• Soccer Sisters

    February 2nd 2017. Blog from partner Soccer Sisters, discussing CAC concepts. 

    How Sports Taught My Son To Solve His Own Problems

    (And Do His Own Homework!)

    My fourth-grade son hasn’t missed a homework assignment in 18+ weeks. Talk about a revolution. That’s 18 weeks and counting without him forgetting a single assignment, log signature, reading, permission slip or long-term project.Nothing short of a miracle. For some context, in the past, labeling him lackadaisical would have been a compliment.

    So what turned him around? Lectures? Bribes? Threats? Nope. He used something called “self-directed learning” from playing games on a soccer field.

    As an advocate for girls and women in sports, I am a big believer in sport for education and this summer our family took a service trip to Armenia with Coaches Across Continents, the world’s largest charity that uses sport for education. The CAC curriculum relies on “self-directed learning,” which means kids play games based on soccer drills that create conflict and the players solve their problems in order to win or play.

    The games were fun, but the message repeated over and over again was simple and genius: “Solve your problems. Solve. Your. Own. Problems.” Not the parent/coach mantra of, “Here, let me help you. Let me show you. Do it this way.” The framework for learning was soccer and fun, but the message was unusual. Most of the time, either on or off the field, we tell our kids what and how to do something and think that is the only way to teach or play.

    When we, as parents, solve our kids’ problems, we are hampering their ability to solve them on their own. In my view, that’s exactly when parents and coaches get tuned out like all the adults in a Charlie Brown cartoon. Remember those? Wah Wah Wah. Blah Blah Blah. Words Words Words. Instead, imagine the fun and challenge of playing games where teams have to move a ball together around a cone with all members of the group touching the ball at the same time but without using their hands or feet. How do you do that? Well, figure it out. Solve your problem.
    It was simple and genius and I am convinced that something about those games on the soccer field clicked for my son. He learned to take care of fourth-grade business. I have been watching his complete turnaround over the last six months. At first, I thought it had to do with just turning ten. Or being in a different classroom.

    But this week, I was convinced it was more than that. He has late soccer on Tuesday nights, getting home at 8:45 p.m., still having to eat dinner and shower. Usually he’s too worn out to read after all that, so he does it beforehand. On the way to soccer I asked him if he had completed all his work, and his 30 minutes of required nightly reading. Surprisingly, he hadn’t.

    Every one of those 18 weeks he got a star sticker for doing all his homework – and he really likes those stickers. I said, “OK. Well, I’m not signing your reading log if you don’t read, so you are just going to have to figure it out.” No signature, no sticker.

    From the back seat came his answer: “This was totally my fault and my responsibility.” I think my eyebrows reached my hairline. He got there on his own and acknowledged that it was his problem to solve. In the bustle of dinner and dishes, I promptly forgot all about it until I went up to his room after washing up. He was in bed, still in his soccer clothes, finishing his reading.

    He’d solved his problem. I felt like the Ponce De Leon of parents. How did this happen? Without me doing anything? Then it hit me. William learned it all on a soccer field – and it was fun.

    I realize that few people have the opportunity to go on a foreign trip with an organization such as CAC, and to learn first-hand the kinds of exercises that focus on “self-directed learning.” But you don’t need a passport and a plane ticket to learn it. So much of it is already ingrained in the culture of sport, in the teambuilding and problem-solving that happens on the pitch at practice every day.

    For William, the message reached him in a way that 1,000 wah, wah, wah morning lectures on responsibility never would and never did.

  • Setting New G.O.A.L.S

    February  13th 2017. CAC Global Citizen Taylor Allen writes about her experience working with CAC and G.O.A.L.S. Haiti in Léogâne Haiti.

    Passing through Port-au-Prince into Léogâne took us from a concrete city to the tropical countryside. Just beyond the street borders to the west was the ocean and to the east was flat land full of sugar cane stalks reaching about four feet to six feet tall surrounded by palm trees bearing green coconuts. In the harvested areas animals roamed such as cows, pigs, chickens, goats, and horses. The air was cooler and lighter from the ocean breeze than the middle of the capital city, also not as many people or cars on the road. When we arrived to the apartment the entrance was secured by a giant metal blue sliding gate that covered the driveway at the curb. Once the security guard pushed it open we saw the entire driveway made of smooth oval black and gray rocks that crunched underneath the tires. There were bright white buildings embellished with blue and green accents from the color of the doors, window shutters, and staircase railings. In the middle of the driveway stood an enormous lush mango tree with green mangos dangling from the branches.

