Children will become footballers

I guess that the reason football is such a well-loved world sport is its simplicity. Is there anyone who doesn’t remember placing two rocks on the neighborhood street and using them as goal posts? Unfortunately the days of such childhood creativity and “neighborhood football” are nearly at an end.  Places for kids to play football have begun to disappear. In order to counteract the dwindling number of playing areas, the Football Federation, under the leadership of Gündüz Tekin Onay initiated its ‘Herkes Için Futbol’, or Grassroots Project. After the untimely death of Coach Gundüz, the project continued in the Football Development Center (FGM), with Ahmet Güvener at its head. Currently, the Turkish Football Federation, FGM and Ülker are cooperating to organize the infrastructure for one of the most important elements of the project.

The project that was started in Istanbul is continuing in Trabzon and Adana today. The project is not completely focused on football, but uses the platform as a training ground to instruct the kids in social skills, environmental awareness and balanced nutrition. The project continues all year round, and never differentiates children  as talented or untalented. Participation in the activities is free and the happiness they bring to children can be seen in their eyes. We visited the Trabzon leg of the project and spoke with training coaches Atilla Tokmak and Salih Tekke …

The “Herkes Için Futbol” Center Project that was initiated by Gündüz Tekin Onay in Istanbul and consequently came under the management of Football Federation Football Development Center President Ahmet Güvener after Mr. Onay’s demise, has now expanded to Trabzon, Istanbul and Adana.  Has the TFF been able to achieve what they set out to do with this project?

Atilla Tokmak: I had a chance to talk to Gündüz Hoca about this project and listen to his ideas.   He was our liaison.. The events that he organized for the public brought us closer together as citizens and motivated us to embrace them. Whether it’s the work here or in the Van Football Village, the events that we organize for the Herkes Için Futbol Project are aimed at social activities for children and fostering the spirit of fair play. The children really get that feeling here. The wonderful support that the parents provide, and the concern that my fellow coaches have for the kids, raise all of us to even higher levels of endeavor.  Our efforts for Turkish football will be reflected in the future, I am sure. The work we are doing is creating a lot of excitement.  There are many different emotions that are reflected in that excitement.

In one sense, one must educate the spectators and show them how to appreciate good football and how to be a good winner or a graceful loser.  This will boost knowledge about football in the people of the country.   

Salih Tekke: Football is a very important activity for the young people in our country. We teach the kids a lot of very good things here.  And here they go through many different emotions and experience new ones.  Surprisingly, children who have trouble expressing themselves are better able to communicate after they have attended the sessions here. Even their parents are astonished.  They actually become able to express themselves and gain a lot of self-confidence as individuals. Here, we try to develop these emotions. What are they?  Affection, respect, sharing and cooperation are a few of them … Our work contributes a lot to the children’s development.  The ones who come here are not licensed. That is one reason that we try to echo neighborhood street football here. The biggest difference is that it’s played in a secure and safe area. The playing areas of our cities have almost been entirely disappeared under concrete. There are no places left for the children to play. Gündüz Hoca created this great project to get children to participate in activities and spend their pent-up energy. 

 Ahmet Güvener has given his support to the project and is now its manager.  These activities are great opportunities. We didn’t have such advantages when we were growing up. In a sense, we were able to get here by our own efforts.

How many kids did you reach in Trabzon? What level of response did you encounter?

A.T:  we began here in Trabzon in April.  Up until now, we have worked with more than a thousand kids. Things are going very well. And they will get even better.  Enrolment and the number of applications are increasing as the days go by. We think there will be more when school starts, because this is not just a football course. Education plays a large part in the activities. As a physical education teacher, I think that the social activities for children are good for their mental as well as their physical development.  As these activities continue, they will contribute a lot to the kids’ education and their lives as students.

Apart from Football, what else do the children learn, what do you teach them?

we teach the kids the rules of football playing. However, it’s more important to us that we also discourage any bad habits they may have and teach them to be more knowledgeable spectators. We try to get the children used to these. Perhaps someday they will become football trainers, referees or officials. We work with them on that level. Next week, we are going to the TEMA Foundation to plant trees. After that, an expert is going to visit to give instruction on balanced nutrition.  We want to encourage the children to take an interest in issues related to health and development. We see all these activities as being parts of a whole. As they experience these feelings, they will be able to help others to experience them. We think that giving them these experiences will lead to a bright future for all of them.

