TRAIN & DEVELOP
Playing professionally, I’ve been privileged to see what the game means to people. I’ve seen how it stirs our hearts. I’ve seen how it ignites a burning passion and overwhelming excitement within us whenever a goal is scored or whenever a game is won or lost. It’s exciting to see a creative play. It’s fun to see a defender make a clean tackle or witness a goalkeeper make a seemingly impossible save. Soccer moves us. As the years passed and I matured, I began to realize something else: soccer is not only “the beautiful game” that it is, but it’s also a powerful tool, a tool for training, teaching, and developing people, especially youth.
Living in a country like Guatemala where there is a mentality or attitude which tends to overlook youth development, I began to see the tremendous value that soccer has to shape lives and not just entertain the masses. For me, this realization was huge, since I have a strong desire to help my community, and it was in that moment that AFSC Verapaz or “Academia de Futbol de San Cristobal Verapaz” was born.
Despite San Cristobal being a small town surrounded by several small villages, its 50,000-some citizens all share a big love for “the beautiful game.” Soccer, when done right, destroys barriers. Whether we’re older or on the younger side, man or woman, tall or short, rich or poor, soccer is for everyone. AFSC Verapaz adopted that idea. Understanding the role that soccer has within the community, AFSC was created to accomplish a purpose: TRAIN and DEVELOP. We TRAIN young people in the sport while teaching and instilling core values and principles. Those core values include “we are disciplined,” “we work hard and always give it our best,” “we are good teammates,” “we lift each other up,” “we are mentally and emotionally tough,” and “we strive for progress.” These principles serve us not only while we play, but can also be applied to everyday life, making an impact far beyond the white lines of the field. This concept—training for soccer is training for life– is what we’re all about and this is what we’re trying to teach. As we are intentional and persistent with this model of training, we allow and encourage the player to practice “the beautiful game” so that he or she may DEVELOP as a person–this is our ultimate goal as an academy. We know that not everyone will go on to play pro soccer. Yet our hope and belief is that through soccer, young individuals will be transformed and grow into better people who in turn create a better environment and community for everyone around.
Despite being less than a year old, AFSC has already seen the fruits of our hard work in the field of training and development. Take 17-year-old Daniel, for example. The oldest of five siblings, he lost his mother who died in childbirth giving life to Daniel’s youngest sister. His father, struggling with alcoholism and unable to care for his children, decided to put them in a local children’s home, run by American missionaries. Daniel is determined, humble, coachable, passionate and dreams of playing professional soccer. He’s currently training and developing at AFSC.
We believe in incentivizing and empowering good coaches, as well. For several months we’ve been able to support coach Hector Soria. A fellow-citizen of San Cristobal, he’s been involved with soccer in the community for years. Despite being in his late fifties and struggling with a bad back, he continues to exemplify what it means to be a good leader. He continues to be committed to a higher calling. He does everything from coaching and managing several age groups for both boys and girls teams, to caring for the soccer field on sunny and rainy days, to officiating soccer games on the weekend when the referee doesn’t show! He is unbelievably important to the community. AFSC is active in incentivizing coach Soria with financial help, as well as paying for coaching courses he can take when the opportunity arises.
AFSC helps kids and people from many different backgrounds and environments (some very bad) who seek, through soccer, a small but precious escape from the pressures, worries and problems they may face in everyday life. Many of the kids are unable to afford a pair of cleats, or a proper training uniform, or even a decent soccer ball. We do our best to provide these simple things when we are able. However, those things take a back seat to a more important lesson which is “no matter what, we seek to create a healthy, positive environment for the player to enjoy, so he or she may TRAIN and DEVELOP.”
For AFSC, it’s much more than just soccer.
Over the past couple months, we’ve also been busy outside the soccer field, taking on different projects within the community. For example, just a short while ago we were able to organize a group of coaches and young players for a day of picking up trash on the streets of our town. We spent the day filling up huge garbage bags with all sorts of trash we found left on the streets. Items such as chip bags, wet diapers, candy wrappers, plastic cups and a whole raw onion were just some of the bizarre things that were collected by a very selfless group of volunteers willing to send, through action, the very important message that we care about our town. We care about keeping it clean and beautiful. We care enough to wake up early on a weekend, put on a pair of rubber boots and a t-shirt, and walk around our small town picking up trash. Simple. Powerful.
Just days after the trash pick-up initiative, we headed over to the local hospital to landscape, clean the playground, and plant a variety of colorful flowers and trees along the hospital road, much to the joy and gratitude of the hospital staff. Hearts were filled and weeds were pulled. It was a good day!