Some people think soccer is a matter of life and death. It’s not, it’s more important than that. Bill Shankley, former Liverpool Manager.
Drawing on more than 18 years in the football coaching and business world, former professional soccer executive Nick Gates launched Coaches Across Continents as a nonprofit organization in 2008. Gates’ innovative model allows experienced football coaches to assist developing communities using a specially designed soccer education curriculum, helping young people to become modern leaders in their communities. But the concept for Coaches Across Continents didn’t spring forth full-blown at the outset.
Gates had played soccer for England Youth International and for four years for Harvard College. After graduating, Gates founded Play Soccer, a soccer coaching company in New England. The following year, the first-ever Play Soccer camp attracted 37 campers in Cambridge, Mass. In 1992, Play Soccer introduced the “Soccer as Education” curriculum, and more than 600 campers attended its camps. Just two years later World Cup Coach Jack Charlton endorsed the curriculum.
In 1995, Play Soccer brought in professional coaches for its spring and fall coaching clinics. Only four years later – the year the U.S women won the World Cup – Play Soccer played a role, assisting Womens’ World Cup USA and launching the Girls Play Soccer Camp.
By 2005, Play Soccer had worked with more than 1,000,000 children and 9,000 local coaches.
Developing the concept
In the years 2001 to 2003, Nick Gates began research into The Power of Soccer. Over 21 months, he traveled to more than 55 countries to develop the Coaches Across Continents concept and the “Chance to Choice Curriculum.”
“It was the most amazing experience to play our Football 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.” —Nick Gates, 2003
In 2003-4, Gates had a season in the UK’s Premier League as the Business of Football Executive with Middlesbrough Football Club.
Next year, 2005, Play Soccer coached its one millionth player at its camps and clinics, and more than 9,000 parent coaches attended its coach training programs.
In 2006-7, Gates set off on his travels again, this time to Africa. He conducted football clinics in more than 10 countries over a 12-month period. The urgent need for social change in the regions where he traveled was obvious to him.
“What is needed is not another NGO doing the same things as some of the wonderful existing groups, what is needed is a group who can educate and train teachers, coaches, and volunteers so that they can use soccer to change lives. What we need to do is to start a new charity that addresses these needs and ensures that children are hearing the same messages from teachers on important social issues like HIV, gender issues, and tribal roles.” —Nick Gates, 2006
Coaches Across Continents is launched
During that pivotal year of 2008, Gates put in place a Hat-Trick Initiative pilot program in Kigoma, Tanzania; the Coaches Across Continents “Soccer for Health and Wellness” games from its “Chance to Choice Curriculum” was used throughout Africa on AIDS Day; and Demosphere, Middlesbrough Football Club, Play Soccer, and XL Soccer Tours became supporting partners of the organization.
Next year, 2009, Coaches Across Continents added “Soccer for Conflict Resolution” to the “Chance to Choice Curriculum.” This multi-faceted curriculum also includes components for Community, Education, Exercise, Female Empowerment, Health and Wellness, Skills for Life, and “Football in the Streets.” On the basis of this work, Coaches Across Continents won the highly coveted Beyond Sport Global Award for Best New Project for Sport and Social Development.
Also in 2009, Kigoma added the first-ever Girls Only Football; Coaches Across Continents unveiled its Corporate Social Responsibility 2009 Program at the NSCAA Convention in Baltimore; Hat-Trick Initiative Programs were added in Malawi, South Africa, Uganda, and Tanzania; Coaches Across Continents announced its Social Responsibility Tour to Africa with XL Soccer Tour and Harvard University Soccer supported the first-ever Goals4Leaders sponsorship program.
Thus, 2009 saw an explosion of activity for the new organization. Coaches Across Continents also conducted that year an 8-week program in Zambia to establish the Football for Female Empowerment Program; joined the Urban Soccer Collaboration in the U.S. to assist with urban communities; launched Players Across Continents; and the group’s web site received requests from 73 countries around the world for its programs.
“The problems in Africa are unique but the children are still the same. They laugh, they smile, they take in every word and show great respect for coaches and games. Children may not always attend school, but you can bet that they will turn up to play football. Perhaps if we can show them different ways to do their daily tasks, change may be possible.” —Nick Gates, 2009
In 2010 Coaches Across Continents added programs in Kenya (two in April and one in May); Uganda (two from June to August and one in August); South Africa (July); Malawi (one each in August and September; Zambia (one in October, one in November); and Tanzania (two in September).
The Coaches Across Continents curriculum in 2010 focused upon conflict resolution, female empowerment, health and wellness (including HIV/AIDS behaviour change), and, simply, fun. That year Christian Aviza, Ciaran McArdle, Graham Bradford, and Andy Old joined the board. This was the year that Coaches Across Continents developed the WISER model of monitoring and evaluation.
In 2011 the Coaches Across Continents programs were run in more than 15 countries with 25+ community partners but the demand was so large that one new request was received every day.
2012 saw Brian Suskiewicz appointed as the full time On Field Strategist in charge of all community partnerships and coaches and Marisa Brown joined full time as the Monitoring and Evaluation Strategist and leader of the Female Empowerment/Gender Equality program. On the field, in partnership with Standard Chartered Bank, Coaches Across Continents launched the Kicking4CHANGE financial literacy program in Ghana.
In a few words
Our concept is unique. We train local teachers and volunteers to educate local children. This ensures that all our programs are sustainable. We custom design every curriculum rather than use a generic one in every region. This ensures that what we are facilitating has direct local relevance. We have invested three years on our on-line curriculum program so that we can provide support 365 days a year and mentor communities year-round. This is a unique concept and has far more beneficial results for the communities than traditional methods. The direct result of our programs are that we are developing a new generation of community leaders who are educated and choose their futures rather than rely on traditions passed down from previous generations.