Adolescents in developing countries are being left behind when it comes to health.
We know how to reach them.
Grassroot Soccer is an adolescent health organization that leverages the power of soccer to educate, inspire, and mobilize youth in developing countries to overcome their greatest health challenges, live healthier, more productive lives, and be agents for change in their communities.
Adolescents are being left behind in the fight against disease and other critical health challenges. Unlike childhood mortality which has improved 80% in the past 50 years, adolescent mortality hasn’t budged. Preventable diseases like HIV, and complications from pregnancies continue to be the leading causes of death among adolescents. There is a tremendous opportunity to improve the world’s health by promoting healthy practices during adolescence, and taking steps to better protect young people from health risks.
United Nations Population Fund Strategy on Adolescents and Youth
Today’s adolescents and youth are 1.8 billion strong and form a quarter of the world’s population. They are shaping social and economic development, challenging social norms and values, and building the foundation of the world’s future.
Sarah-Jayne Blakemore, Cognitive Neuroscientist
So what's sometimes seen as the problem with adolescents — heightened risk-taking, poor impulse control, self-consciousness — shouldn't be stigmatized. It actually reflects changes in the brain that provide an excellent opportunity for education and social development.
Adolescence is a simultaneously exciting and tricky time, and the adolescent brain, particularly the frontal cortex, is still developing; this means adolescents are more likely to engage in risky behaviors and less likely to consider the consequences. At Grassroot Soccer we reach adolescents during this critical time through a combination of adolescent-friendly and proven curricula, the universal appeal of soccer, and local mentors and role models.
Many young people lack a basic understanding of the facts around issues such as HIV / AIDS and sexual and reproductive health. For example less than 30% of youth in developing countries have basic knowledge around HIV / AIDS.
The Grassroot Soccer SKILLZ curricula have been developed based on years of evaluation, research, and external evidence. Our curricula use soccer-based activities and lively discussions to engage learners, and they have been adapted to be culturally appropriate in different locations.
Grassroot Soccer graduates demonstrate significant improvements in knowledge of risky behaviors and awareness of local resources for support.
For those youth growing up in challenging circumstances where poverty, violence, and unemployment are ubiquitous, it can be difficult to envision a better future. Role models and mentors are important for inspiring hope and showing a young person what is possible.
Grassroot Soccer trains young community leaders, including local professional soccer players and youth leaders, to be health educators and Caring Coaches. Our Coaches connect personally with participants and become trusted mentors.
100% of Grassroot Soccer participants have access to a trained, supportive, accessible role model.
While adolescence is a universal experience, the quality and availability of adolescent-friendly health services is not. Structural and societal barriers prevent adolescents from accessing quality health services and negotiating for their own well-being.
Grassroot Soccer provides referrals to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health services and social support for participants who access these services. We organize voluntary counseling and testing soccer tournaments that provide opportunities to get tested for HIV and/or malaria in a safe, inclusive environment. In addition we provide young people with the life skills they need to become agents of change in their communities, so they can break down harmful social norms that negatively impact their health.
Our graduates are much more likely to know their status, much more likely to talk to friends and family about health issues, much more likely to stay on treatment, and more likely to access biomedical prevention. They are set up for a lifetime of accessing health services.
Soccer is the world’s most popular sport. According to a 2007 FIFA survey, 265 million people actively play soccer worldwide. It requires minimal equipment, which means it can be played virtually anytime, anywhere. Soccer is not only the most played sport in the world, it is also the most watched sport. For example, the 2014 Men’s FIFA World Cup attracted 3.2 billion viewers. Travel to almost anywhere in the world, and you will see people, often youth, kicking a ball. Revered Zambian soccer commentator Dennis Liwewe once said “Football is religion here.”
Soccer plays an integral part in communities around the world. By using a soccer-based structure and curriculum, our Caring Coaches build trust, engage youth in activity-based learning, and create safe spaces where young people feel comfortable asking questions, sharing opinions, and supporting their teammates. Importantly, soccer is fun, and our programs create an environment where learning is not a spectator sport. We use the power of soccer to build confidence and resilience in young people so that they can take control of their lives and health, on the field and off.