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Play Fair — Stories from the Field

This Story from the Field comes from RheinFlanke in Germany, where football has helped Mohamed face life’s challenges head on.

I think my life would look a lot different right now if it wasn’t for football. It has kept my focused on what matters.

While others were out partying, I was training, getting ready for matches and trying to improve. It has taught me to set goals and not to get discouraged when things get tough; to never shy away from challenges but meet them head on. And most importantly, the persistence I have learned from football has also helped me to see school as a challenge I can tackle.

My name is Mohamed and I am twenty years old. Growing up in Bedburg was not always easy as there are quite a few people with migration backgrounds but not always a lot of tolerance.

One bad memory that sticks out is when a man cycled past me and cursed at me, simply because I wore my traditional Islamic clothing on my way to pray. Other times you notice people in public transport looking at you oddly. Despite the way I am sometimes treated, I always make sure to give them a smile.

I’ve played football since I was 6 years old, so I can’t remember a time without the ball at my feet. My brothers played, and of course that made me want to play as well. I loved to play; however, I found it often hard to control my anger on the pitch. Anytime someone on the pitch said something to me, I lost my temper and that would cause problems.

This changed slowly but surely when I found RheinFlanke and engaged with their programs. It was not only football but it was a community — we would play together, go to the movies, organise tournaments and play other sports. I first heard about the organisation when Hendrik, a site manager with RheinFlanke, stepped in for a sick teacher in school.

He told me about their program and more importantly I felt like he understood what I was dealing with. He took me seriously. This is one of the key memories I have — I always wanted to become an astronomer but I went to a Hauptschule which doesn’t set you up with the necessary qualifications to study in Germany.

When I told people about this dream they would usually smile at me, or worse, occasionally laugh out loud, but never encourage my dream. Hendrik and his team were the first ones to listen to me, take me seriously and outline a plan: After Haputschule, I would have to add an extra year of school. move on to do my professional high school diploma and then go on to study some more.

And that’s exactly what I did.

Coming to Rhein Flanke has changed the way I look at things and, more specifically, the way I react. I have participated in many football tournaments in Northrine-Westfalia, at table tennis training camps, trips to a ropes court, ice skating, cinema nights, I could go on. Through this network I gained new friends.

On the pitch, I learned to increase my tolerance and my way of dealing with losses. I particularly loved that in RheinFlanke tournaments you also get 3 points for fair play and not just for winning. One thing that we practised for this repeatedly, was self-reflection. I learned how to better regulate my emotions and how to keep control in critical moments, and how to put myself into other people’s shoes. I have even become a mediator for other friends in difficult life situations.

On many occasions, I’ve help referee, and help set up and taking down the courts for tournaments and step in when needed at events. I really enjoy the recognition from the youngsters and I recognise myself in them when I coach them on the pitch.

I can tell that some of these younger participants view me as a role model. We get along very well and they ask me for advice in their lives. I take this responsibility very seriously. The most important thing for me is that kids learn tolerance. We have a tendency to judge too quickly. I want the youngsters to give everyone a chance and to get to know them before they make their judgements.

What I have also noticed is that many young kids are lacking self confidence, motivation and goals. They don’t know what they want and don’t even know how to dream. I try to instill dreams and goals for the young people I work with to make them see that they can achieve anything they put their minds to.

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