Learning Beyond the Game

The distance individuals will go to help one another is ultimately limitless.  This assistance comes in all different shapes, sizes, and even vehicles. It is often highly publicized when famous athletes take the opportunity to give back, though less seen is when the average person uses sports as a vehicle to not only give back but to provide support for those in need. This is the case currently in Cape Town, South Africa through Grassroots Soccer.

Grassroot Soccer is an adolescent health organization that leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize at-risk youth in developing countries to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents of change in their communities.

Current member of Grassroot Soccer, Sergio Fernandez, spoke about what makes this organization so impactful and his decision to join. “I investigated a bit more and saw that they provide health education to adolescents in underserved communities, discussing the specific risks and dangers that affect them most in their communities,” explained Fernandez. “That was something I could really get behind, especially because the organization takes role models from within the community to teach, rather than bringing in outsiders.”

So often it is taken for granted the skills that are lacking in these severely underserved communities. This is perhaps where Grassroot Soccer plays its most pivotal role. As Sergio explained it is the extreme education gap that this organization tries to improve upon. An example discussed was the simple task of typing, something that has been overlooked as common knowledge in first world countries and especially back in the states. For many of the underdeveloped people of South Africa, this is a skill that evades them as they may be in their adolescent years typing a letter at a time in a manner that would seem comical if done in other countries.

The organization’s goals go well beyond simply teaching individuals how to type letters on a keyboard. Where athletics comes into play has nothing to do with the final score or a game. The sports provide a safe space for the kids to come and play in a way they would otherwise not have access too. The reasoning behind soccer is rather simple; it is a universal language without barriers.

Soccer is used as an educational teaching vehicle. Whereas topics that would often be difficult or receive a lack of interest, they now get not only attention but encouragement from the “coaches” (facilitators) about the “drills” (teaching exercises) but from the participants.

“We set up a line of cones, each cone with a different risk written on it ( unprotected sex, alcohol abuse, etc), the kids have to dribble through, avoiding the risks,” said Fernandez. “If they touch the cone (ie. engage in one of those risky activities) they have to do 10 push-ups – so we have several different drills that incorporate soccer in that way, which I think is an effective tool and well received by the children and adolescents we work with.”

This education about these risk activities is extremely important in a part of the world where although childhood mortality has gone down, adolescent mortality has stagnated. Aids and troubled pregnancies are still commonplace, things can ultimately be avoided with proper education.

Having reached just less than two million youth thus far the impact has been extremely successful within these communities. It is the impact and continued desire for an education of these individuals that a combined effort will create a safer and healthier planet as a whole.

The true value of sports and those that participate are so often overlooked. It is organizations like Grassroot Soccer that is trying to put that to rest with their mission in mind. Whether it is scoring goals or saving a life, there is progress towards a better future currently taking place.

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