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Director's Notes

Director's Notes: June 11th


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!


Director's Notes: June 4th


It has been a few weeks since I’ve returned to Bacalar. Not much has changed since I was last here - except the heat, that has definitely gotten fiercer. I have quite a bit of preparation to do before the programme starts. It’s been a hectic time between making sure things are in place for the volunteers and setting up the academy, from hanging curtains to visiting schools.

Amongst it all, I got to visit the schools again. The first time I visited the schools, I was very excited to see the girls that I might one day coach, but it felt like a bit of a surreal prospect at the time. This didn’t make me hesitate to invite them to participate in our football academy for any girl that is interested in playing! But more than that, I didn’t fixate over the commitment it represented to promise a space just for them to play and grow - an experience that they have never been offered before. Looking back, it is probably best that I didn’t linger over the weight of this responsibility because that might have scared me enough to stop me.

A few months later, here we are, a week away from the inauguration. This time round, going to schools was not only an opportunity to give the girls an actual date and place where they would be able to sign-up, it was also a chance for me to grasp the essence of the project.

I have spent the last few months, promoting the project to volunteers, potential sponsors, other organisations, friends and family. I familiarised myself with the ins and outs of the football industry, the volunteer industry, entrepreneurship and memorised my spiel as to where Girls United could fit amongst it all. But whilst I was going around spreading the word to anyone who would listen, there was plenty of room for worrying. There are so many potholes to avoid on the road for a not-for-profit, start-up – almost as many as there are on road leading up to the pitch in Bacalar! The hardest thing to define was where Girls United would sit within volunteer-led projects aimed at low-income areas.

It is a scary subject: from angry academics deeming it voluntourism and neo-colonialism to local politicians that are keen to jump on the non-stop wagon to the people’s hearts. I don’t blame either. There is more than enough proof to show the negative effects of entering a foreign country under the pretence of making a difference and aiding communities without the right skills or knowledge. And well, why would any politician dismiss the opportunity of joining a cause that required minimal work and please his electorate along the way? Two birds, one stone.

I was very worried by the prospect of doing more harm than good, when ultimately my sole intention was to improve, if only slightly, the range of opportunities for girls of these communities. The burden of knowing that we might do the contrary of our intended goal is frustrating as a leader on this project. Nevertheless, it is important to consider these dangers and go about the project in the right way in order to avoid these potholes. What is the long-term plan? How will this be sustainable for the community? How will the project incite a true sense of equality and inclusion between foreigners and locals? These are the questions I set out to answer. Yet it wasn’t until I was there in the classrooms, experiencing the girls’ excitement and understanding their daily life that I started to feel more at ease with the subject.

This project isn’t about aid or giving, it is about distributing. Distributing the opportunity to be part of a team from those who have had it, to those that don’t. As a distribution, it goes beyond providing aid or a fun summer distraction, it becomes about creating the structure for a project that can be adopted and sustained locally. Likewise, the people that involve themselves in this particular project must go beyond being foreigners abroad, taking token photos, they are people that have the desire to share and contribute to the distribution so that these opportunities reach more corners of the world. The commitment of Girls United is to support the community of Bacalar on their journey towards an established, well-rounded academy and to keep recruiting individuals to help along the way.

That said, I have already been lucky enough to be surrounded and supported by those genuine people. They are the reason on June 11th we will be at the pitch greeting anywhere between 5 and 50 girls that want to play football. The volunteers have started to arrive and the project is taking shape. Next week volunteers will have a coaching course and it will be the first official week of the Girls United programme, how very exciting.