Original Post: 7/20/2009
After almost two years consulting for enormous federal government agencies and multimillion dollar private organizations, working with PLAY SOCCER Malawi has been extremely refreshing. With a minimum of financial resources, the staff and volunteers here in the city of Blantyre have created an extremely impressive organization. Harnessing this small African nation’s love for the beautiful game, with very little funding and mostly volunteer labor, PLAY SOCCER Malawi has become an engine for social change.
Working with the organization Coaches across Continents has provided me the opportunity to bring my perspectives as both a soccer educator and strategic management consultant to the aid of an organization that shares a vision of using the game of soccer/football to improve individual lives and communities. I have traded cubicles and conference rooms for dusty, dirt fields and power ties and pin-striped suits for sweat pants, balls and cones. And although driving my own personal car through the streets of metropolitan DC was a bit more comfortable than cramming into mini-buses with a dozen other passengers in Blantyre, I have never been happier with an assignment.
Visiting PLAY SOCCER’s three programs in the neighborhoods of Chigimula, Bangwe and Ndirande was exhilarating. The energy radiating from the young players and volunteer coaches was palpable and their enthusiasm was infectious. Hundreds of children ranging from ages 4 to 15 played games, sang songs, listened to lessons about health, hygiene, and social development, and participated in soccer drills. Many of the children played with ill-fitting shoes or went barefoot. One little girl, not much older than 5 or 6, actually participated in games and drills with her infant brother wrapped to her back. Although balls and other equipment were scarce and some coaches had to look after over a hundred players, there were no complaints. All the children were well behaved and smiles and laughter were in abundance.
All the programs currently take place after school in play spaces and fields provided by local primary schools. Speaking with the head mistresses of these schools gave me even further insight into how powerfully PLAY SOCCER has affected these communities. Absenteeism has decreased and school attendance has steadily risen at each location since the programs’ introductions at each site. Student behavior has also improved. The theft and vandalism that previously took place on school grounds appears to be a thing of the past. The older teenagers and young men that used to intimidate the children and takeover their fields have left. PLAY SOCCER has created a safe haven for local kids, providing a healthy after-school outlet that encourages physical, mental, and social well-being and development. And every session additional children overcome their shyness and approach the coaches to find out how they can register and take part in the fun.
But this success also brings new challenges. Popularity and new registrants outpace resources and the young volunteers often find themselves in need of fresh ideas and coaching methods. Now that I have seen the on the ground reality of PLAY SOCCER’s wonderful work in Blantyre, I am even more excited to help the program reach further toward its full potential. My colleagues and I from Coaches across Continents have already learned so much from our Malawian partners and we are extremely eager to impart our knowledge, expertise, and analysis in ways that will help spread PLAY SOCCER’S mission throughout Malawi, empowering local coaches and players through a shared love of sport and learning, and in the process developing a new generation of leaders ready and able to change their communities for the better.
David A. Williams