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Wednesday 13 November 2013

'This has taught me the power of sport'

Student Luke Tinker recalls three Premier League-funded months as football coach in South Africa

  • Luke is mobbed by schoolkids in Gansbaai

  • Luke helped earn the respect of the coaches by playing in their football team, 'The Guys'

  • Luke and a local boy share a joke at training

  • One of the boys said Luke had inspired him to look at life in a different way

  • Luke stands for a team photo ahead of one of the matches he helped organise

  • Luke hands one of the more longer-serving boys a pair of much-needed football boots

  • The training sessions Luke coached involved boys from as young as four up to the age of 20

  • Luke poses for another team photo with his proteges

Each year the Premier League gives out millions of pounds to help clubs, groups, institutions and individuals - in the 2012/13 season it was £45m - in the United Kingdom and abroad.

While much focus goes on the large projects, some of the smaller ones are having a big impact, too. One of these is the International Small Grants Fund (ISGF). This year Luke Tinker, a student at Sheffield Hallam University, spent the summer with the Football Foundation of South Africa coaching football to children from the townships of Gansbaai and Masakhane and helping educate them as part of an exchange programme funded by the ISGF.

It was an experience Tinker describes found rewarding and which has helped him recognise how providing sport to those who most need it can have a positive effect on social development and change.

Here is his story…

The chosen one

I was delighted to be chosen to make the trip to the Football Foundation of South Africa (FFSA) because there was lots of competition for the internship.

"I wanted to challenge myself, go out of my comfort zone and develop my personal and professional skills"
Luke Tinker

I wanted to challenge myself, go out of my comfort zone and develop my personal and professional skills and I was motivated to go and do the best job possible.

I have a Football Association qualification and have volunteered a lot of time coaching football at grassroots clubs including Sheffield Wednesday’s community projects, so it seemed my hard work had finally been rewarded with this opportunity to travel to the other side of the world to coach the sport I love.

I was the first football coach the Premier League has sponsored to support and develop the organisation and the first few days were ones of adjustment. I learnt a lot from observing while adapting to a new environment. Within the first few days problems of poverty, racism and the divide between the rich and the poor were clear to see.

Freedom Day

On my first day of coaching I was very excited to oversee a friendly match organised to celebrate "Freedom Day". There were many talented individuals who clearly enjoyed playing and the celebrations were a joy to watch, although it was sad to see such good players without proper equipment. Many had no boots and others only had one to wear.

"Many of the players had no boots and others only had one to wear"
Luke Tinker

My primary role was to coach two-hour classes of football to age groups which were combined due to the many children. Sessions included children from four or five, because their brothers had to look after them, up to 20. We split the groups into Under-11s, Under-15s and Under-19s with at least 20 players per group.

I also arranged matches for the teams with help from local coaches as there are no structured junior leagues, so the boys would train four times a week without a match in months. We organised three games and attended a five-a-side tournament to celebrate "Youth Day". We travelled to the matches with some boys. For some it was the first time they had been outside their township of Gansbaai.

Twice a week I would deliver after-school fun with multi-skills activities for under-10s in the township of Masakhane and I also travelled to another small town, Stanford, twice a week as part of the expanding after-school football sessions programme.

Dibanisa programme

I also supported the Dibanisa environmental education programme, assisted in delivering HIV and awareness lessons and played for the FFSA team who compete against other teams from the townships in the local men’s league. I thought this would be a way to gain more respect from the boys as player-coach.

"I was continually inspired by so many children coming to the sessions with smiles on their faces"
Luke Tinker

What I am most proud of and where I have left my greatest legacy was the mentoring and tutoring of the two full-time coaches. I first had to earn their respect and I was then able to deliver support, training and coach education specific to football, while giving them ICT lessons – something they had never had before.

I gained an enormous amount from my stay. Every day was different. I was continually inspired by so many children coming to the sessions with smiles on their faces. It was clear that playing football was the best part of their day and even when they were not at training I would see them outside their shacks on the street playing with some kind of ball.

My time with the FFSA made me believe anything is possible and there is always a way. I became more motivated every day as I saw how much they enjoyed my coaching. This gave me confidence to do everything possible to help where I could, doing more than my job role required of me.

Boots donation

I had the privilege of handing out 15 pairs of old boots donated to the organisation and I have never seen children look so happy. The selected recipients had been in the foundation for a long time, and were rewarded for their long-term commitment and attitude towards training, the coaches and team-mates.

"One boy said that everything I had told him had inspired him to look at life in a different way"
Luke Tinker

The biggest change I witnessed, though, was in the two full-time coaches, Mziyanda and Bulelani. They gained a great deal from the time I spent with them and appreciated the amount of time and effort I invested in them.

Saying goodbye to players and coaches was difficult but I received a  message from one boy who said that everything I had told him had inspired him to look at life in a different way.

As a result of my experience in South Africa, when I graduate I will be even more open to the idea of helping to provide sport to those who most need it and having a positive effect on social development and change.

I now have a real understanding of the power of sport and how much it can impact people’s lives and so will be happy in any job that uses sport to put smiles on faces.

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Key Points

  • Sheffield Hallam University student Luke Tinker spent three months in South Africa teaching football to underprivileged children
  • The trip was funded by the Premier League's International Small Grants Fund
  • The experience has convinced Luke to use sport to help people