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Arnaud and Raya on being role models

Palace for Life Foundation partners, Levelling the Playing Field, spoke to Foundation coaches Arnaud and Raya about their role helping to inspire young people in Croydon through Premier League Kicks.

During Levelling the Playing Field’s ‘Sport for Development’ month in December, we’re asking our specialist partners how they use sport and physical activity to deliver positive outcomes for ethnically diverse children in their communities.

Arnaud Zadi and Raya Ahmed coach and guide ethnically diverse children at Palace for Life Foundation’s Levelling the Playing Field sessions in Croydon, South London. They are looked up to as local role models, which gives them a connection with their young players and allows them to make a positive difference in their lives.

Both of Palace for Life’s LtPF sessions are part of the Premier League Kicks programme; one is a weekly girls-only football sessions for 11-16-year-olds and the other is a mixed football session for 8-12-year-olds.

“I offer the kids my own experiences,” says Arnaud. “I grew up near here on a council estate and we didn’t have any of these opportunities, so it’s nice that I’m now part of giving them something. The kids really gravitate towards that.

“I can offer them a sense of relatability. They can see me in themselves. That makes it a lot easier when delivering sessions to connect with them, understand what they want and deliver that to a suitable standard.

“When I was young, Croydon Council would sometimes try to engage with us, but here we’re not seen as ‘authority figures’ like they were. It’s like a borderline friendship. I try to dial it back a little bit and say, ‘I’m not here to tell you what you can and can’t do. I’m here to help you have fun and keep you on the right track.’ There are certain rules, but essentially they’re here to enjoy themselves, stay out of trouble and enjoy an opportunity they didn’t have before.

“I came from an unfortunate position where I was surrounded by a lot of things that no kid should be around. I’m now in a very fortunate position where I can direct and guide young people on to a better path.”

In doing so, Arnaud and Raya are playing their part in achieving Levelling the Playing Field’s common goals:

  • Increase the number of ethnically diverse children taking part in sport and physical activity
  • Prevent and divert ethnically diverse children from being involved with the Criminal Justice System

Like Arnaud, Raya (who grew up not far away on a South Wimbledon estate) feels that her local knowledge, her ethnicity and her own ‘journey’ have been key to engaging her female participants.

“There are a lot of barriers I’ve had to break through,” she said. “Being a female, from an ethnic minority background, my religion and what I wear, all allows girls in my sessions to realise that they can get involved in football no matter what you look like. You’re not going to get judged. That’s why role models are 100% essential. It means you can relate to them and them to you.”

These connections are crucial to Palace for Life achieving their impact on young people. Over time, playing football and lending them a supportive ear builds their confidence and self-esteem. It’s ‘diversionary’ in that it keeps participants off the streets, but it also exposes them to new peer groups, improves social skills and opens up new opportunities such as volunteering, leadership and coaching courses, and, if needed, access to Palace for Life’s other programmes such as Breaking The Cycle and Youth Divert.

“It’s super important to have these sessions for so many reasons,” says Raya. “I have seen with my own eyes the young people’s confidence increase – which for me is important for females because of that lack in gender equality.

“There are barriers, but [we show them] you can be that leader and take that next step into coaching or join a grassroots football club, or whatever it may be.

“It’s not only the growth aspect, it’s also the social aspect which I think is really important. They learn that football isn’t just about kicking the ball, it’s about showing respect to each other. It teaches you so much.”

Arnaud is also keen to emphasise the much-needed positive knock-on effects that the Foundation’s Levelling the Playing Field sessions have on young people.

“I believe that it has such a big impact. They really latch on to the things we do with them. Young people need it. With crime rates going up, the areas aren’t being looked after and there aren’t many people in our community that actually care. So many of them are almost crying out for a bit of attention and could easily end up down the wrong path.

“We need these kinds of things to continue otherwise we’ll see a massive decrease in these young people’s behaviours and their involvement in the general community. It just becomes a very selfish environment. I want to be a part of changing things for young people and how they are perceived.”


To find out more about Levelling the Playing Field, click here

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