As I made my way to OlymApfrica centre on a cloudy Saturday to watch the under 13s and 15s All Out Africa Football League finals, I was concerned that we would have to cut the games short due to rain. I realized when I arrived at the field that rain, sleet, snow, or tornado will not stop these boys from against playing each other. The tension was palpable! I could almost hear the inner need to win. Now, this was a final! Both under 13s and under 15s finalists were from the same club and today the winner takes it all.
I watch football to be social, in fact, I am in a ladies social team (goalkeeper) and have played several games but I still don’t have a clear understanding of the game. I am a former athlete, basketball player, and I can relate to what these boys were going through as they warmed up for the last game, the most important game of the year. The excitement, heart racing, a little prayer that you make as much contribution as your ability allows to win that cup… tension… I see all this in these faces in front of me. The whistle blows and the under 15s game is on the way.
I sat on the sidelines with some regional football dignitaries discussing development football, and All Out Africa’s under 10s tournament which is unheard of in southern Africa and at some point the conversation turned to me jumping out of my chair celebrating an amazing goal attempt followed by a spectacular save. From that point any conversation was out of the question, goal for goal attempts followed, plays and setups, keeper saves, headers, dribbling, speed… the list goes on. The crowd is cheering and it takes me a few seconds to realize that it is not about who wins but about the talent on show. The dignitaries at this stage are past the formal more dignified ‘ooohs and aaaahs’.. it is full blown screams and clutching of faces. After the many attempts at scoring, it was a thrilling goalless game and seared into my brain are the amazing saves that I can only wish I could do. Goal difference hands the cup to Gunners under 15 squad! The cheers are almost deafening and both teams leave the field proud and happy.
The under 13s game … two words… sensory overdrive! My initial thought was “aaah.. how sweet..”. These ‘sweet boys’ displayed a mature, skillful knowledge of football that rivaled the older boys. Day made.
As an adult, I enjoy sports for fitness and as a way to keep gravity at bay for a little while longer, but while I watched these children play I remembered the values I learned growing up in sport. These amazing athletes, future national team players, learn self-control, confidence, teamwork, strategy, fair play, hard work pays off… the list goes on… all of which are life skills that they will need to navigate adulthood. These values help them endure the hardships they are going through in their poverty-stricken lives.
Written by Michelle Green, Director of Volunteer & Student Travel