The year 2016 marks a bittersweet moment for British Council Malaysia as we come to the end of the Premier Skills programme as it has taken shape in Malaysia thus far. Premier Skills, an international partnership between the Premier League and the British Council uses UK’s biggest export, football, for community development. Premier Skills Malaysia was launched in 2009 and as a result of this Malaysia has 5 qualified Coach Educators who have carried out training courses to develop community coaches. To date, through Premier Skills Malaysia, more than 200 community coaches have been trained reaching out to more than 5,000 young people.
To commemorate the success Premier Skills have had in Malaysia, on the 2nd of April a football tournament was held between teams from the community coaches who have participated in the programme. 120 children were involved representing 9 different teams and divided into three categories (under 8, under 10 and under 12). Fully organised by the Coach Educators and supported by British Council, the tournament was a perfect setting to witness how the community coaches put into practice their Premier Skills training. Despite the blistering heat, the football tournament was a great success with parents and coaches alike on the ground cheering each other on depicting good sportsmanship throughout.
The participating teams were a good mix from academies, schools and community groups. Equally interesting was the make-up of some of the teams. For example, White Tigers, the 2nd place winners for the Under 12 category, had children with Asperger syndrome on their team. Led by Coach Daniel Lo, White Tigers joined together with ADAMS association, an organisation consisting of parents with children of Asperger, and gave these children an opportunity to be involved in football. Commenting on coaching the children he says, “It's sometimes hard to tell who’s who and who has what. We just play and everyone learns to give each other some space to just be who they are”, he also notes the significant positive change in behaviour of the children, “(they are) more sociable and relational, for example, they know each other’s’ names, they say hello, goodbye and participate and cooperate better”.
Another team that caught our eyes was Supergirls, who came in 2nd place for the Under 8 category and 3rd place for the Under 12 category respectively. An all-girls team, these sprightly girls kicked (pun intended) out the age-old stereotype that football is a boys sport as they compete more often than not with all-boys teams within the same age group. What was even more encouraging was the genuinely supportive and infectious enthusiasm their mothers depicted. In between cheering for her daughter, P. Kuganeswari remarked how she saw no issues that her daughter played football and competed against boys. She continued on the positive character building impact football has had on her daughter, commenting, “(she developed) teamwork, discipline, communication and last time she used to be very quiet but now she has friends”.
Comments on how football has instilled a better sense of teamwork and discipline was also reiterated by another mother, Ila, whose son played in KBJB, the team that secured 1st place for the Under 8 and 2nd place for Under 10. She commented on how her son has changed since participating in the team particularly, “(in aspects of) commitment and discipline. He is also more focused now and more focus on what he wants to do and achieve.” She further continued by stating that she wouldn’t hesitate to send her other children to participate in community football programmes and that she wishes her children to continue being active in sports.
Community football has a different feel as opposed to professional football. The familiarity that children, coaches and parents showed towards one another during the tournament indicates how close knit the community football scene is in Malaysia. Indeed that is what Premier Skills hoped to achieve. Premier Skills’ existence was not to develop elite players instead it wanted to promote grassroots football programmes to bring communities together. One of the volunteers at the tournament, Alisa who has volunteered in numerous community sports festivals, noticed this and commented, “The main difference I experienced with Premier Skills was the involvement and participation of parents and guardians in community football, either as a volunteer or coach”.
With all the positive comments we heard throughout the tournament it can be argued that Premier Skills truly is one of British Council’s programmes where impact can be experienced first-hand. While it is sad that we will no longer be directly involved in training community coaches, we believe that Premier Skills will not stop entirely in Malaysia. Nevina Kumaresan, Premier Skills coach who volunteered at the festival piped, “I love the friendship and networking that Premier Skills has enabled. These past few months, I've been busier than ever, with more planning on activities surrounding girls' grassroots programmes, getting more hours clocked in as a coach, getting the confidence and support to be part of programmes.
I think Premier Skills has enabled the networking, and from there we are encouraged to actively do other things. Festivals are only for a day or two, with very little that can be taken back, but Premier Skills is more to encourage active participation.”
In the 7 years which we’ve been running Premier Skills, we’ve planted the seeds of community football, nurturing coaches such as Alisa and Nevina, and now it is in the hands of the coaches themselves to continue being the torch-bearers within their own communities, to network and collaborate with each other for community football to continue to prosper.