Like music and art, sports is a universal language. A unique opportunity for sports to bring people together across continents will take place in the Twin Cities from March 22-March 30, when four Ugandan soccer (football) coaches will travel to Minneapolis to work with partners from the University of Minnesota and Macalester College to learn advanced coach training and collaborate on a new coaching curriculum to take back to children and youth soccer players in Uganda.
The week-long coaching program is part of an exchange program through the International Sport Connection (ISC), a partnership of University of Minnesota educators in Kinesiology and the Institute of Child Development, a former Gopher soccer player, the Macalester College Men's Soccer head coach, and the Federation of Uganda Football Association (FUFA). Funded by an International Sports Programming Initiative grant from the SportsUnited Division of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, the ISC will help Ugandan coaches prepare their young players for future responsibilities along with teaching soccer skills and promoting community development. The visiting Ugandan coaches will engage in a core training of coaching techniques and observation sessions held around the Twin Cities, led by Dr. Jens Omli, Institute of Child Development; Dr. Diane Wiese-Bjornstal and Dr. Stacy Ingraham, School of Kinesiology; Lisa Berg, former Gopher Soccer player; and Ian Barker, Men's Soccer head coach at Macalester College.
The coach-training program is modeled after a style of coaching that Dr. Omli, then a Kinesiology Ph.D. student, studied three years ago when he visited Uganda on an Eloise Jaeger Scholarship. He spent time with Ugandan soccer coach Stone Kyambadde and his Wolves Football Program in Kampala, Uganda, observing how Coach Stone mentored his players and taught them both life and soccer skills. Coach Stone has successfully used his methods with children from difficult backgrounds for the past 25 years. He sums up his philosophy this way: "Some of these boys will grow up and earn a living playing football, some will be painters, but all of them will be husbands. What kind of husbands will they be? That is what I am concerned with."
In May, the Minnesota educators will travel to Kampala, Uganda to collaborate with FUFA in educating 160 coaches in teaching, training, managing, and mentoring. These coaches will in turn pass along their new skills to at least seven coaches in their districts. The objective of the ISC program over the next two years is to train over 2,500 Ugandan soccer coaches, who will ultimately mentor over 50,000 young people in life skills while teaching them how to play and compete in soccer.
"We are using soccer to bring nations and communities together," Dr. Omli explained. "Why soccer? Because in East Africa, a soccer ball is a powerful magnate, which attracts children to a place where they can receive consistent contact with caring adult mentors. Why train coaches? Because as the leader of a soccer team, coaches have an opportunity to teach skills and strategies that will prepare children for future responsibilities that they will face, on and off of the field. And this is as true here in the Twin Cities as it is in Uganda."