From January 4th to 29th, 2021, 63 coaches from 10 different countries gathered twice a week to engage virtually in a multi-regional Sports Visitor program exchange. Due to travel restrictions around the COVID-19 pandemic, the program was virtual, which included a combination of synchronous and asynchronous activities over the four-week program. The program was built around the annual United Soccer Coaches Conference, which also was moved to a virtual format for the first time ever. This conference is one of the largest gatherings of soccer coaches in the world, bringing together individuals, organizations, and teams from all around the world to discuss a wide variety of topics related to soccer, youth development, coaching, and much more. The virtual Sports Visitor program included two live sessions per week on Monday and Friday, plus additional content provided to the group through a “weekly inspiration” that was uploaded each Thursday. During the conference, which ran from January 11th– 15th, the group attended one session per day as a group and any additional sessions of interest on their own time throughout the week. The program combined coaches from two sports tracks from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Dominica, Granada, Israel, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The program was available in five different languages, Burmese, Hebrew, Arabic, Spanish, and English. The confluence of coaches from such diverse countries created a wonderful program dynamic and exchange of ideas, knowledge, and information.
Bringing together such a large group of coaches, with a diverse set of interests and objectives, meant that we were able to build a program that touched on a variety of important topics. Over the four-week program, we hosted sessions on women’s empowerment, designing programs for women and girls, mental health, human rights, inclusivity, resilience, and mental skills techniques. Each 60-90 minute session was interactive, engaging, and allowed for consistent communication between the presenters and participants. The virtual setting allowed participants to connect directly with the workshops in the way that was most comfortable for them, whether it was through the workshop itself or via the additional platforms (WhatsApp and Canvas) that were available to the group.
During week one, the group engaged with Women Win for a wonderful session on designing programs for women and girls, where they explored the different ways that coaches and administrators can be intentional in how they design programs to the specific needs of the youth they work with to ensure we are always creating a safe space for our youth to participate. Week two of the program saw the group participate in the virtual United Soccer Coaches conference, where we joined thousands of other coaches and administrators from across the world for a week full of technical and tactical trainings, as well as workshops with prominent leaders in the soccer world. In addition to the once daily sessions that were chosen by FHI 360, the group was able to pick and choose sessions that most interested them throughout the week; creating an opportunity for the participants to guide their own program experience. Participants will have access to the resources, training videos, and network of coaches for the entirety of 2021.
During the third week of the program, the group met with two wonderful organizations; Train the Mind and the Human Rights Advocates. During the first Train the Mind session, the group worked through the organizations’ mental skills training for individuals. This training focused on giving the coaches the tools for how to incorporate mental skills and health techniques and tactics into their practices for individual players to use. The lead trainer and founder of Train the Mind, Graham Betchart, ran the group through the various tactics that he uses with professional athletes to prepare them mentally for whatever activity or sport they are engaging in. This training gave the group concrete ideas for things they can do within their own teams and personal lives to be more mentally tough, present in the moment, and be able to overcome the adversity that we face while playing any sport. The second session of the week was particularly unique in that it focused on how sports can play a role in engaging our communities in the various human rights challenges that one might face. It can be uncommon to think of coaches playing a role in discussing and tackling these challenges, but the reality is that they can play an important role and this session started to bring that to light through engaging the group in conversation around how they might be able to include positive human rights into their practices and team cultures. The group was able to start to discuss why intentionally thinking about human rights as they plan and implement practices and develop the culture within their teams and programs can lead to highly positive outcomes and impacts in the lives of the youth they work with and the communities they live in.
The final week of the program gave the group an opportunity to engage with Graham and Train the Mind once again, this time for a continuation of the conversation on mental skills trainings; this time with a focus on the “team”. Building on the tactics we learned in the first training, the group discussed ways that we can incorporate mental skills tecniques into our practices plans and team culture. Fond of saying “be where your feet are”, Graham ran the group through specific activities they can do with their teams and programs. The group overwhelmingly gave us positive feedback after each of the Train the Mind sessions and spoke highly of the energy and accessibility of each workshop.
FHI 360 also posted “Weekly Inspirations”, which were resources, videos, or documents that were intended to provide motivation to participants over the course of the program and provide valuable information that can be accessed and used as desired. Utilizing the Canvas platform, the weekly posts included conversations about “redefining what winning means”, designing programs for women and girls, the power of positivity, and Up2Us digital coaching resources. The group was able to engage with each other in conversations around these topics throughout the program.
A major highlight of the program was the consistent participation and attendance. The group was incredibly consistent in joining the various session, even though the program took place with time zones that were up to 12 hours ahead of the local time of the session. This virtual program showcased the power that sports can have to bring people together and learn from each other. The group discussed topics that can be difficult to discuss and this group was so open and supportive of each other.
One participant shared that, “Upon completion of the various sessions, I had a deeper appreciation for the importance of sports in my community. I now see sports as a very integral part of my community and it is my intention to raise this consciousness with other stakeholders in my community. It also gives me a great sense of satisfaction for the work that I am doing as a sports administrator for my football club in my community and the encouragement to continue to provide the avenue for youths and adults to get involved in football and other sports.”