Zach's at the World Cup!


America SCORES New York Program Director Zach Gomes was selected by streetfootballworld to attend the FIFA Foundation Festival 2018 at the World Cup in Russia!

The power of soccer to make change

On July 19, 2018 I left for the FIFA World Cup in Russia. I had been selected by Street Football World to help plan and facilitate the FIFA Foundation Festival 2018 in Moscow. The FIFA Foundation Festival brought together 48 NGO’s from across 5 continents for a week of learning about soccer as a tool for social change. Nothing could have prepared me for the amazing people I would meet and experiences I would have.

As I was waiting in the customs line to enter Russia I was surrounded by people from every corner of the earth. A family with a little girl stood together a few spots in front of me. Behind them was a soccer fan with a small backpack, a huge sombrero and a colorful poncho. The little girl, maybe 3 or 4 years old, stared intently at the man’s enormous hat. He smiled and she smiled back and then he put the hat on her head. The little girl’s face disappeared and everyone in the line started laughing. Away from the politics and the money are the people who come together from every area of the world to share for a month their common love for the beautiful game. The World Cup truly is, as one announcer put it, “the largest collective experience the world has to offer”.

Surprisingly while in Russia I had very little time to watch any of the games. Moscow was beautiful and the Russian people I met were some of the most hospitable and kind people I have ever encountered. But the FIFA Foundation Festival is an entity all to its own; a place where all languages are spoken at once and everyone understands each other when it matters most. As one of the organizers described it, “all of us together right now are part of something special, there is not a larger collective on earth at this moment of individuals coming together for sport for social change”.

The Festival was set-up brilliantly. When I arrived on June 20th I immediately jumped into meetings and the planning process. My role was Young Leader Coordinator (YLC). As a YLC it was my job to help train and empower the 60 young leaders who would arrive a few days after us.

The FIFA Foundation Festival was centered around the Football3 methodology. Football3 breaks a soccer match into 3 halves. In the first halve the teams come together to decide on the rules that will govern the game they are going to play. There are fixed rules - ones that are set in stone and open rule - rules that the youth themselves decide on. The open rules involve simple ideas; e.g. will there be kick-ins or throw-ins? The open rules also involve the youth creating rules that are focused on the ideas of teamwork, equality and respect.

To watch young people discuss rules that exemplify these concepts is an inspiring thing and displays the ability of young people to think deeply on major issues of social justice. It is the creation and discussion over these rules that makes Football3 so powerful. The youth make the choice and are empowered to decide on the parameters of the game on their own.

In the second half of a Football3 match the youth play a game using the rules they have created. And in the third halve the youth regroup for a post match discussion in which they award points to the opposing team based on that teams adherence to the open rules that were created. This discussion again is a form of empowerment and allows for the young people to discuss, debate and congratulate their peers.

Football 3 gives young people agency that is often not afforded to them in their lives; it is proof that youth are capable of discussing complex issues and settling intellectual conundrums on their own.

For three days myself and the other YLC’s planned and practiced; we knew that the energy and organization we brought to the Young Leaders training would set the ground for the rest of the Festival.

On June 23rd the 60 Young Leaders arrived and the planning became a reality. My team (DARK GREEN!) was amazing and it became quickly clear that this festival was going to be incredible. This group I had the incredible opportunity to train came from 18 different countries - Tanzania, Botswana, Russia, USA, Cambodia, Portugal, Australia, Brazil, Russia, Nepal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Phillipines, Ireland, Israel, Palestine, Colombia, Pakistan. To be involved in a learning exchange, to this scale, with so many smart and intelligent people from across the world, was like nothing I had ever experienced. I learned lessons in listening, cooperation and teamwork that I will never forget. Not to mention I brought back some amazing ice breakers from across the globe and I love ice breakers!

On June 25 the youth began to trickle into the festival grounds at Olympiets Hotel in Moscow. Their presence brought the place to life and the once empty hotel became filled with running, laughing, excited young people. Once again, it became clear quickly that these young people would teach me a lot about what it means to be a leader.

