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Life, leadership and football

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One of Cal Blankendal’s earliest memories is of a joyous day spent playing football with a group of older guys. He was seven-years-old, and at the end of the day he was punished because he’d left the safe confines of his neighbourhood without permission.

These days he is chief executive officer of Bermuda’s Brazilian Football School (BBFS) in Bermuda and coaches a special after school programme that allows middle schoolers to play football safely and learn valuable life skills at the same time. The eight-week programme was piloted at the Whitney Institute, went to Dellwood Middle School and starts back at Whitney on Monday.

Teachers select students with good academic standing and behaviour to be part of it. Students don’t have to be fantastic football players to join, they just have to have an interest in and enjoyment of the game.

“Our programmes are based on using football to teach life skills,” said Mr Blankendal. “Our primary focus is to engage with youth and to show them through football they can achieve and reach their goals in a healthy setting. Some of the advantages of football are that you get to meet a lot of people. You learn about teamwork. Even though as a young child you are not focusing on that, you are always playing with others. You accept wins and losses and you find out a lot about yourself whether it is leadership, or even the pain barrier. You find out if you like football, or you really love it.”

T S D’Nye-Jha Sharrieff-Hayward, 12, a Whitney Institute Middle School student, said he joined the programme because he thought it would be a good experience.

“The differences between the BBFS life skills programme and my club team sessions, is that with my club team, Hamilton Parish, we basically prepare for our upcoming games as opposed to the BBFS where we concentrate on skills and ball control. What I enjoyed about this programme most was the strictness of my coaches and how they are always serious and passionate about our progress.”

He said he gained a better understanding of football and also learned about the benefits of living a drug free life, on and off the football field.

Another student, Nathan Bridges, 12, said he joined BBFS in November 2009 because he loved football and wanted to be a better player. He begged his parents to sign him up.

“I didn’t think I was very good at the time and I wanted to get better and play my best for my football team,” he said. “Since joining I have gotten better and better at football and my confidence has also gotten better.”

The BBFS was founded in 2008 by Dennis Brown and Dr Lew Simmons. Mr Brown is the coach for the Devonshire Cougars football team. Mr Blankendal joined the year the BBFS was founded and was brought in to develop the concept into an islandwide programme with international partners. In the after school programme he coaches the youngest participants and also a girls’ group. About one third of participants are female. Mr Brown coaches the older boys.

“The buzz words these days are life skills,” said Mr Blankendal. “We believe we are a true testament to that as this is not a one-off event. We have been around for about four years now. With the support of HSBC Bank Bermuda Limited we have been able to standardise the documents we provide to schools, children and parents. As of late we have been able to work with the mentoring organisation, YouthNet who have a sports mentoring programme and handbook. We use their manuals with the students. The students like having something tangible to look at.”

The programme focuses on important topics such as nutrition, decision making, discipline and other things.

“If the topic is decision making then we base the practical training session on decision making, whether it is two players against three, which pass you make,” said Mr Blankendal. “We tie everything into decision making without directly focusing on the life skills at that moment. At the end of the session we take ten to 12 minutes and everyone sits down and we focus on the session itself, and then we transfer the idea of “decision making” to waking up in the morning, going to school, preparing for examinations, how you treat others, that sort of thing.”

The BBFS relies heavily on parental involvement and there are weekly reports on the footballers’ progress. There is also a closing graduation ceremony at the end, where individual achievements are celebrated. So far, about thirty students have taken part. Groups are kept small to foster good relationships between coaches and students.

“It is just about empowering youth and making the children feel that they are special,” said Mr Blankendal. “If you want to have a meaningful interaction with a young person you have to do it daily. They have to know that you will be there again to hold them responsible. We can ask to see their report card, or ask them about how they did on a test. What I have seen is that once you finish the programme, you see the student on the street. They ask when the next session will be, and you can relate to them and ask ‘how was school this year’, ‘did you have any detentions’. You get a feel for how they are making out.”

Some older students who have graduated from the programme have gone on to become junior coaches. The BBFS is hoping to roll the programme out into another middle school next year.

“So far it has been well received, by parents and students,” he said. “They appreciate that there is a safe place where they can go and learn something. We do not play against other teams, but we play in-house teams. A touring group is coming to the Island, and the girls will have the opportunity to play against them”.

The educational component of the programme has been supported by HSBC for the last two years. The BBFS is hoping to expand it to other middle schools next year.

“The fact that HSBC has supported us for two years is an indication of our success,” said Mr Blankendal. “There are a lot of football programmes out there in Bermuda and worldwide, but the reason we have been able to have a successful partnership is that we have a strong mandate on life skills and education. All the other technical components are important, but it is the educational component that is important in Bermuda. There will always be a few Clyde Bests and Shaun Goaters, but the rest of us will have to make a living outside of sports.

“Education will give you that advantage to play an influential role in maintaining a high standard of living in Bermuda. Education is what will separate you from the rest. That is where the sports come in, it teaches you to come in and think outside the box, and teaches you not to give up.”

For more information telephone 505-7999 or see the website

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Published February 02, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated February 02, 2012 at 7:04 am)

Life, leadership and football

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