you see and the emotions you feel. Think about the things that are deemed important. See a parent yelling at a referee over an offside call, or a coach barking directions to a player.
Think about the shiny shoes on every player or the smart looking uniforms from each team. Think about the worst thing for you that day being the fact that your 12 year old team lost a close game on a beautiful field, in a safe neighborhood and that the entire team will feel better after they all go to a pizza place after the game.
Then imagine a place where some players still play barefoot, or where girls still are not allowed to play at all, or where coaches don’t have scrimmage vests or access to a proper ball.
Or where the fields are merely orange dirt patches that might contain shards of glass, or even a shell casing from a random bullet. Where kids may or may not have eaten that day or where the women of a national team level don’t even have a proper sports bra.
Those places exist and somehow soccer/football is still being played. Caring coaches give their time for free and try their best to build safe places for kids to grow and play the beautiful game we know and love.
I had the wonderful opportunity to volunteer in June for three weeks in Zimbabwe and Zambia through a fantastic organization called Coaches Across Continents (CAC).
CAC is a global leader in the sport for social impact movement. They partner with local organizations in over 28 countries for a three-year time period to implement their award-winning ‘Hat-Trick Initiative’. This curriculum focuses on local social issues such as: female empowerment, including gender equity; conflict resolution, child rights, social inclusion; health and wellness, including HIV behavior change; and other life skills.
CAC uses soccer to educate coaches around the world by enabling communities to create lasting social change through sport. CAC is a non-government organization that was formed in 2008 by Harvard grad, Nick Gates. It is registered both in the U.S. and the U.K.
The key to its success is a unique self-directed learning model that is based on a ‘Chance to Choice’ curriculum. They take soccer activities that we all know and spin them in a unique way to teach social messages that are applicable to the local environment.
CAC has an amazing fulltime staff, who travel the world living out of bags for months on end who lead you through your time when you volunteer. They involve local coaches called Community Impact Coaches, who have been through the program and then progress to work for CAC periodically, but they also utilize volunteers to help out.
I was lucky enough to be a volunteer under the guidance of Nora Dooley, who has worked for CAC for the past three years. Nora, 26 is a Colombia grad and former player there. She taught me, an old dog, some new tricks. Her ease and strength in coaching and addressing social issues with local coaches had me in awe. She guided intense discussions on child rights, aids, and religion with the local coaches with ease.
I also had the privilege of working with Nico, from Tanzania and Frank from Zimbabwe who were coaches who came through the program themselves and now are able to work part-time for CAC. Nico, funds his university education in Uganda by his pay that he makes working for CAC.
Going into my volunteer experience, I tried to not have any expectations. As a licensing instructor for US Soccer and USYS, I was very interested to see how you could take a basic soccer activity and apply a very deep social message to it. My mind was blown away how you could take a game such as “steal the bacon” and teach coaches about child rights. Or how you could get coaches to discuss AIDS and HIV through a simple game of “keep away”.
My eyes were opened widely to the differences in circumstances of coaches and players in other countries. Let’s just say the little things we take for granted in the US, we need to stop and be very thankful for. There are more many more have-nots in the world than haves. Challenges in our US soccer culture that we deem as problematic, are minimal in comparison to what others may deal with across the world. My time in Zimbabwe and Zambia was enlightening, humbling, educational, and challenging all wrapped up together.
I was reminded that the passion for soccer is the same everywhere. From the taxi driver in Zambia who has a Barcelona sticker in their window to the women selling you your bus ticket who asks if you like soccer. The many people walking down the street in the Man U, Arsenal or Real Madrid jerseys displaying their passions or by the pub named “Chelsea” in Zimbabwe filled with people watching the Euro’s.
Also very visible were the most basic similarities among tremendous people who call themselves coaches. Smiles when playing, the hunger to compete, goal celebrations or trash talking during a scrimmage, the desire to learn more that they can then take back to their players. The gleam in the eye that a coach has when talking about their players, the pride in their certificate at the end of the course-all the same no matter what the nationality, color or gender of a coach.
One cannot fully describe the volunteer experience that you get through with Coaches Across Continents until you have lived it. If you are a coach looking for challenge; or looking for a new way to give back to the beautiful game, please check out CAC.
If you want to see the world of soccer through a different lens, and be pushed massively out of your comfort zone then this program is for you. You will be forever changed.
Here's how you can find more information on CAC: