Recently, the New Zealand Football Foundation in conjunction with Youthtown successfully completed a trial of its Football Connect programme, which is aimed to provide children who are unable to financially participate in Football at a club or holiday programme, the opportunity to fall in love with the beautiful game.
Football Connect brought together 23 boys and girls from across the Central Auckland region, who had ever met before, and ran a semi-structured programme hosted by Former Football Fern Amber Hearn and current Fern’s, Paige Satchell and Grace Jale.
Amber Hearn, who started her footballing journey at Glen Eden United, and has played all around the world including 125 appearances for the Football Ferns, has always wanted to give back to the Football Community in her native New Zealand.
“This is something I’ve always wanted to do, but kind of never been able to do having played overseas for most of my career. And the Football Connect programme has allowed me to give back” said Hearn.
“It’s heart-warming to be able to create a connection between football and kids that will hopefully last a lifetime”
“At the end of the day, when you get kids that come up to you and just want more football, I mean, that’s the best feeling”
The programme, which was run in conjunction with Youthtown received positive feedback on both the inclusion of children who may not have otherwise be able to financially, as well as the skill improvement of the players.
“From when we started to the end of the programme, and the feedback from both the Youthtown staff and their parents, these kids have grown together as a team, both in terms of friendships but also their football skills.”
The NZ Football Foundation also worked closely with the Professional Footballers Association to help support current and formers players, and having three Ferns lead the pilot programme was a great experience for the children, even if some of them were not aware of the level their coaches had reached.
“Not many of the kids knew who we were when we started the programme. But that did not bother us, we were there to help them fall in love with the beautiful game like we did when we were kids. And at the end of the programme there was a lot of mutual respect between us, which was pretty amazing” said Hearn.
Hearn Believes the Football Connect programme has made a positive impact and hopefully a connection to Football that will last a lifetime.
“These kids have become a team, and thanks to the Football Connect programme we have them in a place where they can register for a club, and can stay together as a team, rather than then go away individually and feel a bit uncomfortable, which is cool”
“I want to see this programme run throughout New Zealand. I’m hoping it does as it can make a real difference to not only in a kids life, but in our wider communities too”
To find out more on the Football Connect programme please contact firstname.lastname@example.org