The Optimist Citizen

Coaches across Continents : Using Sports to change the lives of millions


Picture a small kid in a remote village in Northern Uganda who has a gun to his head and being ordered by a merciless group of lunatics to kill his parents with a machete or witness the murder of the whole community.  Now imagine the same kid, grown up and matured by the merciless circumstances life had posed in front of him, bringing back hundreds of children from the claws of war and death and teaching them to become responsible citizens for a peaceful future. The two scenarios might seem to be part of some sensationalized, fictional literature but believe me they are true to their core and are ironically the two shades of the same boy. But what led to such a paradoxical transition where at a point the boy who was forced to kill his parents is now changing the lives of hundred others like him for good. And surprising, the catalyst for this change is an exemplary organization Coaches Across Continents (CAC) which is creating social impact and changing the lives of a thousands of children in more than 30 countries, with a sport which is loved by billions around the globe: Football.

Students at the CAC center
Students at the CAC center

     The capabilities of football being a tool for development was recognized by Nick Gates, Founder of CAC when was studying at Harvard University. Soon after his graduation, he started an organization called Play Soccer which used Soccer/Football as a means to educate.  “In 2001 I realized that I can use the game for much more beyond just scoring some goals. It can be used to have an impact on the innumerable diverse communities around the world. So I got a backpack together and travelled to around 50 countries in the next 2 years. I interacted with communities, understood their issues and saw the real world” says Nick who found this travel revelatory and an eye-opener. After a short stint with professional football management Nick went to South Africa in 2006 and travelled the whole continent, right from Cape Town to Casablanca for a year. There the idea for Coaches across Continents first surfaced. “I thought there are organizations in many countries doing great work, only if we could provide them with better tools to have an impact on children using sports”, says Nick and thus their first partnership started in 2006 in Tanzania and they never looked back. They have partnered with around 74 organizations in 30 countries and directly impact around 300,000 children.

         To a common folk, sport as a tool might seem a superfluous idea but according to Nick, sport breaks up archaic barriers and helps setting up dialogue between communities and us. It builds a road for an effective partnership with the local community and helps the game address like HIV, Poverty; Caste based differences, health and sanitation, to teach mathematics, etc. Moreover the partnership proves fruitful when the tools are modified according to the needs and circumstances of the community and the aim of CAC is to eventually make the local partner develop their own tool such that the need for CAC eventually diminishes. “Our business model is to eventually go out of business”, gleefully proclaims Nick.

              The best part of the program is that 95% of the learning happens on the field with a social lesson, along with having fun. In recent years the role of women in the society has seemed in jeopardy across the globe but CAC has worked incessantly to eradicate the cause from hundreds of communities by creating safe places for girls to play where they can voice their opinions, holistically develop without social or culturalal barriers and use sports to change the lives of hundreds like them in their community. The work by CAC has been heavily applauded, with UNICEF recognizing them as the top 3 organization in the world to use sports for development and change. They have also partnered with various organisations  like Chevrolet and Clinton Global Initiative to implement their sports related CSR activities . From a kid in war ridden country to a kid who is rag picking in Cambodia for 10 cents, to a kid in India who used to sleep on the streets, Coaches Across Continents has touched and changed the lives of thousands using their unique approach of Sports based development and laid down a foundation for others to use this and change the lives of others around them. When asked about what inspires him the most, Nick humbly answers that “We just want children to treat everyone equal, question archaic traditions, religions and cultures and obtain a chance to laugh and be happy”.




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