February 8, 2013
She is 6 years old, playing soccer with other local youngsters. They are in New Orleans; soccer is new to them here. The ball is at an opponent’s feet as she goes in for the challenge. The referee, her coach, watches as she fouls.
The game stops as it always would, but much more than a free kick is about to be given.
The coach brings the players together to talk about what happened, he uses it as an opportunity to teach these young minds about the nature of conflict and how to resolve the problem at hand.
From the simplest of bad tackles, a lesson in how to live a good life has suddenly been learned.
Eric Kugler, 31, leads a football project in New Orleans called YLC Kicks supported by the new partnership between Laureus USA and Coach Across America. He established it after travelling the world and learning about football’s ability to bring young people together. Whether it was in South Africa or Cambodia, he saw this happening again and again. He calls the sport “a universal language”.
His goal was to provide a safe environment for kids to learn about soccer, develop friendships with others as he’d seen happening elsewhere and to learn the valuable lessons soccer can teach.
The lesson his young trainee learned that day is one of the things YLC Kicks are promoting, and they are doing it in very specific ways. Along with his two coaches, Levi Martinez and Tricia Travis, they are teaching the benefits of healthy eating, staying away from drugs and respect for others to encourage lifelong good habits from an early age.
Eric is battling with the fact that soccer is not a sport traditionally played in New Orleans and a measure of success for him has always been young people he has coached still playing the game as they develop and move on from the project.
He has already seen this happening. One young person Eric first coached some years ago is now even being lined up as a junior coach himself.
Eric said: “Young people think they can make a lot of money selling drugs, but if they can see the benefit of coaching for $20 an hour, doing something that’s safe, that’s a real success.”
It all, however, comes back to communities and family when it comes to his project’s goals.
“I love the idea that you can give four or five kids a soccer ball and at the end of the day they go back and play with their little brothers and sisters, showing them how to pass or a new trick. I suppose that’s the reason for this.”
But what about that young 6 year-old 1st grader who made the poor tackle? “Soccer promotes self control,” Kugler told Laureus, “something she was short on when she started. Now, in addition to better ball control, she’s no longer striking out at other players. She’s more stable emotionally and participates everyday.”