Grassroot Soccer is actively addressing gender issues in our programming – for example, our Generation SKILLZ program for older teenagers engages adolescents around topics such as gender norms, while our award-winning SKILLZ Street program for girls continues to create a safe space for adolescent girls to play soccer, take action in their community, and have vital conversations about HIV and AIDS. After seeing the impact of these programs, we recognized the need for effective ways to create safe spaces for both boys and girls to talk about issues around sexuality and risky behavior. Therefore, this year we have been testing the feasibility of a boys-focused intervention, SKILLZ for Boys. This program was inspired by internal and external findings showing harmful gender norms in boys begin to form in early adolescence.
The program has been implemented to 80 grade 8 boys in East Bank High, Alexandra by 10 GRS Caring Coaches. A unique facet of the East Bank intervention is the inclusion of Football for Hope Centre (FFHC) facilities. As the school is a short two-minute walk, the boys use the FFHC grounds to play soccer every Monday, alternating with the girls who use the Centre on Wednesdays. While not using the pitch at the Centre, the boys participate in drills in the courtyard of East Bank.
The following interviews were conducted with two of Alexandra’s male GRS Caring Coaches who facilitate SKILLZ for Boys. These are their thoughts and sentiments toward this new, exciting, and rewarding program.
What is the SKILLZ for Boys programme?
The SKILLZ For Boys programme brings boys together to discuss certain issues that we are facing as a society, such as drug use, HIV, and teenage pregnancy. I think this programme is extremely important, as this programme targets those boys who do not have a lot of sexual education. By bringing us together, this programme allows us to discuss solutions of how we as young people are going to address these issues in Alexandra. We are taking initiative to make positive change.
How does the inclusion of fair play soccer affect your practice?
I believe that boys have different personalities, different powers, and others have different levels of self-esteem. Fair play is inclusive to those who have low levels of self-esteem or confidence, while still for fun for all. Fair play soccer is important for this programme because it attracts boys to participate and pitch. Guys typically don’t like to open up, participate, and listen to serious discussions, so the soccer acts as way to break this barrier. In Alexandra, especially, we don’t have facilities where kids can play freely, both in and out of school, that’s why having the Centre at our disposal is so important to both programmes and the community.
How is the coach-participant dynamic different in a same-sex programme?
For me, it depends. Boys believe that they have to impress a girl. They will say things they don’t believe in or stay silent for fear of embarrassment. With a boys-only programme I believe it is easier to build a trusting and safe relationship with the entire group easier than if there were also female participants. I do believe it is important to have mixed sex programmes like Generation SKILLZ, but in order for boys to feel comfortable with sexual education topics, they should participate in same sex programmes like SKILLZ for Boys [as well].
Do you, as a male, feel a sense of empowerment for you and your participants in the SKILLZ for Boys programme?
Yes! I have already noticed that the boys are so excited to participate in this programme. In only four practices our participants have become more free and energetic, as they feel comfortable; we’ve created a safe space. For me, I think they have come out of their shells. It is very important to see a teenage boy excited. Personal drive is what motivates boys to make important decisions, and by participating in a programme that teaches them positive messages about avoiding risky behaviours and living healthy lives, I hope this will make an impact. As guys we don’t talk very much, but this programme gives us an opportunity to speak what is on our minds. It is all about the planned power of knowledge, not violence.
What kind of potential does SKILLZ for Boys offer to its participants?
SKILLZ for Boys offers more one-on-one time between coaches and participants. The kids who come to our programme get to connect more personally with us, which builds a stronger relationship. We have more time to talk with our groups, and we as coaches, can have a better grasp of how all our participants feel and understand the topics we discuss. In class most guys don’t want to give answers, they hide behind the girls because they are either embarrassed or feel they don’t know enough to speak. By assessing how our participants feel we can see if there are any issues or questions we need to discuss further with the boys to better their understanding. The SKILLZ for Boys programme allows boys to speak up, increase their knowledge, and ask questions all in a safe space.
What do you, as a coach, take away from this programme?
I believe it is very important to be physically fit. I also have a strong belief that people should spend free time wisely on things like sports and other extra-curricular activities to keep your body and mind healthy. This is extremely important for the young boys of Alexandra, who are often found getting up to trouble after school. This programme shows me how important the influence of a role model is. I am a role model for my participants. Boys need positive role models to be able to be able to make good decisions. There are different kinds of role models – good and bad. SKILLZ for Boys shows me how important I am as a role model for these boys.
How does using the Alexandra Football For Hope Centre change the delivery of your programmes?
The Centre makes delivering this programme much easier than if it was just at a school. Playing soccer on the new pitch has attracted so many boys to participate. In our first practice we had 106 boys show! Even our fair play is much easier because we have new, safe facilities, so there are less people getting hurt. We know where everything is, what resources we have, and are showing the Centre to the boys of Alex. Participation has increased, boys who have never played soccer are now playing; many kids may have never had a chance to play in a facility like this before.
What is your favourite aspect about coaching SKILLZ for Boys?
Definitely participation. Almost everyone is talking in our group discussions. They feel good, I can see it when they play and talk. I feel they all understand. We are sparking more vital conversation. At the end of our practices, they aren’t ready to go home. They are still keen to play and talk, they ask to stay.
Post submitted by Brittany Neale, GRS intern 2013-2014