Meet: Chris Thomas
Role(s): Founder and director of Football for Humanity and the Vice President and Director of the Football Council of Naga (FCN) in the Philippines
Can you give us a bit of background information on yourself?
My name is Chris Thomas and I’m 34 years old and a graduate of Sports Development. I’ve spent best part of 7 years in Asia developing and coaching football at the grassroots level. Currently, I am the founder and director of Football for Humanity and the Vice President and Director of the Football Council of Naga (FCN) in the Philippines. Football for Humanity emerged after directing and managing various programs nationwide, giving me a deeper insight of the culture of football in the Philippines.
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Football for Humanity is a charitable cause that brings nations together using football; it is also the international partnerships arm of the FCN. It allows student or professional coaches to come and partake in the development and fast growing sport of football, which falls under our social action pillar of the framework. It is a framework that has been scientifically designed to make social change within communities.
How would you define a parent(s) role within the youth sports environment?
A parent is often the child’s biggest fan, cheerleader, and supporter. The parent affirms the child when he is victorious, and offers consolation when the child loses. Every child is a superstar to the parent and this kind of support gives the child immense confidence and motivation to keep going. While some parents over do it, and the attention becomes stifling and counter-productive, the parents’ support is crucial to the child’s development as an athlete. I suppose children who are ably supported by their parents are psychologically stronger than those who do not. The parents are committed to the children in a way that no other person outside his family can. When the parents are committed not just to the child but to the sport, the child also feels that he is fulfilling a role and a tradition that makes the family stronger. This, I believe, strengthens the bonds between parent and child and the effects of this go beyond athletics.
What are the benefits of embracing parental involvement within youth sports?
From the Filipino perspective, it is vital that the parents are always supportive for their children to play sports. Typically here in the Philippines, parents are very sensitive to injuries, and the roughness of the sport. Mothers may prevent their child from playing football due to slight injuries they may pick up. Because mothers end up being the more frequent spectator during practice and play, they become over protective and reactive to the realities of the field, and sometimes opt to just drop the child out of the program. This results in the child’s lack of physical activity and underdevelopment. It also prevents him from enjoying his childhood to the fullest, all for the sake of avoiding injury. Football for Humanity is breaking down these barriers and smashing the myths that surround football, so that parents are becoming more receptive to the benefits of football and physical activity. Not only does it get them fit and energetic in the sweltering heath, its also gives them higher purpose which could land them with athletic scholarships nationally or even internationally. Parents are now coming to training sessions watching their child excel in sport and also witness the joy that the child experiences outside the home. They then encourage the child to PLAY rather than encourage the child to go and sell food on the streets. Having parents behind you, from all walks of life is vital, otherwise you’ll find players slipping through the net.
- How have you as a coach/club attempted to increase parental involvement?
Football for Humanity engages all socio-civic sectors with teachers and parents being the centre of it. We call for conferences where we can present all benefits of the sport, and its purpose and possibilities. Being that Football for Humanity is partnered with the Department of Education, we are able to request for a mandate from the Superintendent to require the teachers and parents to come in for seminars and lectures, to deepen their knowledge and understanding of football. The Superintendent also integrated football in the elementary school curriculum, so that children will actually maximise their immersion in the sport. We have a website where we honour teachers and students who go beyond the extra mile, and we have several Facebook pages that are all available to the students, parents and teachers for feedback.
What challenges have you faced by attempting to increase the level of parental involvement?
Most of the children that are under my programs come from “underprivileged” families, or what marketers would call D and E markets. The breadwinner brings home less that GBP 150.00 on a monthly basis, with barely enough funds for food, clothing, and shelter, and it’s therefore a struggle for them to support a son or daughter who is engaging in sports and therefore incurs additional expenses over and above the basic. This is the kind of conflict I face. Children are forced to grow up very quickly – to give up play and recreation so that they can work and contribute to the family’s resources. So parental involvement is actually parental consent, for the child to continue his athletic activities. I strive to enlighten the parents that there is a future for athletes, especially for exceptionally-gifted athletes, but that kind of future requires a lot of work and commitment in the present. So allowing the child more hours of play will mean a lot in building that road to the future. Another conflict would be the unfamiliarity with football, which is not yet a popular sport in the Philippines. There is no sense of the sport’s global scale, compared to the immense popularity of basketball in this highly-Americanized country. Therefore the parent feels that the sport is trivial and without a future. This is why I take every opportunity to acquaint everyone with global football, and how this is truly the world’s biggest sport.
Have you seen a difference in youth athletes when parental involvement is embraced not neglected and/or ignored?
It is quite easy to separate the children whose parents are supportive from those whose parents are not. The parents are the ultimate mentors, educators, directors in life, and if the director is not encouraging or supporting, then the child will be led astray that may lead them to the wrong social circles doing the wrong social activities. We all need directing, and as a youth, our biggest directors are our parents, and they ought to direct us to the coaches. I for one was more anxious when my parents would watch me in a game, so sometimes I preferred them to stay at home. But I also knew that the additional help of my parents, their sound support, my mother’s delicious meals and drinks before I go to play also created in me a very positive mental attitude.
What advice would you give coaches that are unsure and/or afraid about increasing parental involvement within youth sports?
I would suggest you need to be more courageous, because parents cannot be avoided. Accept the benefits of parental involvement. How does it benefit you, how does it benefit the child and how does it benefit the parent. Be open to feedback and study these. Study how to make the sport more appealing to the adults and create situations where you can educate the adults as well. Make football so appealing that the parent will not want to miss any more games.
For those parents unaware of their influential role within youth sports, what advice would you give them?
Play is every child’s right. I will ask the parents to go back to their own childhood, what they felt and experience as a child. I will ask those parents of exceptionally talented kids to embrace their child’s talent, and know that it’s the child’s right to develop himself as far as his skill, motivation and education can take him. Know what your child loves, know what appeals to your child, and give to the child what he desires to help him succeed in his chosen sport. Take a psychological approach to everything you do so you can have a deeper understanding of why, what’s the purpose and how do they see it.
- What is next for you as a coach / club / organisation?
Take Football for Humanity to new heights and continue to make history and build the legacy. Look to bring in volunteer coaches who can give their technical expertise to local coaches and show the Filipinos that football is truly the most beautiful sport in the world. The ambition is to go nation wide, maximising the name “bringing nations together”
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