May 14th, 2012: Kicking and Screening interviews Coaches Across Continents Founder, Nick Gates before the Liverpool Film Festival:
Nick Gates grew up with a professional footballing father, who instilled a love of the game in his son. After stints on England’s Under-18 and -19 teams, the younger Gates attended Harvard University where he played for the team and graduated in 1991.He embarked on a career that combined soccer and education, eventually founding Coaches Across Continents in 2007.
The organization, chosen as Kicking + Screening’s 2012 Social Initiative, partners with already existing local groups around the world to develop sustainable education programs that teach through games on the field.
K+S spoke with Gates about CAC, how a life in soccer led to a life in helping, and his personal connection to his favorite football flick.
There are other non-profits that use soccer to teach children in places like Africa and South America. What about Coaches Across Continents makes it different?
I think there are a couple of things. I’ve been running programs for 23 years in the States. We’ve always done “football as education.” It hasn’t been about creating football players; it’s been about developing life skills around football. I think that previous experience was very important as we’ve taken it into the non-for-profit world in Africa, Asia, and around the world. Our program is a little bit different in that we do 99 percent of the teaching on the field. We’ve identified four different areas: football for conflict resolution; football for female empowerment; football for health and wellness including HIV; and a financial literacy component. We’re covering full lifeskills as opposed to identifying one or two issues.
Also, we work with local partners. We don’t run the programs by ourselves. Groups contact us from around the world, and then Coaches Across Continents establishes a partnership to create a locally owned and sustainable program that we can support.
How did you come up with the idea to help already existing programs?
In 2001, I traveled for two years to about 75 countries to look to see what we could do with the sport. I wanted to see what was going on on the ground. I found some fantastic local organizations that had great volunteers and had an area where they could work. What they didn’t have was the skills of teaching the children. We came up with the Hat Trick Initiative, which is a three-year program. We go in multiple times over a period of three years and build the program with the local groups. With our information and expertise, they can hopefully run a lot better. They can develop games to teach the children about their social problems. That’s where the sustainability comes in; we’re just adding another piece to help them be more successful.
You’ve been playing soccer and around the game for your entire life. When you were younger, did you see yourself using the sport to give back?
I still believe I’m going to be a professional footballer. I’m only 45 [laughs]. My dad was a professional player, so football was always in my blood. I played for the England under-18 and under-19 teams, so I thought even then I would play, but coming to America to go to university was a good opportunity. I traveled a lot after, and going to Africa the first time was an incredible way to see what the world was all about. I decided to find a way to find an idea that would combine my two passions, travel and football.
It’s like you created CAC backwards. Instead of seeing a problem and figuring out how to solve it, you took some things you wanted to do (soccer, travel, start a non profit), and went looking for an issue to fix. Is that a fair assessment?
Yeah, I think so. I spent a lot of time in the world trying to come up with an idea that was going to be more than just “the do-gooder.” We wanted to do more than spend a couple weeks doing something good that wasn’t sustainable. It took time to see what was out there and then to find a niche where people weren’t doing something, which was helping the local communities. We also came up with the concept that we weren’t going to force anyone to do what we told them. It is all based on choice. We’re working towards behavior change, but behavior change based on choices.
What does CAC hope to achieve in 2012 and beyond?
We just signed a deal with Standard Chartered Bank Liverpool, so that’s going to be a good partnership with us in Ghana. We’ve doubled the numbers this year. We’re going to be in about 45 communities in 15 or 16 countries. The demand is always going to far outweigh the supply. We don’t approach anybody. They approach us. That’s the first step toward the local sustainability: They have to prove their own skills.
Final question: What’s your favorite soccer movie?
Escape to Victory. Without a doubt. I was actually training at Ipswich Football Club when the Ipswich players were filming the movie. I can’t count the number of times I’ve used the Pele line, “Just give me the ball. I go like this, like this, like this, goal.”
Kicking and Screening Film Festival starts in Liverpool on May 17th-19th and at other sites including London, New York and Seattle later in the year. For more information go to: www.kickingandscreening.com