Turning ISF Coaches into Champions, Locally and Globally

While there has been no official lockdown in Cambodia of the kind many countries have faced, the Government has closed schools and forbade organised sports as precautionary measures. Extreme restrictions have also been placed on international travel. It seems to be working, since Cambodia has reportedly had no new cases of the virus in three weeks. Though a new outbreak is possible at any moment so we remain vigilant and focused on the safety of the children we support and the wider community.

Our Football Programme cannot proceed as normal under these conditions. It reaches across the whole country in a time when the Government is advising against non-essential travel, and football is of course a contact sport. That’s why we had to get creative to make sure we could still benefit all the children we have been funded to help.

Our first step was creating community champions. We were an early responder to the COVID-19 crisis, first alerting our staff to the dangers before a case had even been found in the country. We ensured all staff were educated on the virus and moved rapidly to give many of them a chance to work at home. Many of our football staff live in the same disadvantaged areas of Phnom Penh that our students do, so they became community champions. They shared information on the virus to all the children and families in their local areas. The results have been exceptional – no students in our catchment areas have been diagnosed with the virus.

Our second step was to make sure we were encouraging health and fitness among as many young people as we could. Exercise is one of the best ways of reversing the effects of living in poor housing and hygiene, so we informally encouraged children to exercise at home. We launched a video series of our coaches showing off exercises which we used in our Workout at Home for a Cause fundraiser but also instructions for Cambodian children across the land. We also created the world’s first game of Social Distance Football, which you can read all about here.

"It is always good to think about how differently some people may experience the world and may experience sports. It helps us become better at making sport accessible to all Cambodians."

ISF Head Coach Makara
ISF Lead Coach Makara teaches blind football lessons
ISF Lead Coach Makara teaches blind football lessons

Our third step was to stay active in international footballing networks. Coaches Across Continents (CAC) provided a curriculum for COVID-19 related sports activities which all of our coaches are now studying closely. We also took part in Soccer Without Borders’ Keep The Ball Moving initiative. Our coach, Samet, was featured in a global challenge where footballers performed tricks and then passed them on to the next player. Samet joined players from every continent, from countries such as Costa Rica, Sri Lanka, Spain, Uganda and the USA, cheekily bumping the ball off his behind to a professional player from Germany. The goal of the campaign is to remind young people around the world who feel like football gives them a sense of belonging that football still unites us, and we will one day all play again.

Our fourth step was simply to make sure that we used any free time the coaches had to train them to be even better coaches for the future. Not only have they been learning from CAC, but we recently held a training event. In it, our lead coach Makara passed on the lessons he had learnt in how to coach and referee blind football. He had been trained by Paralympics Cambodia and the International Blind Sports Association. As Makara explained, “We will be working with more blind footballers in the future so the lessons here are very valuable. It is always good to think about how differently some people may experience the world and may experience sports. It helps us become better at making sport accessible to all Cambodians. I’m very happy to lead training like this.”

If you want to support our coaches to keep reaching kids in creative ways in a time when they are especially vulnerable, your donation makes a bigger difference than ever before.