On June 26 the week of programming began. As a YLC my main responsibility was to act as a support for the Young leaders from my group. The first day of introductions and festival games went awesome and the kids really grasped the concept of Football 3.

Since returning from the FIFA Foundation Festival 2018 so many people have asked me; “How was Russia?” Short answer Russia was amazing, Moscow was beautiful and getting to watch my first live World Cup game (Russia v Spain in Moscow!) was unforgettable.

Kicking it with Kick4Life!

I was able to see the kids from Kick for Life and their delegation leader and their Young leader! Kick4Life F.C. is the world’s first football club exclusively dedicated to social change. As a charity and a social enterprise our mission is to transform the lives of vulnerable young people in Lesotho, and in doing so promote long-term sustainable development in the Mountain Kingdom.

America SCORES family!

Boston Scores are here as well! Allison Colson and Ethan Goldman have brought over four of the poet-athletes from their program. It's amazing that our organization is represented so strongly at the biggest soccer event in the world!

Festival Games at Olympiets!

On June 27th, the 200 young people from 48 delegations, from across 5 continents and 36 countries arrived at the Olympiets venue in Moscow! The young leaders that I and others trained ran the festival games that we introduced to them.

It was incredible to watch the Young Leaders come together over the three day training and run these games and others! The leaders made every child feel special; the young people grew more and more comfortable with each other as the day progressed. Language barriers and cultural differences could not stop the magic that was created. It was a remarkable experience to see so many young people from so many different places come together in such an amazing way, in such a short time.

Tuesday touring Moscow!

We had the opportunity to explore Moscow! We went to the aerobridge with the Young Leaders, who hail from around the globe! Moscow is truly beautiful city, rich with history! It was wonderful to get to spend time with the Young Leaders outside of the Olympiets venue and connect with them on their homes and lives outside of the event.

America SCORES New York Program Director Zach Gomes has been selected by streetfootballworld to attend the FIFA Foundation Festival 2018 at the World Cup in Russia this month!

Photo Credit: Veronica Collazo

The festival will bring together 48 delegations from community-based organizations that use soccer as a tool to drive positive change. Zach has been selected as one of six facilitators from around the world to guide the youth of the Young Leader Program, through the implementation of the festival and support them in fulfilling their roles and responsibilities.

We had a chance to sit down with Zach and discuss this exciting opportunity before he heads out next week!

How did you come to be the Program Director at America SCORES New York?

I have been working with young people since I was a youth myself. My youth development experience started in Albany, New York as a program coordinator for the City of Albany Recreation Department. It has since then allowed me to travel the globe helping to implement programs in Cape Verde and serving as youth development volunteer in Ukraine for the U.S. Peace Corps. After working at DC SCORES, I moved back to New York to take on the role here and lead all program initiatives, which has been a dream come true.

Why do you think youth development is important?

The efforts and resources, we as a society, put towards youth development, will be crucial in creating a more just and equal future for all people. Young people have a lot to say and deserve the opportunity to express themselves and participate in society in meaningful ways. In shaping the future of our world, it is important that we look to young people as partners in the journey. As they inevitably inherit society's leadership roles, they will come with the knowledge that their ideas matter and they are capable of creating change.

What impact do you think sports can make in youth development?

The prominence sport has within U.S. society and the world at large, suggests that the field of Sports-Based Youth Development (SBYD) could, and should, play a meaningful role in the field of Youth Development at large. There are few things that impact society to the degree of sports and, soccer in particular, serves as a language that crosses so many cultural and linguistic barriers. The challenge is to make sure we use sports in an intentional manner that advocates for positive social change. This is the mission of America SCORES New York.

What do you hope to get out of your experience?

The FIFA Foundation Festival 2018 is special in that it unites young leaders from across the globe in an effort to explore the way soccer can be used as a tool for social change. I look forward to learning and building relationships with individuals who share my passion and belief in the power soccer and hope that my experience there will help in improving our program at home in NYC.

Who will win the World Cup?

This is a tough one! There are so many amazing teams this World Cup! I'm going to go with the Brazilians though!

Photo Credit: Jamar Austin


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