Changing Lives With Football

A group of public officers are working with community and corporate partners to change the lives of underprivileged and at-risk youths through football.
Changing Lives With Football
The boys enjoy pitting their skills against each other on the pitch.

It is 7pm on a rainy Saturday. The shouts of nearly 50 teenage boys counting to the same beat rumble through the ITE College Central at Ang Mo Kio. As a coach fires off instructions, the boys – decked in football jerseys and boots – repeat their warm-up drills with zeal. Even the rain cannot dampen their enthusiasm when they hit the football pitch for a night of fun.

These boys are taking part in Saturday Night Lights (SNL), a social programme that reaches out to troubled youths through football. It is run by the SportCares Foundation and Movement, the philanthropic arm of the Singapore Sports Council (SSC), with the support of community and corporate partners. First started in March 2013 at Jurong Stadium, SNL has since grown to three locations; this particular session at ITE is a collaboration between SNL and the Changi Airport Group (CAG).

Studies show that bored youths are most likely to commit crime between 7pm and 10pm so SNL tries to keep them out of mischief by offering them the opportunity to learn football during this time every Saturday. While the sessions are fun, SNL’s ultimate aim is to impart values – such as discipline, integrity and respect for authority – that will benefit the boys, from age 12 to 20, for life.

Though SNL is free for the boys, no effort was spared to get the best for them. They receive training from professional local coaches such as former national players Mr Yakob Hashim and Mr S. Subramani, and Spanish coaches from the Realmadrid Foundation Technical Academy Singapore. The boys also get rigorous strength and conditioning training from Mr Mohamad Sofiyan bin Abdul Hamid of Balestier Khalsa Football Club, as well as a nutritious meal after each session.

Role models such as new LionsXII team captain Isa Halim and S-League players Monsef Zerka and Anthony Aymard from Tanjong Pagar United are also brought in to talk to the boys about the importance of good values and character in everything they do. For its innovative way of touching the lives of youths, SNL’s Jurong edition won the Bronze Award for Most Innovative Project/Policy at the 2013 PS21 ExCEL Convention. “But this is no overnight success story. It takes time to develop the kids and we cannot do it without community partners, such as schools or grassroots groups,” said Ms Laura Reid, Assistant Director of SportCares.

Changing Lives With Football
Mr Hashim (in black jacket) gives the boys a prep talk.

Teething issues
Initially, a major issue that SportCares officers faced was finding a suitable venue for training sessions. Booking venues on weekends was tough because of competing demands and operators were concerned that the blinding floodlights would attract complaints from nearby residents.

Eventually, they were able to start at Jurong Stadium, which is closed to the public and is some distance from housing estates. Then ITE College Central came on board as a venue partner. A third SNL is now run at St Wilfrid Field in Yishun with teams from the Delta League – another football outreach programme by the Singapore Police Force and the National Crime Prevention Council.

It was also tricky getting enough volunteers who were willing to spend their Saturday nights with the youths. Thankfully, the public officers had help from coaches and a small number of volunteers from grassroots groups, SSC and Citibank to start with. As word about the programme spread, more volunteers contacted SportCares through email and Facebook to offer their help.

This is no overnight success story. It takes time to develop the kids and we cannot do it without community partners, such as schools or grassroots groups.
Changing Lives With Football
Ms Reid, fellow officer Jeremy Joseph (far right) and a SportCares student intern (second from right) work with coaches to influence the youths for good.

The drive to improve lives
SportCares works with various organisations to invite underprivileged or at-risk youths to join the SNL programme. One example is NorthLight School, whose programme is supported by CAG as part of its corporate social responsibility commitment with the school.

NorthLight takes in students who did not pass their Primary School Leaving Examination. Mr Lawrence Yeo, the school’s Head of Department (HOD) for Character and Citizenship Education (CCE), accompanies some 30 students for nearly every training session. His colleagues Mr Irwan Haerman bin Tomin, HOD for Physical Education and Co-Curricula Activities, and Mr Vishaal Bhardwaj, the Subject Head of CCE, also take time out on Saturdays to watch their students practise.

“Initially… we were worried about discipline issues – how they would behave on the field… [and if ] they would get into fights,” said Mr Yeo. He also wondered if the boys would commit to the 40-week training programme as they already struggled with attendance at school.

But the teachers were pleasantly surprised. Many of the boys would arrive three to four hours before the scheduled practice sessions. “Once you give them a ball, they are on their own and they are so disciplined,” said Mr Yeo, who has observed a boost in their self-esteem. “The boys may not be academically inclined, but we believe they can excel in sports.”

The light ahead
The SportCares team, which has grown from two to six, has ambitious plans such as setting up another edition of SNL, with the Singapore Sports School. It is also in the final stages of rolling out a watersports programme and is developing a tennis programme for girls.

All of these would require more volunteers willing to share their time and skills. More corporate supporters ready to provide resources are also needed.

To this end, the team is working with SSC’s Volunteer Management Framework to attract and train new volunteers. SportCares also has its Young Mentors Programme that trains university, polytechnic and secondary school youths to guide primary school boys and girls.

For Ms Reid, finding volunteers who believe in the same cause is not only crucial, but also makes running the programme “simpler”. “SNL works because no one’s here for their personal KPIs [Key Performance Indicators],” she said. “We have shared values… we believe in the power of sports to help kids change.”

    Mar 7, 2014
    Chen Jingting
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