“It’s unbelievable, tomorrow we will play football with Puyol, Cafu and Raùl,” Lara Wagner told herself.
For decades the faces of these football legends’ were idolised by millions of supporters around the world, their talents on the sporting field became iconic and an encounter with them was only possible through a football game on a games console.
But that day, Lara, a 20-year old girl from Berlin, lived out her dreams by fighting for the ball with Barcelona and Spain football legend Carles Puyol, with no games console conrollers in sight.
Turning a hobby into a purpose
Sharing a football pitch with World Cup winners was something Lara didn’t dare to dream about. Neither did her mother, who was never thrilled about her daughter spending most of her time on the soccer field. However, she realised soon that Lara did more than simply “running after a ball”. Through the Laureus-supported football project “Kicking Girls” her daughter became a coach, a role model and an inspiration to the younger girls.
“I consider it a basic rule that the girls who take part in my training are considerate to one another, do not insult each other and stick together. They learn what it means to be part of a team,” said Lara. “Each hour that they are playing football is an hour less in which they would otherwise have to deal with the small and big problems of everyday life. When playing football, everybody is simply free.”
Social integration through football
Hannes Teetz, one of the project leaders from ‘Kicking Girls’, highlights how football is being used as a tool to socially educate and empower young girls with migration backgrounds.
“Kicking Girls works with socially disadvantaged children. These girls need the safe environment of a school, because they would otherwise never visit a sports club by themselves,” said Hannnes.
The project consists of four major modules: The training itself, competitions between different regional teams, summer camps and the possibility of coaching. The goal of the project is enjoyment and fun, and redefining what success means. At the end of each tournament, every girl leaves the pitch with a medal.
Building up confidence within a new culture.
The project also has the support of German football legend Jens Lehmann, who is involved in the programme in his role as a Laureus Ambassador. A patron of the Kicking Girls programme, Jens has spent a significant amount of time with the girls, inspiring them and offering his support to project leader.
Jens is proud of the developments of the girls in the project. He is convinced that Kicking Girls builds up a self-confidence, which the girls sometimes miss out on in school, due to language barriers.
“It’s fantastic to see children’s eyes when they are smiling and having fun when they’re playing football. When they get out of their normal environment, which sometimes is hard for them, they are building up confidence and self-esteem,” Lehmann said.
Lehmann believes the girls from the project will have a bright future, if they keep working hard and improving their life skills.
Reaching for the stars
Having been involved with the project for 10 years, Lara’s high point came during the Laureus Sport for Good Jam which took place ahead of the 2016 Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin. The event saw Laureus Academy Members and Ambassadors spend time interacting with youngsters from local projects.
Lara remembers her chance meeting with Raùl and Carles Puyol fondly. She recalls the fact that Raùl and Puyol were very grounded and down-to-earth, creating a ‘family gathering’ feel, rather than a formal event.
“There was no need for ice-breaker activities or introductions,” said Lara. “We immediately felt connected through the sport of football,” she said.
“Raùl and Puyol also participated in one of our exercises where you had to play football while holding each other’s hands. And that is exactly it – that is emblematic for what we are all about. No matter where you come from or what football club you are playing for – at Laureus, everybody belongs together.”
“It was great meeting the stars of my childhood and it was a truly special day for me that I will remember for a long, long time – already because of a picture of the scene where Puyol and I were ‘fighting’ for the football.”
When out on the field, the only thing that matters to Lara is the football, not the person kicking it.