Youth, Soccer, and Skills: Beyond the World Cup

By Katherine Perry

The 2014 World Cup came to a close this weekend, having inspired feelings of anticipation, excitement, and pride among more than 3 billion global viewers.  This was a youthful Cup, with an average player age of 26.8 years, and Ghana with the youngest team of all, with an average team player age of 24.9 years.  Among the most ardent of local and international fans were undoubtedly global youth; FIFA estimates over 13,000,000 youth participated in the world’s top ten largest soccer federations alone by 2007.

With its impressive global reach, soccer is increasingly recognized as a unique and flexible tool for promoting development, and particularly, youth-specific development.  Recognizing the importance of the sport for peace and development (SPD) approach, global cross-sectoral programs are incorporating skills-based curriculum in soccer programs to foster healthy life choices, life skills development, and sustainable lifelong success among youthful participants.

Maracanã Stadium

Brazil’s iconic Maracanã Stadium

Programs such as Grassroots Soccer, the British Council’s Premier Skills program, and Partners of the Americas’ A Ganar, for example, have found success using soccer as a teaching vehicle.  Through its “Skillz” curriculum, Grassroots focuses on increasing HIV/AIDS knowledge, awareness, decision-making, and risk aversion.  Grassroots has also worked in conjunction with other organizations such as Barclays and USAID to provide youth in Africa with financial literacy, employment, and life skills to promote better education and employment outcomes. The Premier Skills program, which has trained over 2,000 local coaches and referees, reached 500,000 young people runs in partnership with the Premiere League, and combines curriculum and soccer to promote English language skills, civic engagement, community service, and better educational outcomes among vulnerable youth. Similarly, A Ganar utilizes soccer to promote skill and workforce development among 16-24 year olds in Latin America.

Despite these successes, there are still significant constraints to the maximization of SPD program outcomes.  In particular, there is little data measurement and evaluation linking SPD programs with specific educational and economic outcomes; greater information is needed on the short and long-term results of the implementation of soccer programs on socioeconomic development. More uniform and complete data on the benefits of soccer-based programs is needed to increase local knowledge about SPD, multi-stakeholder support for such programs, and to reveal context-specific trends and outcomes associated with soccer and development.

While the data linking soccer to development is short of decisive, it is certain that soccer provides a global draw that is nearly unmatched.  At a youth soccer event in Cape Town in 2011, South Africa, First Lady Michelle Obama told a youthful audience, “the solution lies with all of you… soccer is the hook.” As the World Cup comes to an end, we should consider soccer’s “hook” in promoting youth-specific development outcomes.  Beyond the excitement of watching stars such as Messi, Neymar, or Ronaldo in the World Cup, there is growing recognition for the importance of sports in “bottom-up” development initiatives. As we look toward the post-2015 agenda we should recognize the power of sport as a tool to encourage more inclusive and equitable socioeconomic growth.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Katherine Perry is a researcher with the Project on Prosperity and Development.

One thought on “Youth, Soccer, and Skills: Beyond the World Cup

  1. The Inter-American Foundation (IAF) has seen a transformational effect of teaching sportsmanship among at-risk youth. In Colombia, 600 young footballers trained by IAF grantee Corporación Taller de Promoción Popular y Desarrollo Alternativo (Prodesal) have been playing a different kind of soccer, dubbed Golombiao, kicked off in 2003 as an initiative of the Office of the President of Colombia geared toward nonviolence, inclusion and fair play. Teams are comprised of four girls and four boys; men and women alternate in scoring goals. There are no referees; the players make the calls, arbitrating disagreements with the help of a “facilitator.” Who wins might depend on the final score but probably not as the players themselves decide how each team measured up to the principles set by Golombiao. They also decide when an individual player deserves recognition for outstanding participation. Family members are encouraged to cheer their sons, daughters, brothers and sisters on and join in other fun after the matches or, sometimes, in workshops addressing problems in their communities. See Prodesal’s video about Golombiao:

    Golombiao is just one of Prodesal’s activities. Prodesal is using its IAF grant to teach 1,000 young Colombians from the municipalities Canalete, Puerto Escondido and Los Córdobas, department of Córdoba, to engage with their local government. Workshops and mock policy debates prepare them to voice their concerns to the authorities. Prodesal also trains young people in business skills and provides seed capital for their microenterprises.

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