     

    The program consisted of around twenty five coaches from G.O.A.L.S. Haiti – a sport-for-development nonprofit organization helping children and teens in Haiti through the love of soccer. Many of the coaches met us at the G.O.A.L.S. office; the apartment we stayed in sits just above it. The G.O.A.L.S. Haiti staff share a white pick-up truck and every morning there would be around ten coaches in the bed of the truck ready to hitch a ride to the field for training. Being welcomed by that type of energy every morning was uplifting to say the least! We would open our door to come downstairs and around five to ten coaches would greet us once we were down by the mango tree. The field we got to play on was a grass field enclosed by a chain link fence with several openings that would later allow for chickens, goats and stray dogs to find themselves roaming around our trainings. At one point, a goat found herself in the middle of the goal when we were about to do a shooting game. Other fields were right next to sugar cane areas with cows, pigs, and horses within a couple yards of the field. The background was a scenic view of green mountains with the sun setting just over the horizon. It was a stunning view with the green mountains, tall palm trees with coconuts, lush sugar cane fields, and animals roaming around filling the landscape.

     

    This week we were accompanied by Community Impact Coaches (CIC’s) from the Haitian Initiative Program. These particular Haitian Initiative coaches have been a several year partner with Coaches Across Continents and have been noticeably impactful in their communities by using CAC curriculum. The CIC’s are there to support CAC in delivering the curriculum side-by-side to other partners, with the hope of Haitian Initiative and G.O.A.L.S. Haiti to join forces and continue to build onto each others’ positive impacts in communities throughout Haiti beyond the borders of their own cities. It was great to see other programs with similar missions coming together and discussing how they can join forces to create an even bigger ripple in their communities.

     

    One of my favorite moments from the week in Léogâne happened after the first day. A young woman who speaks English, and is an English teacher, came up to me and told me she learned two things that day. I was excited she opened up to me after the first day to share! I hadn’t experienced that in the three weeks in Haiti. She continued to tell me about her two favorite games from the day. She loved Mingle-Mingle and the Financial Literacy game. In Mingle-Mingle one of the questions asked was to get together with people of the same faith or religion. There were about five groups, and this woman, was actually standing alone. She mentioned she was Mormon, and not a lot of people in her community were Mormon, and for that moment on the field, she realized religion doesn’t have to be a conflict point. She learned that no matter what religion another person is they can still get along, they can still bond and work together on the soccer field, and they can still bond and work together off the field. I thought that was really neat to hear! In the Financial Literacy game she mentioned how she learned about taking ownership of her income, educating herself about options, and becoming empowered to make her own decision about whether to save, spend, or even invest. She never thought about investing or making investment purchases to move closer to her goals. Both comments really solidified positive outcomes and impacts the CAC curriculum can have on people that participate in these programs. It’s often difficult to see any sort of impact made in a week with people who speak another language, so it was reassuring for a participant to share these lessons with me.

     

    From the tropical setting, plus three organizations joining forces, in addition a woman opening up about lessons learned after day one – needless to say, this was an incredible experience. Coaches Across Continents is creating a safe space for their partners to have conversations around forward thinking and challenging harmful societal traditions in their communities all driven by the participants themselves. CAC is empowering individuals to think creatively, to challenge harmful mindsets, and to envision a better future; all through sport! The Self-Directed Learning model (SDL) is giving opportunities to people who want to see a change in their communities for the better. They are equipping participants with curriculum that can open up the conversation around improvements within themselves, their teams, their communities, and ultimately turn them into action plans. I am proud to be a part of an organization so driven to create a better world, one partner and community at a time. Keep up the great work CAC!

  • Self-Directed Surfing and Learning in Lima

    October 22, 2014. Volunteer coach, Billy Hawkey, writes about his first week on-field with CAC in Lima, Peru. 

    This past week I began my journey with CAC in Lima, Peru, eager to see how this world operates, and how futbol can be used for social impact. On the Sunday before the program began Nora, Tomas, Mauro, and myself met with the coordinator at UNICEF, Seppe Verbist, over a delicious lunch at a local Peruvian restaurant where I tried my first chicha morado, leche de tigre, and enjoyed multiple family style platters of fried fish, sweet potatoes, ceviche, and more. Business talk was limited during the meal, but with the nature of our work being such an integral part of our lives, and with a Serie A game playing in the background, it was only natural that some of the discussion surrounded futbol for social impact, sport for development, and the manner in which CAC aims to convey their social messages and develop leaders into self-directed learners so they can breed future generations of intuitive, progressive thinkers in their respective communities. Hearing all this was exciting, but as I have heard many times until that point, I needed to see it, and be a part of it to fully understand how CAC works. We met back at the UNICEF office following lunch to discuss the plan for the week, and what both sides of the partnership were hoping to achieve.

