Street Soccer’s plan for the ‘new normal’ gets Government support
Street Soccer Scotland – a partner of Alliance of Sport – has had its plans for safe and effective grassroots football coaching supported by The Scottish Government.
Founded in 2009, Street Soccer is a social enterprise which uses football-inspired training and personal development as a medium to empower people who are affected by social exclusion, to make positive changes in their lives.
Andy Hook and his team developed a three-stage approach to achieve their goal of returning to a ‘new normal’ for grassroots football coaching after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The initial phase – when the nationwide lockdown was at its most stringent – saw a key focus on interaction and communication in the absence of physical sessions, with the creation of online classes and WhatsApp groups to support the most vulnerable participants in lockdown.
Stage two – the interim stage – focused on returning to the football field in a safe and controlled manner with smaller invite-only sessions and an emphasis on physical distancing, whilst maintaining the online communication channels set up in phase one.
Finally, the ‘new normal’ would see the action on the field increase, while maintaining the support network of communication and online activities to lessen the chances of coronavirus spread.
“We had been concerned about our players since the start of lockdown and the impact social distancing was having on their overall wellbeing,” Hook explained when discussing how the three-stage approach was developed.
“By the second week of lockdown, we had sought advice and put in place protocols to allow our coaches to be out and about making deliveries, and meeting particularly vulnerable players where appropriate.
“As lockdown rolled on, we started to pull together plans for sessions to work within the rules.”
Hook and his team’s plan would soon receive backing via government guidance, and he said: “Having consulted with a health expert to fine tune our plans we were then able to feed into The Scottish Governments as they developed their guidance on coming out of lockdown. We outlined our proposal of how we would organise the `new` sessions and the protocols we would include.
“We also included session plans that demonstrated the inclusion of social distancing on the pitch, as well as all the other protections we were putting in place such as individual player stations, hand sanitising etc.
“Our proposal was put together to help our players who were suffering due to the lockdown, the fact that we were able to get clear guidance to allow us to begin our sessions again was very exciting but nerve-wracking at the same time!”
In addition to the success Street Soccer is having north of the border, Street Soccer London has returned to the field, led by Craig McManus.
The programme in the capital has also garnered interest from Chelsea Football Club, who visited a Street Soccer session to learn about the coaching methods used and how the organisation supports its participants off the football field.
It was McManus’ prior work which opened the opportunity for collaboration with the Premier League outfit.
He explained: “The Chelsea relationship is something I built in a previous role and continued when I joined the Street Soccer programme. I previously worked with Chelsea and we helped a number of players to develop and earn spots at the Homeless World Cup held in Cardiff as part of the England programme.
“The partnership between Street Soccer and Chelsea Football Club continues to blossom, the badge and the flexibility of approach give us a unique opportunity and give our players multiple role models to look up to.”
Street Soccer London was launched in March, immediately before the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown hit the United Kingdom. It was a challenging time for Craig and his team, but much like their Scottish counterparts, the key was to engage their players and help them through a difficult time.
“Through the lockdown, communication was key with our players, whether that be by phone, video chat or WhatsApp, we kept the communication pathways open,” said McManus.
“It was clear early in lockdown that some of our players were suffering. Some had issues with self-harm, mental health and one player even attempted suicide – we knew we had to act, and quickly to help our players.”