Onside Football & Peace Network
Onside Football & Peace Network
We aim to connect grassroots football clubs in Liberia to use the beautiful game for education, peace-building and to develop great leaders. While the teams are competitive on the pitch, we work together off it, using football to develop great people in our individual communities as well as great footballers.
Each club has its own code of conduct to guide the players on the field and off it. Our priorities are education, peace and youth leadership. Each club has teams for girls and boys aged 7 to 14, volunteer coaches and regular practices. The teams are embedded in their local communities.
Onside Football & Peace Network currently has four teams active in their respective communities in west and north-west Liberia - Millennium Stars FC, Lions FC, Junior FC and Chrstopolis Saints FC.
The teams meet four times a year for a football tournament. Behind the scenes, the organisers meet to discuss aims and targets in their communities, to share skills between network members and to raise issues or ask for help.
While each team was founded with strongly football-related goals (Millennium Stars more than 20 years ago!) we understood quickly that organised football activities can have a great influence on the players in their off-field activities.
The first thing we realised was that, without taking the appropriates steps, grassroots football often encouraged players to concentrate from a young age exclusively on their own individual success, and was centred on unrealistic expectations of football as a future career.
But we learned that we could focus on the value that football could have to bring them together, to focus on team spirit over benefits for the individual, and to encourage them to embrace formal education as opposed to football's supposedly easier path.
We saw this as the basis of our approach to peace-building. We wanted to encourage unity and to have the players appreciate the value of the opposition both in healthy competition on the field and in social interaction off it. We also saw the possibility of using football to educate teams about the inevitablity that they will face defeat at times, and how to cope with that and learn from it, as an essential part of the game and of life.
We also identified that girls were excluded from football, partly due to cultural reasons, but also because of the country's focus on kickball as the girls' game and football as the boys' game. When one of the members, Lions FC, decided to open itself to girls, they found they embraced the chance with great dynamism and verve, bringing a different tone to the previously all-male group, as well as developing their own skills and team spirit.
Many of the older male players in the individual clubs have moved beyond the age that Onside is aiming to focus on (7 to 14 for the boys, 10 to 16 for the girls) but we have enocuraged them to take on the responsibility of coaching or helping organise matches or practice sessions, as well as serving as role models for the younger ones.
All the teams are run by volunteers and support themselves and their activities at a local, grassroots level. However, connections with the UK have enabled them to receive second-hand football kit, including strips, boots and footballs, which have served as a great motivation.
The network expects each club to organise themselves formally, and set up and maintain basic standards, which the network outlines as the basic criteria for membership. These are:
- Having a coach
- Having regular practices
- Having a formal connection with the community through parents, elders, town chiefs, that recognises them as a bona fide organisation
- Having a code of conduct or some form of rules for team members, that stress education, peace and leadership.
Once a member, all teams need also to work towards the following criteria:
- More than one coach
- Regular scheduled practices and matches inside and outside the network
- Community ownership and financial contribution from the community
- Code of Conduct written down and explained to players and parents
- Girls team
- Board/committee – coaches, parents, community members
- Player registration documents
- Contact with schools to ensure the education aspect of the programme
- checking report cards and grades
- monitoring school performance
- tallying evidence from the players with schools and parents
- A community activity, such as clean-up campaign - even just simply picking up all plastic after matches, or a study class.
The appetite and enthusiasm for membership of the Onside Network is already high, so we are endeavouring to put a system in place where existing members will mentor other grassroots community teams towards achieving the basic four criteria above. Once they are satisfied the club is operating to these standards they can propose them to the Network for membership. Even without full membership, those teams will still be encouraged to play matches and connect in any appropriate way with member teams.
The network is embarking on internal discussion to develop strategies to gain more empirical evidence to back up the anecdotal evidence on which decisions have been made up to now with regard to our aims and processes. This evidence will be used if necessary to adjust current focus, but also to plan for the future. It will also provide valuable evidence for the S4D network generally. We think Onside is an example of embedded community development through football where costs are low and outputs and achievements are high. We aim to show that through this kind of data collection.