When we had signed our four teams up for Just For Kicks (JFK) this year, our only objective was for the kids to have fun playing. As we were a first-year team, we didn’t set very high expectations of winning football games at the JFK League which was a part of the program. We focused solely on ensuring our teams had an enjoyable time at the tournament while providing them with the exposure of playing with children from other schools.
It was an exciting surprise when we realised our teams – St. Joseph’s Chilli Peppers – had great potential and were doing a fantastic job. Our U12 boys and U10 girls’ teams actually went on to win the Regional Finals in Bengaluru . Our U12 boys went on to be the Runners Up in the National Finals!
But advancing in the tournament – beyond what we thought possible, by winning the Regional Finals and going to Mumbai to play the Nationals – wasn’t what taught us the most this year. Looking back, it has been the collective effort and investment made by everyone – the parents, the teachers, JFK and the kids themselves – that went into what it took to take us there.
What has been most heartwarming to see during our journey with JFK and football this year was how ready and eager everyone was to help. When I started posting on social media about our teams, I had countless messages pour in from friends and family around the world, who wanted to send us sportswear and shoes for the teams. Which they did. I also had friends of friends ask me if they could volunteer during coaching sessions or help in any way.
Our HM went from supportive and mildly interested in how our teams were faring to becoming so deeply invested that she began to call me after each game to ask me about the results. She also started giving the children eggs each morning and a special lunch in the afternoon that consisted of chicken curry, to take care of their nutritional needs that are not always looked after at home. She made sure to hold meetings with parents to let them know how their children were playing and to tell them about the importance of nutrition and healthy habits.
In the beginning, there were a few of our parents who didn’t know why their children were coming to school early in the morning twice a week. But by the end of the year, our parent meetings boasted a healthy attendance with parents speaking to us about the effect that football had on their children and how proud they were.
What has also changed in the last year has been the attitudes and behaviour of our kids. I saw the most restless and aggressive children in my class show more concentration and camaraderie on the field than I had ever seen before from them. I watched as kids went from giving excuses for not being able to come for practice – like their parents not having time to drop them off in the morning – to coming to practice independently and enthusiastically, even earlier than I asked them to, by walking, taking a bus or a bicycle.
I definitely saw a decrease in the number of fights and arguments they had on and off the field and saw them learn how to instead try to understand a problem and try to do something about it together without hurting anyone. Attendance shot up because even children who were not regular to school before came fervently to play in the morning and became more excited about coming to school.
In the beginning, without a coach present at all times, the children would get into fights over the ball, but by mid-year, even without a coach, they would get into a circle and take turns demonstrating exercises in the middle for the rest of the team to follow. And I could see a physical change in them too – I literally saw kids during one week’s practice being able to juggle a football only three times and then seeing them a week or two later casually doing it ten times. Kids who held a plank position for half a minute at the beginning of the year can now stay planking for a solid five or six minutes.
My main learning this year was not what I had initially thought it would be. I had expected to simply provide the kids with a learning experience that they could look back at fondly. I had expected them to just enjoy playing football and be able to play with other teams. Now when I think about it, the whole point of JFK in our school was not even really about playing football or how good the children got at football.
Football was a medium for us to much bigger things like strengthening parent investment, school and teacher relations, and of course change and revitalize student attitudes and mindsets.