Giving a thumbs up, Vinicius proudly struts off the football pitch. Wearing the national green and yellow kit and a broad smile on his face, the 13-year-old favela boy is happy. And fortunate. He knows it, too. “They’re great coaches, the best in the world,” he says, pointing at the men in blue who’re grouped together to assess the day’s session of WorldCoaches.
One of them is Alex Monken Arruda, a former professional footballer who won the Hungarian championship with Ferencvaros in 2001. After obtaining a university degree in physical education, he embarked on a professional coaching career. Arruda now works for the Rio 2016 Olympics project. His job: hunting down new talent. It’s brought him to Rocinha, the largest slum area in Rio de Janeiro, where he’s joined WorldCoaches, a course for local trainers offered by the Dutch Football Association.
“It’s an excellent programme, because we learn a lot about the philosophy behind Dutch soccer, which has produced such great names as Johan Cruyff and Marco Van Basten, and now Wesley Sneyder and Rafael van der Vaart.”
But WorldCoaches offers more than just soccer training. The basic five-day course combines technical skills with key social themes like health, personal development, pride and respect, says coordinator Michael van der Star.
“We call those themes ‘life skills’: skills that are needed to tackle social issues which football coaches here come up against when dealing with boys from the favelas. We deal with those issues in a playful manner. For HIV/AIDS for instance, we erect a human wall to defend a free-kick and then compare that with a condom that stops the danger.”
It’s precisely because of this double objective that the WorldCoaches course has been accepted in Brazil, the land of football, says Mr Van der Star. He adds that the Brazilian sports authorities have been very supportive.
“When the Dutch national team came to Rio to play a friendly against Brazil in early June, we tagged along and offered a course for 36 coaches. We teamed up with the city authorities, who launched several sports development projects in the lead-up to the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games.”
So what does the course offer the Brazilian trainers? Dutch WorldCoach Etienne Silee explains:
“We’re emphasizing the positive aspects of football, using them to educate children and make them stronger. We’re giving the coaches the tools to deal with all the additional problems they encounter while coaching. Those tools are about taking responsibility and showing respect for others, and for life in general, stressing the importance of having fun, of cooperating with each other - that’s how you become a stronger individual and a more responsible citizen.”
The starting point is enjoyment of the game, says Mr Silee; the more fun you have, the more likely youare to learn. But it has to be done in a structured and disciplined way.
“Football in Rio means passion, the sport is part of the culture here and there are plenty of role models. By providing structure and organization you can help kids enjoy the game even more. And that in turn will have a positive impact on the coaches too. It’s a self-perpetuating process.”
“We give the trainers a great deal of inspiration and pleasure too, by offering them a new approach,” Mr Silee adds. “They see that it works and feed this back to us. They say: ‘Brazil may be number one in the world of football, but we see that this programme from the Netherlands helps people improve.’”
13-year-old Vinicius agrees. He’s got a lot better at handling both the ball and his teammates. “I used to be quite a bully,” he confesses, “now I’ve learned to behave in a group and be more humble and less aggressive. I suppose I’m nicer now and football has become a lot more fun.”