Street football getting kids on the right track

The photos of the Japanese players proudly hoisting the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup™ trophy aloft in the Frankfurt night sky were seen all around the world just a few short weeks ago. But football is about more than just victory and defeat, elation and disappointment – the beautiful game can also give people a different perspective on life. KICKFAIR – an organisation based in Stuttgart and operating throughout Germany – is currently proving this, using unique methods to help kids and youngsters gain self-confidence and an increased sense of responsibility by means of football.

The programme is helping boys and girls alike gain a greater sense of self-worth, and with the showcase of women's football being held in Germany last month, the excellent work that has been done already can now be expanded and developed. The money raised from selling the SONY screens that were used throughout the tournament – including in the press seats and the media centre in the various stadiums – were donated by FIFA to KICKFAIR, who have been working together with the governing body's Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) department for a number of years now.

"We are delighted to be able to support such an experienced and successful organisation as KICKFAIR via our Football for Hope Initiative," said Federico Addiechi, head of CSR at FIFA. "Their work over many years with young people is absolutely exemplary and has created a positive dynamic which stretches way beyond Germany thanks to cultural exchanges."

Developing as an individual and as part of a team** **"We are strengthening individual skills and promoting personal development," explains Steffi Biester, the 41-year-old KICKFAIR director and co-founder of the registered association, who has been working in conjunction with colleagues on long-term education, learning, training and teaching projects. All of them have street football as the starting point, and as a way of leading into such topics as integration, learning about rules and democratic behaviour, and commitment to the community for young people.

For more than ten years now, Biester and her colleagues have been launching a whole host of widely acclaimed projects for communities, schools, associations, educational institutions and businesses. "At the beginning we approached schools, youth establishments, associations and various projects and offered to work with them," says Biester. "Since then people have started coming to us. It's wonderful to see how boys and girls interact via street football and grow both as individuals and as part of a team. Football is quite simply a phenomenon – everyone loves it, it's as simple as that!"

We're not here to tell anyone what to do or where to go. We just want to make it possible for them to find their own way.

Practice over theory** **Games are always four against four with mixed teams, each side having to have at least one girl. Since there is no referee, methods of communication between the teams and also how to evaluate the match has to be decided in advance, so before kick-off, the teams meet in what is called the "dialogue zone" to set out the rules and the general way of playing. Youngsters from target groups known as "teamers" are also there to act as mediators. After the final whistle, there is an assessment of how well everyone kept to the rules, with fair-play points awarded collectively and taken into account along with goals scored when establishing the final score.

"What is important is that we don't just use theory to work out the concept behind the matches, we put it into practice and let the youngsters get used to it and then modify it," says Biester. "It makes it much more genuine for them. I love it when girls and boys come up to me and say 'I thought I was stupid, I didn't think I could do anything. Then I found out about a KICKFAIR project, and look at me now, I've become a student.'" What is particularly interesting is seeing how lots of the youngsters stick with the projects on a long-term basis and go on to become mentors.

Learning from their own experience** **It has long become the norm at street football events for teams to be made up of two boys and two girls. "That way, the boys think: 'the pressure isn't on us any more' and the girls feel that they are being treated as equals," says Biester. One of the most important things for the participants is to use their own experience and development as a catalyst, for example to realise that "being different is an advantage, not a threat".

Five permanent staff, six honorary members and around 150 volunteers are now working for KICKFAIR and helping youngsters adapt to the rigours of life via football. Biester is satisfied with the progress so far and is full of enthusiasm regarding the future. "These projects give stories a human face," she explains. "Every boy and every girl comes here with their own experience that they can they build on. We're not here to tell anyone what to do or where to go. We just want to make it possible for them to find their own way."