• Pure Play

    CAC SDL coach Rubén Alvarado blogs from Kigoma, Tanzania as we return to the site of our first ever program!

    December 11th 2015. One of my beloved friends (who probably doesn’t remember my name) drank his meals for 21 days. Only juices, nothing solid, nothing processed, everything vegan-raw. He drank his meals because he believes in the power of symbolism. In this journey he saw  a chance to return to Earth, to the Origin, and “become flow”, while outstripping the inconsistency of foolish “magical belief” by having a testimony based on his direct experience. He made a movie of it, of the objective, scientifically measurable effects, and the subjective, non visible ones. Hundreds of thousands of people have watched it now, including me, a couple of weeks before I became an official CAC staff member. “Returning to the Origin”. It once more (because the message has just kept showing up over and over again) seems fascinating, but I get that type of fascination that comes with a hole in the middle, of not really rationally grasping what you talk about, maybe because words can’t contain it. However I do not abandon it, mainly because it sounds so cool…

    When I knew that I would be coming to Africa the idea gained strength and size. Where it all began for this exceptionally complex and funny creature, for this metaphor of the Universe, where it all began for mankind and womankind. I feel so excited just to remember the excitement that I felt in those moments. In our first days I told Nora, outstanding SDL coach, that I would spend my afternoon saluting the rocks of a mountain nearby our hotel in Iringa. I made it to the top of her list of lovable weird people. I had this major hope that everything would untangle, that clarity and epiphanies would flow like rivers to the ocean of my Mind, that my geographical movement should have allowed some invisible things to move and unlock for me to understand this “Returning to the Origin” thing.

    Well, it didn’t. I don’t know if the excess of the local delicacy Ugali blocked the path of the Wisdom or what, but it didn’t. Every experience had amazing value and color, every game played, every person met, participants’ “Aha! moments”, listening to beautiful unknown language, the books I read, resilient communities creating a voice for themselves, the taste of ancient foods, deep passed-bed-time-conversations, bare feet on the grass, everything contained a hint, a possibility, a trace of the ultimate understanding, but it didn’t reveal. Every new answer brought two new questions. This overwhelming (sometimes sweet and sometimes bitter)  learning process didn’t generate the spark of desired clarity, however, it delivered a treasurable gift: the humbleness derived of realizing that I know so little, acknowledging all the things that I don’t know and wondering about all  those that I don’t know that I don’t know (thanks Dr. J). I joyfully surrendered. “Not my time” I thought…

    We arrived to the green and peaceful Kigoma, our last city on the adventurous schedule. Warmly welcomed by our partner and “rafiki” Peter Kilalo. Before we met this year’s participants we honored the municipality’s support by visiting some of its members. “We are very happy to be back in Kigoma, where it all started 8 years ago” said Nora to one of them, my heart bounced a little. I didn’t know that we would finish this journey in the precise origin of Coaches Across Continents, but you know, now that I’d given up with the frenetic quest, the magnetism of symbolism didn’t trigger hope, although it felt cool to add one to the list of serendipities.

    The legendary Sports Court, blue as Lake Tanganyika, hosted the session. Children from various ages had just started their holiday season, so, we had guests of honor every day of the week. Laughter available for every Kuku dance, expression of silliness, fall, goal or mistake in Kiswahili (I said Kiwicha, the name of amaranth in Peru, instead of Kichwa, that means head in their language). Things moved forward, Nora, CJ and me danced to the rhythm of the music of the group. Listening, designing, playing, correcting, asking questions, praising, confronting, I felt immersed in the high beat-melodious flow of coaching.

    Kids came one afternoon, the coaches experimented with the new knowledge. We didn’t intervene. In between games I saw 2 kids seriously playing, with no identifiable purpose, just kicking a ball and making a tire roll with a stick. Their full self given to the game, no distractions, absolute presence, for a few seconds at least. I raised my head and found Adebayor’s condom tag happening among a flood of laughter. “Yaya one”, “Yaya two”, “Yaya three”, carrying the unmistakable sound emergent from the shape of a smiling mouth, I could hear. Suddenly I remember having read somewhere: “The Universe is made of play”. In 8 years, I can’t imagine how many times a person felt the grace of fun playing one of our games. Coaches, kids, teachers, parents, ourselves. I effortlessly start to feel the Giggle in my heart, it started making sense. We must play, not intermittently, to rest from hard work, but constantly, like breathing, as a natural expression of human nature. In pure play, not the one conditioned by competition, we experiment countless manifestation of boundary dissolution, the fundamental requirement for equity and peace. Even in opposition, we become a unity, acknowledging the value of the presence of the other, without whom the game would not exist, or myself as a player. When purely playing we defy a culture that says we must surrender to all the misery that it creates and thoughtfully displays.

