Football as a social tool, focus of FIFA Foundation Puerto Rico visit

  • FIFA Foundation, through its Community Programme, visited the Golitos Foundation, which helps children with autism through football

  • Foundation also attended schools implementing the Football for Schools Programme

  • Puerto Rico the country where Football for Schools was first launched

Omar Alvarez had spent much of his life as a football instructor in Puerto Rico when his twins, Lorenzo and Dario, were diagnosed with autism. That day, with his children as inspiration, he began creating a methodology which, through football, could help them deal with this condition. His initiative eventually led to the creation of Golitos in 2011, a foundation whose goal is to tackle autism. It does this through an adapted sports programme, which aims to develop the physical, emotional and social skills of children and adolescents with autism, using football as its main tool.

The FIFA Foundation, which provides financial support to Golitos through its Community Programme, participated in one of the organisation’s sessions on Saturday 7 May. These sessions harness the power of football to counter the diminishment of social skills, restrictive and repetitive behaviours, cognitive delays, motor impairments as well as the social and communication difficulties that can affect those with autism. At the same time, Golitos seeks to maximise the skills and abilities of each participant by understanding the complexity of the diagnosis and the variability of its symptoms, while working with the potential of each individual. Through support networks, it also helps parents and family members to manage a variety of everyday situations arising from autism. Golitos, which has an arrangement with the Puerto Rican Football Federation, is a pioneering organisation in the country and has expert professionals who are Special Education Teachers with Certification in Autism. They work with football coaches, who instruct them in basic skills such as dribbling, ball control, shooting and playing as a team. It should be said that both the teachers and coaches at Golitos have participated in the training course run by the Football for Schools programme, especially since the former often have little or no football experience. This aligns with one of the main elements of Football for Schools, which is to develop inclusive football.

Football in Puerto Rican Schools

Football for Schools was launched as a pilot programme in Puerto Rico in mid-2019. Since then, it has reached more than 250 teachers and schools. Indeed, the teachers who participated in the initial training courses have now organised and carried out their own sessions using the programme’s app. It was in this context that the FIFA Foundation visited two schools on Monday 9 May. The first was the Jose Ramon Rodriguez Talent School in the municipality of Coamo, where football is seldom played. The instructors there specialise in baseball or basketball, two of the country’s most popular sports, but thanks to Football for Schools, they have discovered the beautiful game and can now teach students the basics. The session, which was called "Everyone can play", not only enabled participants to practice certain football skills, it also gave rise to discussions about gender equality both on and off the pitch.

Later, the delegation moved on to the Asuncion Lugo Primary School, located in the municipality of Yabucoa. And while it is an area where soccer is popular, it is also one of the poorest in Puerto Rico, and not all children there have the chance to play. The teachers who ran the session were all certified instructors under the Football for Schools programme who have adapted their knowledge and experience to the methodology of the programme. Under the title of "Taking Responsibility", it featured a practical part as well as a debate, during which the children talked about the responsibilities they have at home, at school or when playing football as a team. These same teachers, as an extracurricular activity, also give football classes to children who cannot afford the cost of attending an academy.