The official kick-off of the Shiraka Programme took place at City Club in Aswan last week in the presence of Dutch football legend Aron Winter as part of the World Coaches programme that aims at inspiring and coaching children in their athletic and social development.
The programme, an initiative by the Royal Dutch Football Association (KNVB), involves training football coaches in their own community so that they can act as local trainers with special focus on the inclusion of women and youth as well as role models in their social environment.
“The Shiraka programme is part of the World Coaches programme which is organised together with the Embassy of The Netherlands in Egypt as the main sponsor of the programme,” said Jesse Bessems, project coordinator of the KNVB World Coaches programme. In Arabic, shiraka means partnership.
The programme is in six countries in the Middle East and North Africa region, with Egypt being one of them, along with Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Lebanon and Jordan.
The programme was launched in 2009 as the international social programme of the KNVB. It will run in Egypt until March 2025.
Bessems noted that football is obviously the most popular sport in most countries in the world, and definitely in Egypt as well. “Everyone’s crazy about football, and that makes it very effective to get children to play, learn life skills and convey social messages through football,” he said.
Bessems pointed out that the World Coaches programme employs licensed KNVB instructors and organises courses with local people who are interested to become world coaches. There are various levels that participants can complete in the course, including introductory, basic and advanced levels. More than 15,000 World Coaches trained, with about 4,000 of these women, and more than 565,000 children reached, according to Bessems.
The methodology, he said, is that participants are trained to be good football coaches, while taking into account the specific demands that children have. “What we do is we use football as a tool as a vehicle for social impact,” Bessems explained.
Winter, a Dutch football professional and manager who played for Europe’s Ajax, Lazio and Inter Milan, expressed his keenness on giving back to the community and helping children to better develop.
“I always try to bring my expertise over to many places, and helping children to develop better is a great thing to do,” said Winter, who is also an ambassador of the World Coaches programme.
Sports is a very important tool in our society, especially football, and the power that football can bring is huge, through combining it with social and life skills, Winter pointed out, adding that he is currently in Egypt to support the participants of the World Coaches and Shiraka programmes.
“Each country has its own problems and opportunities, and it is very important that we deal with the challenges through collaboration,” Winter said, adding that many children need mentorship to find a safer environment where they can learn skills that help them develop in a better way.
He also stressed that the World Coaches programme is a great vehicle for youth development and women empowerment through training female coaches who share their stories of what they have to do to be able to play football.
Bessems explained that there are various life skills that are always present in sports, such as communicating and dealing with emotions, critical thinking and effective communication. “We use these skills to highlight them in the football exercises, and the coaches that we train are taught to recognise these life skills along with football skills,” he said.
Coaches are trained so that when they go back to their own communities, they work with children on developing those skills so that they’re better able to deal with the social issues that they face within their community, he added.
“Depending on the countries that we’re active in, we work on various social issues that people in their communities face, and usually the coaches in the community have the knowledge of what the issues are that they are facing, and the life skills that are taught, helping them to make the link for children to be able to better deal with these social issues,” Bessems noted.
Moreover, a major component of the World Coaches programme is women empowerment and gender equality. “We try to reach as many female coaches as possible because we want to help them to pave the way for them to get into football and to take up their place that they really deserve in football,” Bessems said.
Wierish Ramsoekh, charge d’affaires of the Embassy of The Netherlands in Egypt, said that it is important to emphasise that the programme is not only about the football sector but also has more to do with important life and social skills and attitudes.
“It is essential for youngsters from an early age to be taught certain skills, like cooperation, critical thinking and other basic life skills that allow them to develop personally and help their country develop as well,” he added.
The Shiraka programme, according to Ramsoekh, aims to bring about positive change in the MENA region, with special focus on the inclusion of youth and women.
Bessems stated that ensuring the selection of the right coaches to be part of the Shiraka programme is essential to its success, and that they are focusing on youth that are between the ages of 18 and 30 while trying to also have as many women as possible in the programme.
He added that there is a specific focus on using football as a tool to teach youth about personal leadership, and make sure that they develop themselves so that they’re better able to find better jobs by improving their economic perspective, employability in the football industry, and other industries in the sports sector as well.
Bessems also pointed out that the training consists of various levels, including the introductory level that consists of two five-day training sessions, with a period of approximately two to three months in between to allow participants to practice what they have learned in the courses before moving to the basic level, which is again five days, and then move to the advanced level with two five-day trainings, to ensure that the people who run through the entire pyramid are the ones who are most motivated and talented.
“We want to offer children a properly trained coach who is more than just a football coach. They are role models, teaching the children life skills through the medium of football,” Bessems said.
One participant of the World Coaches programme, Abdel-Rahman Sokrat, a freshman in the faculty of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Aswan University, also works as a coach with an aim to promote peace through sports.
Sokrat said that he finished the five-day training for the introduction level in the World Coaches programme, and learned how to work under stress and be a good football coach.
“I want to be an influencer in my community and improve children’s misconceptions that sports are not just about wins and scoring goals, but rather about connection, interdependence and love,” he added.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 23 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly