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Palace coaches are role models to their community

Palace coaches Arnaud and Raya share how they have become positive role models to the children growing up in the communities they have come from.

Palace for Life Foundation work to support children across south London from a variety of communities, including providing opportunities to ethnically diverse children who could have barriers to sport or education.

We spoke to coaches and local role models Arnaud Zadi and Raya Ahmed who work on our Premier League Kicks programme with Levelling the Playing Field, on why their roles with these young people are so important:

“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.

“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 and understand what they want.

“When I was young, organisations would try to engage with us, but here we’re not seen as ‘authority figures’ like they were. 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 position where I can direct and guide young people on to a better path.”

Like Arnaud, Raya feels that her local knowledge, her ethnicity and her own ‘journey’ have been key to engaging 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.

These connections are crucial to our work in having impact on young people. Over time, playing football and lending them a supportive ear builds confidence and self-esteem. 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 and coaching courses.

“It’s important to have these sessions for so many reasons,” says Raya. “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.”

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. So many of them are almost crying out for a bit of attention and could easily end up down the wrong path.

“I want to be a part of changing things for young people and how they are perceived.”

To find out more about Palace for Life free Premier League Kicks sessions, click HERE.

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