I’m Here, I Want To Play
CAC SDL Coach Turner Humphries blogs on renewing acquaintances with Slum Soccer in Haryana, India.
November 12th 2015. Stepping out of the Delhi airport I could see a tall man with wide eyes and an even wider smile making his way through the crowd of people towards me. The sign he had made to find me was folded up in his hands. After seeing me glance at it he said, ‘You look like a CAC coach so I didn’t even need this!’ His name is Homkant, and the two of us would be spending a lot of time together. From Delhi we had a two hour drive to Haryana were the coaching program would be held. Once we arrived at the house we would be staying at we both dropped our bags in the room and sunk into bed. He had arrived into Delhi not long before me; making the trek from Nagpur, a twenty two hour train ride away. The two of us were sharing a bed in a room lined with posters of Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar. With the eyes of some of footballs greats looking down on us we drifted to sleep, the next day would mark the start of the program with around thirty young leaders from Haryana.
As always we began with Circle of Friends, a game designed to allow everyone to get to know one another as we warm up our bodies and voice. The first time Circle of Friends is played both participants and coach are feeling each other out. Participants new to the concept of sport for social impact are most likely wondering what a ‘boomshakalaka’ is and why I want them to do something called the Koo Koo dance. Before leaving for the field I was briefed by the local partners that female empowerment would be the main issue for the training, as girls are actively discouraged from playing football in their community. As Circle of Friends took off I noticed that girls were only interacting with girls and boys with boys. After pointing this out to the group everyone gave a light hearted laugh and agreed to mix it up. For some of the participants this was their first time playing football with the opposite sex. What was first nervous energy became real enjoyment and excitement as the participants learned how much they shared in common. It turns out both girls and boys really like Barcelona and Messi. Later in the session Homkant came up to me and said, ‘You and I, we know that girls and boys playing together is good. But some of the local coaches here are upset that the girls are mixing with the boys. They told me they will not bring there girls team to our training again.’ After hearing this I was deflated. To me this seemed incredibly unfair to the girls, as someone else was dictating under what circumstances they could play.
The next day sure enough we were without nearly twenty female participants. However, the following day two girls appeared back at the field. They told me their coach had threatened to kick them off the team if they went back to the training. They didn’t seem bothered by their coaches severe threat. Putting her hands up in the air one of the girls said, ‘I want to play…so I’m here.’ Sometimes teenagers are smarter than adults.