• 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.

  • Armenia Joins The CAC Family

    September 9th 2016. Andrea Montalbano writes about the start of our partnership with Girls of Armenia Leadership Soccer (GOALS). Andrea is a member of the CAC Business Advisory Team and the ASK For Choice Advisory Team.  She is also the author of the Soccer Sisters book series.

    The feel of fall is in the in New York air, but all we can talk about at our dinner table is our family’s recent trip to Armenia with Coaches Across Continents. We worked with CAC staff and Board Members Judith and Bill Gates in several different locations throughout the former Soviet Republic.

    In the capital Yerevan, we trained with fantastic coaches and learned how powerful and fun sport for social change and education can be.  We were based at the Football Federation of Armenia, the country’s governing body, and thrilled to work with their girl players and see the future leaders come alive on the field covering topics such as health and wellness, life skills, gender equality, problem-solving, and team building. Boys and girls were playing together, which was amazing because we learned that it doesn’t happen very often.

    In the small village of Tumanyan, we worked with a variety of educators and community leaders in partnership with the Children of Armenia Fund (COAF).  One of the most moving moments for me was to see men and women of all ages, debating and collaborating on policy toward the equitable role of women in society. The conversations were held in COAF “Smart Rooms” and using CAC technology – evidence to my eyes that conversations started on the field have impact off the field.

    Our family’s last stop (CAC would continue on to Gyumri) was at the beautiful UWC School in Dilijan, where the student body is from over 70 different nations! Talk about a worldview. It was truly inspiring to see so many young leaders from all over the world working together and getting excited to bring CAC into their community.

    One of the most impactful things I learned on the trip was to listen to the ideas of others, particularly the ideas of children.  So I thought it only appropriate to do a brief Q&A with the rest of my family and start with the kids.

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    William Jebejian, 9

    Q: Did you have a favorite game, William?

    A: My favorite game was when you had to make the animal sounds (an adaptation of Mingle Mingle) and you had to switch. I liked how you kind of made a fool out of yourself, but it was really hard, because you were like, I think that was a lion, no it’s a cat! It’s really confusing. Meow! And it was so loud. And you don’t understand anything.  You were just running around. It was so fun.

    Q: What was the biggest lesson you learned through Coaches Across Continents?

    A: That you should not rely on people to solve your problems and you should try and solve your own problems without asking someone to do them for you.

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    Lily Jebejian, 12

    Q: Did you meet anyone who inspired you?

    A: Sofik was an awesome leader and role model for all girls and even though I didn’t speak Armenian, I could understand by the way she coached.  One night, we got to go to her house and it was cool to see where she was from and the rest of her family.  They were welcoming and very sweet.

    Q: You play a lot of sports here in New York.  Were you surprised to see the differences in opportunities there?

    A: Seeing all the girls show up to the field in dresses and sandals and fancy shoes, I thought, they have never played soccer before and it seemed kind of bizarre to me because basically everyone I know has played soccer before and would never have shown up to a soccer practice like that.  It made me appreciate my town and the opportunities that I have more because I got to see how girls are not encouraged to play.

    Diron Jebejian, who is of Armenian descent.

    A: What surprised you the most about the curriculum?

    Q: That it actually has very little to do with soccer.  It was better than my expectations, because I learned a lot. They have a very unique way of getting people to come together to find a common way to communicate to ultimately work out some of their problems, collaborate, and have much better opportunity to solve problems, so it was much different than I thought.

    Q: Do you think that sport for social change can help Armenia?

    A: I do. I didn’t really understand what it meant until I spent time with CAC. But, I think the common interest of sport is a very good way to bring people together.

    Q: We introduced the ASK For Choice curriculum to Armenia. What do you think the biggest challenge is facing the women of the country?

    A: The biggest challenge for the country is economic opportunity.  Without more opportunity the country will continue to have people leave to find better jobs and better ways to support themselves.  So that’s clearly the challenge, and so the investment in education and investment in girls is one of the principle ways to change that equation so I think it’s all tied together.

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