    On Monday, Nora, Tomas, Mauro, Seppe and I were driven to San Juan de Lurigancho, a district of Lima located about 45 minutes north of our hostel where we would hold the trainings for the week. We were stationed in a massive park with tons of courts, fields, a boxing gym, swimming pool, and a BMX track. On the drive in I got my first glimpse of a more realisitc side of Lima. We are staying in Mira Flores, a fairly wealthy and touristy area of Lima, sheltered away from the disproportionate distribution of wealth that looms over this region making it one the most unequal cities in the world in terms of socioeconomic status. I observed mountainsides packed with small houses, stacked one on top of another, that looked as if they were constructed out of the earth. I learned that very few of these homes have running water or electricity, and those that did were not receiving those luxuries on a consistent basis.

    When we arrived at the park we met the program participants for the first time. The group had representation from ten different groups, spanning from Lima to the Amazon. We were very grateful to have representation from implementing partner CARD-PSB, a USAID funded NGO located in the Amazon. There were futbol coaches, basketball coaches, volleyball, boxing, and a chess teacher. There were professors and representatives from the Olympic Committee. It was a diverse group, and overall fairly futbol oriented, but we enjoyed discussing and having volunteers demonstrate adaptions to the games we played to fit their respective sports. Throughout the course of the week the message was stressed that as a coach, you also can perform the role as an educator. What I am learning is that CAC uses the field as a place to learn not only about futbol, but about life, and the coaches have the power to educate their children about much more than the game . We covered a wide range of topics throughout the week inlcuding gender equity and female empowerment, violence, sexual health and good decision making, conflict resolution, communication, teamwork and child protection. After each game, and sometimes before and during, a discussion was held in which the participants had the liberty to say what messages they took away from the game. The messages derived from the games were unique for each person which made it extremely important to create a safe space for discussion where all voices could be heard. As the week progressed, everyone was seeing more and more the parallels between the actual games and the greater social impact that they have.

    One game in particular that was very successful with this group was Child Rights: Right to Education a game focused around the power and importance of education. The format of the game was simple. Two teams played a regular game of futbol to goals. When a team scored a goal, they were granted the oppurtunity to construct a smaller goal anywhere along the outside of the field that they could score on. Each team could set up a total of four smaller goals around the field, resulting in a total of five goals to score on. Only after all four additional goals were set up could the teams begin to count their points. Before the game began we asked the participants what each goal would represent with regards to education. They said that each additional goal would represent a new level of schooling: initial, primary school, secondary school, and universities. The game was fun and dynamic, and lots of goals were scored. In our discussion following the game we asked the participants how this relates to life. They said that with greater levels of education, the more oppurtinuties you have in life. When each team was limited to only one goal, it was much harder to succeed on the field; similarly with only a very low level of education, or with no education at all, your oppurtunities are limitied. It was pointed out that for some children, school is not an option for a variety of reasons. However, what arose from the discussion was that as coaches, we can educate children on the field. We can motivate children to stay in school and help open their eyes to the value of an education.

    By the end of the week myself and the participants grasped what it means to coach sport to have social impact. I believe also that they and I learned a great deal about what it means to be a self-directed learner. The participants heard many times throughout the course of the week “resolver sus problemas”, “solve your problems.” The participants did not need the CAC coaches to hold their hand and show them the answer. It was up to them to find the solution on their own or as a team. Children do not need coaches or teachers to spell out every little detail for them and simply asking for the answer is taking the easy way out. By providing individuals with the freedom to explore all options, and to come to the solution on a path that they devise themselves, they are learning so much more than being told a finite solution. This approach challenges people to solve their problems on their own, taking personal acountablilty and learning through their actions, experiences and listening to others. It was clear that many of the coaches embodied this style of leading by the end of the week when they coached games on their own as part of our Coach-Back process.

    It was a fantastic week and the group was extremely appreciative of our work and similarly we were extremely thankful of their great energy, passion, and desire to learn. They will now take the lessons they learned and the games we played to their respective courts, fields, and communities to educate and lead Peru’s youth.

    Side note: On our day off I went surfing for the first time. Lima, and Peru in general, is home to a rich tradition and culture of surfing so I figured it was about time I gave it a go! No lesson, just put on my wetsuit, grabbed the board and dove in. I guess you could say it was self-directed surfing.

     

     

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