S.T: first of all we explain to them what football is and the rules of the game. We divided the week and set aside time for other topics besides football. For example, next week we will be going to TEMA to plant saplings. After that, we will learn about nutrition, as my colleague said before… You know, as a nation Turkey is turning into a fast food culture. The obesity and other serious illnesses in the country are due in great part, to unhealthy eating habits…  Later in the week we will work on first aid techniques.  We aren’t only concerned with football.  Actually, football isn’t just football anymore.

Ülker is a sponsor of the Turkish Football Federation Football Development Center project. What kind of support does the company provide?

Ülker is really involved with these topics. Whether from an educational or cultural aspect, or whether it has to do with infrastructure, Ülker is always there for us with support. Wherever there is team spirit, Ülker is there. This is encouraging to us. It’s such an important thing to be involved with Ülker and have Ülker’s support for this work. Currently, Ülker is dealing with all of our problems. They are never too busy to help with even the smallest request for assistance. For example, providing the clothes that our kids wear may not seem like such a big deal, but it’s very important to us. I wish more firms were like Ülker and that they would contribute to our children’s futures like Ülker does.   

I want to express my thanks for the support that Ülker provides. Children love to get presents. We have all been children. We know what it’s like. People can be happy about even small things. Ülker provides everything for our kids from caps to T-shirts to shorts. They give us huge support. What Ülker is doing requires courage. Many firms think sponsoring infrastructures is a waste of time, so they never come near these types of projects.

We are encouraging girls to play sports

“No players will come out of Turkey’s infrastructure”- Gündüz Hoca used to get very upset with that theory and tried to prove it wrong. Is our infrastructure adequate?

Gündüz Hoca was a man who believed wholeheartedly in the importance of infrastructure. He did his utmost to get young people to embrace sports. As long as we have no infrastructure, we have nothing. This is a process that requires patience and waiting. A young child may be very talented, but if his talent is not developed, he will lose that talent. These things take time and patience. Our most important flaw is that we forget that education is an element of the learning process. We are only trying to teach football; we have forgotten about the educational side of the coin.

Girls are also interested in our activities …

We have always welcomed girls to our activities. One of our primary goals is to include girls in this project. It’s a project to encourage everyone, everywhere and every time to play football…  Girls don’t have a chance to play street football. As a matter of fact they aren’t welcomed as players to many sports. We are quite impressed with them.

In Trabzon, however sheltered girls may be, they are very interested in what we are doing here. Their families are also interested. Girls should be able to play all kinds of sports, not just football.

No differentiation between the talented and the untalented

How do the parents view this project? Are any of them bringing their children here, hoping they will become footballers?

A.T: We do all of our activities in cooperation with the parents. We have always seen eye to eye. With their children here in such a healthy environment parents see it as a chance to observe their kids. Nobody has ever said that he was bringing his child here to become a footballer.  They see the most beautiful aspect of sports being experienced here. They see how our physical education teachers approach the children with affection. Every passing day, the number of parents who come to observe is growing. With their support, the number of groups is also growing. From time to time, we take on a few extra members, depending on the materials we receive, so no one will be left out.

S.T: When they first get here they ask “Coach, will there be try-outs?” we don’t have try-outs. We don’t play to win or lose. There are no such things as failure or success. We are just having a social event. We are only interested in what we can give the kids, which character traits we can develop. We are getting children used to being in a social situation.

Young footballers speak

Sena Çoban: I really love football. I used to play in our garden anyway, but I wanted to play with some other people. My friends recommended that I come here. I am very happy here … Here, I learned rules I didn’t know before and I learned about generosity and sharing. When I get older I want to be a footballer. At first my mother wouldn’t give me permission to come here.  But because of my father, now I can come.

Anıl Aksoy: I’ve been here for three months. I came here to play football and make friends. Our instructors teach us gentlemanly conduct, cooperation and fair play. They especially emphasize the importance of fair play. For example, if another player falls down on the field, you should stop playing and run to help him to his feet.

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