Friday, July 2, 2010

US Soccer Advocate, Drew Carey, Writes GRS into His Soccer Saga

For those who do not associate Drew Carey with US Soccer – your life is about change.

The facts: Mr. Carey is a minority owner of the Seattle Sounders, a member of the USA World Cup Bid Committee, and occasional USMNT sideline photographer. He is a driving force in launching soccer to the heights of baseball, football, and basketball in the USA. Most importantly, he is now exploring the power of soccer beyond the field – hence his visit to the Khayelitsha Football for Hope center on July 1st.

The saga begins like this… Drew leaves his home state of Ohio for the biz in LA. As a Cleveland Indians fanatic, the thought of even watching Dodgers churned his stomach like week old sushi. This propelled him to pick up a new sport in which he has no allegiances – soccer. In fairy-tale fashion, he and Soccer hit it off. The love affair solidified during one of his early interviews in LA with a local producer. Drew was nervous for the interview, but the two found common ground through the language of soccer. In that moment, Drew recognized the uniting power of the sport. He now finds himself passionately involved with US Soccer and co- owns the only MLS team with a marching band.

Now to Grassroot Soccer… Drew met GRS founder Tommy Clark at a US Soccer Foundation dinner, which may or may not have had something to do with Mr. Carey’s visit.

On Thursday Morning, Drew ventured out to Khayelitsha to check out GRS’s famed Skillz Holiday program. Drew quickly joined campers in their opening circle and impressed them with his traditional African “Drew Dance” which lies somewhere on the continuum between the funky chicken and Shakira (video coming soon). From there, he spent the entire day amongst campers, absorbing valuable life lessons from GRS activities.

The program included a role-playing activity known as the Red-Card campaign, which struck a chord with Mr. Carey’s passion for improv. In this activity, one child takes on the role of a “victim” and the other a “deviant” (make plural to add risk) and the players enact a situation that requires a “Red Card for HIV Risk.” The purpose of the activity is to provide participants with practice for when he or she finds herself in a risky situation.

The day culminated when Drew decided to “lose the shoes” (a catchy GRS phrase) on the pitch for a friendly 5 a side match. After the game ended in a draw, he ventured into the main classroom where all the campers had congregated. He stood in front of the crowd and presented camp awards to teams and individuals with his talk-show host spunk. Then, he graciously thanked the Staff and Coaches and presented each of them with FIFA endorsed jerseys and official World Cup match soccer balls.

As this recap reflects, GRS is extremely impressed with Mr. Carey and all he is doing for the sport.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Grassroot Coaches Share Their Experiences

The presence of a caring adult relationship is the number one determining factor for a child’s resilience. The Grassroot Soccer coaches strive to build these meaningful relationships with their campers in order to inspire them to make healthy choices and establish good habits early in their lives. In the following video, three coaches describe their drive to be Grassroot Soccer coaches; their personal connection to the HIV pandemic; and the impact that being a GRS coach has had on their own lives.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Skillz Star, Silumgile, Selected as Sony Flag-Bearer

At age 10, it might be hard for Silumgile to grasp the significance of being a flag-bearer in the first African World Cup. Silumgile is nervous because the whole world’s eyes will be on her, and she admits, “It is my first time being a flag-bearer.” Her mom, Nella, on the other hand, considers her daughter’s opportunity with the reverie of a miracle as she recalls the days growing up in Khayelitsha watching the local kids play “rag-ball.” When Silumgile walks onto the field she will see colorful fans and flashing lights; what her mom will see is a horizon of opportunities that her daughter's future promises.

The Sony ticket fund has provided 25 Skillz graduates, just like Silungile, with the privilege of carrying a nations flag at the 2010 World Cup. Skillz coaches select each flag-bearer based on their demonstrated leadership and courage during Skillz camps. These individuals embrace the values Skillz teaches by participating in critical discussions and encouraging teammates to follow suit.

One GRS program manager, Chris Barkley, believes that this opportunity will create a deeper connection between flag bearers and their communities, “Hopefully they will see themselves as role-models and grow into future leaders in the fight against HIV/AIDS.” Silumgile will certainly draw the admiration of her peers, so it is important that the others understand that positive behavior is what made this opportunity possible for her. If this aftereffect occurs, it is a critical step towards a generation of resilient youth in local African communities.

2,400 Graduates are Ready to ‘Make Their Move!’

Saturday at Leresche Primary School in Soweto, four groups of boys and girls stretched and jostled for position, desperately trying to get hold of the ball in play. They jumped up with hands stretched to the sky, repeatedly calling “Coach! Coach!” in hopes of receiving a pass. Finally, a young girl gains the attention of the coach and the ball bounces her way. She gathers it as the rest of circle falls quiet. Then, she stands up proudly and…she tells everyone why she thinks that 18 is the right age for a young person to start having sex. When she’s done, the hands fly up again as other kids eagerly try to share their opinion. The ball moves around the circle and more answers enter into the debate. “21 years old,” “24!”, “36”, they say as coaches and peers push each other to reason through their responses. The group does not settle on an official age through this lively discussion, but the themes of responsibility, choice and family clearly show the knowledge gained by the participants throughout the week.

These enthusiastic youth were participating in an activity called “Talk Show” on the last day of their GRS Skillz Holiday Program. In this case, the ball was a tennis ball and no real sport was involved. Rather than a chance to shoot on goal, the holder of this sought after object simply got the chance to answer a question about the right age to start having sex, to discuss the reasons why condom use is important, or speak about how they can protect themselves from HIV.

At World Cup Skillz Holiday programs across South Africa, close to 2,400 youth have already engaged in similar conversations on the last day of their GRS camps and an estimated 5,400 will graduate by mid-July. Although some soccer is played, discussion-based activities make up a large portion of the curriculum and dominate the schedule on graduation day. At one point in Soweto, the kids were so eager to share their new knowledge that they decided not to play soccer; instead they chose to spend more time in “Team Talk” where they huddled in small groups and simply shared about their lives.

The participants at each camp also celebrate their week with a graduation ceremony. Coaches presented smiling youth with certificates that symbolize their achievement and remind them to put their learning into action. Or in the GRS language, to “Make their Move!” The graduates fought off tears as they hugged their coaches and walked away from the camp.

A new set of Skillz Holiday Programs already began this week. In fact, there are probably hundreds of kids across South Africa right now sitting in a circle diving after tennis balls for a chance to show what they’ve learned.