- FIFA Technical Experts' Workshop has been taking place in Doha
- Around a hundred football-crazy children also involved
- "FIFA Forward programme will help"
The Grassroots Festival in Colombia had just come to an end when the mother of one of the kids taking part went up to the instructors and coaches. There was no little emotion in her voice as she told them about how much her son had enjoyed the course. He too had been moved by the occasion, describing it quite simply as the best day of his life.
FIFA Grassroots expert Stanley Gardiner’s eyes lit up as he told this very special story at the FIFA Technical Experts' Workshop in Doha. "This is precisely why I love my job," he said. "It opens up the possibility for me to really drive and change things, and that gives you a feeling of immense satisfaction."
The joy that Gardiner feels when working with youngsters came to the fore in Qatar, where around a hundred football-crazy children got to showcase their ball-skills at a Grassroots Festival, which was also an opportunity for eight FIFA experts to train local coaches in how to deal with kids, in the practical part of the workshop after the theory of the morning.
The focus was not just on having fun, but also on encouraging the values of respect and fair play. Football is a sport that is open to everyone, regardless of age, gender, religion and ethnic and social background, and can be played anywhere. It is a veritable school of life, and one that throws up something new every day for Gardiner. "The children make you strive to be a better person," he said, "because they look up to you as a role model."
Gardiner has been working as a FIFA grassroots expert for nine years now, teaching grassroots instructors who go on to train the grassroots coaches in the various national associations. The instructors and coaches are a source of inspiration for him. "Their experience helps me to design a balanced course that children from all around the world can benefit from," he explained.
A Grassroots Festival is four-to-six months in the making. It requires administrative work such as defining the location, booking accommodation and sending out equipment, as well as defining the programmes, which have to be tailored to the footballing level of the children who will be taking part.
For the national associations, financing is the biggest challenge. "Some countries have less in the way of resources than others, but I am convinced that the FIFA Forward programme will help to get the money to the places where it is needed most," said Gardiner.
He is certainly in his element in Doha, sprinting around the pitch, encouraging the kids and fetching balls for them, dribbling around cones, playing one-twos and making sure the ball finds the back of the net. And if the various moves fail to come off, no matter. Off he goes again, clapping his hands in encouragement, with a broad smile right across his face.
"The children give you so much back. They absolutely love playing and show you that you should never stop having fun – even when life takes a turn for the worse," he explained. "Many of those taking part in Grassroots Festivals have to deal with tough situations in their everyday lives, and football gives them the chance to leave that behind and set themselves new goals. Football has the power to improve these children’s lives."
After coming together for a final huddle and pledging allegiance to their team, the children run off the pitch to tell their parents all about what they had been up to. Gardiner meanwhile, in the company of his colleagues, watches them leave before summing up the experience. "It doesn’t matter if you are in Qatar or Colombia. On days like these you realise how important the courses are for the children. And that’s what we need to focus on – every time."