By the evening of the 5th, everyone had arrived at the bungalow. My week of hectic preparation had been almost successful. Everything was in place - except for the mattresses. To my embarrassment, those came a day late. Luckily, the volunteers that arrived were an understanding and adaptable bunch. It didn’t take long to get a feel for the personalities in the group. I was so excited to see we had a great mix of individuals from a variety of backgrounds, but all with the disposition to immerse themselves in the project.
That first week was spent taking the coaching course and getting to know one another, from the classroom to the pitch. Our team consisted of four volunteers from aboard, five local university students studying to be physical education teachers, our Spanish teacher, the coach, and myself. The first day, like any, was a little quiet as people familiarised themselves with the atmosphere and with each other. But as the week went on the language barrier began fading as volunteers began joking around and getting to know each other and even got past the language barrier – with, of course, the exchange of swear words the first to break through when I wasn’t looking. I was thrilled to see all nine volunteers slowly getting a sense for the vision of the project. The week was an opportunity to focus on understanding the greater impact we could all make through teaching football.
It is not always obvious that practicing football can go beyond 4-4-2 and nutmegs. Sports education, much like the wider realm of education, has long been a field with a tradition of static coaching methods where kids are not so much taught but told. The football industry, with its signature humbleness, does little to help. Consequently, there aren’t many kids around the world that are being taught positive values through football. Nonetheless the experience of committing to training sessions, applying yourself at practice to see results at matches - not just for yourself but for your teammates - and continuing forward whether you win or lose, are all actions that eventually develop into values and attributes. Though I might not have been aware of it at the time, my experience in football, admittedly a privileged one, helped me develop as a person. I am by no means on expert on the subject but I have come to firmly believe in the power of football – the physical health it encourages, the teamwork it necessitates, the conviction it requires, the analysis it instigates - all through a game that kids and adults alike around the world love. Thus my focus for the week was to share and explore techniques for GU coaches to teach in a manner that would be conducive to wider learning. It seems that education is moving away from staid, traditional methods and more towards dynamic mental processes that encourage understanding of the game and correct technique. However, there is still a long way to go; and addressing that is my priority for myself as a coach and for all coaches that work within Girls United.
The inauguration event arrived in a heartbeat. As we pulled up to the pitch, I was anxious to see how many girls, if any, would show up. Just outside, I saw a girl sitting at the bus stop with her mom and a bottle of water. ‘At least we’ll have one!’ I stammered to the volunteers. After those initial nerves disappeared, I completely forgot to worry any more. More girls started to arrive slowly, the coaches got them involved straight away, the parents patiently listened to me talk about the project and the only six songs on my USB played on repeat for the following 3 hours (if the parents didn’t gain anything else from the meeting, they at least learned the lyrics to “procura”). We had about 40 girls sign-up, and it was more than enough to warrant celebrate. The team headed to the edge of the lagoon to present the new coaches with their certificates, as the Girls United Football Association officially kicked off for the summer!