Gonzo Around the World

25 Jan

by Marisa Brown

As one of the coaches with Gonzo Academy I had the opportunity to train and teach a group of energetic and committed girls who showed up every Monday or Tuesday ready to play and learn new skills. It was interesting for me to journey into a new neighborhood (Pilsen area) to work with girls whose parents are for the majority, Mexican Americans and whose first language is spanish. I enjoyed the time with the girls and the time also speaking with their mothers, fathers and siblings who would often accompany the girls to the trainings. It was so amazing to be a part of this new community and to see the support for the girls to continue playing soccer. A couple times I stayed afterwards to either play with or watch girls from our trainings playing in the league games and in these instances I had the opportunity to see the high level of support that the girls received from their community, particularly from their cheering and proud mothers and fathers. It was an inspiring atmosphere to be a part of and helped to prepare and encourage me for the programs I would be leading for girls like those in Gonzo but in different parts of the world.

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My former organization works with soccer organizations and schools in many countries in Africa, Asia and more recently South America, and through my position with the organization, I was able to travel to many countries and work with many coaches, teachers and even young soccer players. One of my first programs was with a group in Kenya and the young participants were both players and aspiring coaches. The organization worked in a region where families survived on agricultural production and where religion, both Islam and Christianity played an important role in the society.

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Many of the female coaches were 15 to 20 years old and were starting so young so that they could possibly avoid the obstacles that they would most likely face later in their lives, such as early marriage and dropping out of school. The organization purposely aimed at younger and younger girls to help to teach them skills such as developing their voices, teaching them their rights while alongside providing a safe space to socialize and play sports. During training it was encouraging for me to look out at the young and energetic faces while teaching a new game or coaching a new skill because I knew that they were absorbing the information and were eager to apply the learnings in their own spaces. It also reminded me of some of the older Gonzo girls who had started to help with the coaching and who could relate so well to the players because they listened well and understood where the girls were coming from, all of which are important skills for coaches.

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Another program that stood out for me and one of which also connected me back to Gonzo was one which took place in Chamwino, Tanzania. My colleagues and I had a great opportunity to spend a week with a local girls team. We taught the coaches in the morning and then often were accompanied by the coaches in the afternoon at the girls session. The girls had the biggest smiles stretching across their faces on the first day of training and it lasted until the end of the week program. The team had a fabulous male coach, Nico, however, many of the girls were excited to have three female coaches to teach them new skills and to share with them about the opportunities football can bring in one‘s life. The girls showed up to the fields wearing their school uniforms and never with actual soccer equipment. It didn’t matter one bit, as the girls played with so much determination and energy, that it was rare to ever see a girl fall and stay on the ground. It was amazing to look into their eyes and see that they were yearning for more skills and for more opportunities to play. When the coaches were present and even sometime bystanders at their trainings, it reminded me of the nights at Chitown with the community supporting the girls games and the mothers eyes glued to the pitch, hoping their girl would make the next pass, shot or tackle. It was an encouraging environment and reminded me that the sport has so much potential to help those involved and if the coaches are trained well on how to use the space, then many great learnings can take place.

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I have read recently on the Gonzo blog about the current activities and it is encouraging to see that the life skills section is really expanding. I see many of the same faces in the photos and I am certain that there has been a lot of joy, learning and development at the GONZO Academy.

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