    We all know the places where our society and the world need great healing. And by highlighting playing as an urgent human need to rescue, I don’t mean we should only play and not address those other things that hurt us. We want peace, but how can we find peace if we carry the war within? I risk myself to say that fight and play cannot co-exist within the same human being at the same time, not in the heart, not in the body, not in the neural space. Creating spaces for people to play has the same power and value as any other action that aims for social development.

    I did not get the answers that I expected, but the ones that serve the most, as usual. They came in the form of a ball, once again. I see it clearly, to have enough ink to write that most wanted story of equity, peace, harmony and happiness, we must return to that origin from where unity, bliss and Love emerge.

    Punto y seguimos.


  • Keeper Scores in Colombia

    October 15th 2015. SDL Coach Nora Dooley writes about our first full training with Inder Medellín’s Deporte y Convivencia contingent, facilitated by Colombia partner Grupo Internacional de Paz.

    Push the envelope. Test the limits. Stretch the boundaries. Throw the kitchen sink. Raise the bar. Think outside of the box.

    These are all great idioms that well describe what we were striving for during our recent training with Inder Medellín. But for the sake of following our own advice – and for the beauty of football – we decided to create something new.

    So what in football represents this feeling? This need to rise to a challenge, to test ourselves and the participants that we are training who are asking for more with their experience, their language, and their honed knowledge of sport for social impact?

    Bring the keeper up!!!

    It was late in the game. We ran a one-day training with this group in February, and though it was productive and fun, we did not leave the pitch that day feeling like we left it all out there – or had enough time to find our rhythm.

    We weren’t down a goal, but we wanted the win. Grupo Internacional de Paz is a valuable partner for us in Colombia, having already set up programs for us to run earlier this year, they arranged for us to continue our work in Medellín. As I was part of the team here in February, I knew some of what this group of Inder coaches was capable of, and I also knew how little we had – yet – tested them.

    We thus had a goal in our sights. And we were willing to stretch ourselves to get there, to take risks, and to honor the struggle regardless of the outcome.

    It was time to bring the keeper up. With the keeper out of the goal, we were constantly on our toes, coming up with strategies and back-up plans in anticipation of that which is impossible to anticipate. But all the while knowing if our keeper scores, the risks and unknowns would be worth it.

    Our keeper was moving up all week. This group of participants – many from Inder’s Deporte y Convivencia initiative, others from outside organizations such as SENA (Servicio Nacional de Aprendizage) – was an absolute joy on the field. Laughs were immediate and dependable, voices were assertive and considerate, insight was thoughtful and passionate, and minds were open and generous.

    All the positive energy only meant our task was more difficult. What can we offer this group that they will appreciate, embrace, and adopt? What will be new? How can we surprise? How do we get our keeper into the box? To score a goal??

    We play, we ask questions, we listen, we understand, we reflect, we ask more questions, we play more, we challenge them to create their own games with unique, relevant ideas, we participate, we ask more questions, and then we strategize with greater intention.

    A few of the requests made by the participants were for games that addressed some of the intense discussions we were having. These included equity vs. equality, acknowledgment of each other, games with different sports, responsibility and accountability, and fear of failure. The CAC curriculum is designed with adaptability in mind, and we have games to address all of these issues. But with one in particular – fear of failure – we thought it best to create a new game. So we played the others, allowed the discussions to unfold on-field, and demonstrated to the participants that they were being heard – all the while planning behind the scenes for the perfect set-up where our goalkeeper would either brutally miss, or score a golazo.

    The four of us (new SDL coach Rubén, myself, and two volunteer coaches CJ and Spring) planned individually and collectively and came up with a new game to address the fear of failure. The simple game that was anything but simple to design looks like this:

    The players will play individually. They have three options. With all three options they have 45 seconds to complete the chosen task. Option one is 5 push-ups and 5 burpees. Option two is 15 push-ups and 15 burpees. Option three is 30 and 30. The players choose, the coach says go, we play, the coach says stop.

    Then we play again. But this time the coach tells the players there will be a consequence. The players can change their choices. The challenge is the same or similar. We play.

    The consequence? Universal celebration. We celebrate the ones who completed the task. We celebrate the ones who did not complete the task. We celebrate those who tried their hardest. We celebrate honesty, self-awareness, effort, success, failure, and fun.

    In this line of work it is difficult to measure success – sometimes impossible. We cannot prove that our efforts had a positive impact on the group this week without extensive resources and time. We cannot prove that this game will help kids celebrate their failures as successes. We cannot prove that our goalkeeper scored. But I will write this, and you can choose to believe it or not – or you can go to Medellín and visit these wonderful, brilliant people – but we walked off that pitch with a collective vision that our keeper just scored a better goal than Lewandowski’s 5th in those 9 minutes, or Rooney’s bike in 2011, or maybe even better than Carli Lloyd’s from half-field…  ¡Que golazo!