A ball can change a life

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A Ball CAN change a life
I had just finished the first of two personal development sessions that I was leading, Scoring Your DREAM Goal, with a group of participating teams at the 6th Homeless World Cup tournament in early December 2008 in Melbourne Australia. The cacophony of the team’s voices and the diversity of the languages being spoken at the break of the session reverberated beautifully throughout the lecture space that unquestionably qualifies as a “design marvel”– the BMW Edge Center at Federation Square.
Amid the din of the excited voices of the players still getting familiar with their surroundings in-the-land-downundah, I was having a conversation with Kat Byles, Media Director for the HWC about the next session. A man approached me and greeted me with a broad confident smile, “Hello, I’m Alex!” I politely said hello back to him and then he said his greeting once more to be certain that I heard him correctly, “Hello, I’m Alex!” As I studied him closely, I realized that he looked quite familiar to me but, I couldn’t figure out how I knew him – each year at the HWC there are over 500 players present and it’s easy to not recognize a face.

He must have noticed my effort to place his name and face so, he provided me with some very clear context when he asked, “Have you seen the film Kicking It?” http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=carroll/080909

I have seen the documentary, Kicking It, dozens of times and I’m quite familiar with how it chronicles the journey of five aspiring soccer hopefuls from around the globe, each facing disparate situations such as, kicking a drug addiction, surviving in a war-torn nation, facing abject poverty or dealing with abandonment. Each of them shares their story of how they hope to score the chance to make-the-cut and wear their nation’s uniform/kit at the 3rd annual Homeless World Cup in Cape Town, South Africa. Just like one of those TV crime scene investigation programs…I quickly pieced together how I knew this man standing proudly in front of me. I exclaimed, “you’re Alex from Kenya!” He beamed and nodded his head affirming my response.

Alex’s story is one of the five featured profiles in the Homeless World Cup documentary, Kicking It. His story is living proof that someone can ascend literally from the outhouse to the proverbial penthouse of accomplishments. The opening images of Alex’s saga clearly show the impoverished circumstances he faces daily. You quickly learn from Alex that he scrapes together a meager living as a community outhouse cleaning attendant responsible for literally washing and sweeping away the waste of others who must use a public toilet system out of necessity because there is no running water in the village dwellings. The film places alongside Alex, inside the stalls as he splashes water from a small plastic bucket, enduring the ever-present stench of urine and feces intensified by the heat of the day and sweeping away whatever a previous user has left behind. As clear as this image of his occupation is presented to the viewer, his dream screams his intention to transcend his marginalized life by chasing a ball and playing a game - “one day I will not be cleaning toilets…football is my life. My future lies in South Africa…my future lies in football.”
As a sports fan, I’ve personally witnessed moments in sport competition that are “saved and archived on my personal hard drive” under the filename WDH?* Moments in Sports. Of the many moments in my file, there have been four moments that stand out in my memories – the Heidi Game of 1968, the Immaculate Reception in 1972, the NC State Hoops Victory in 1983 and the David Tyree “Helmet Catch” of 2008. (*WDH? = WhatDaHeck just happened?)

Blognote: Since this blog is rated E for Everyone, I thought it best not to use the more widely known text message abbreviation WTF?!)

WDH? Moments 1 & 2: I grew up in the Philly area and my favorite football teams in my youth were the NFC “Iggles/E-A-G-L-E-S…EAGLES!” (for obvious reasons) and the AFC OAKLAND Raiders (as soon as I saw their silver and black UNI/Helmet…they were cool in my book!). I personally witnessed the “Heidi Game” and the “Immaculate Reception” as a kid. Both happened in the living room of my grandfather’s house, rabbit ear TV set, and me screaming/exclaiming, “NO, NO, NOOOO!”
WDH? Moment 3: the “subtle flush/slam” by Lorenzo Charles in 1983 of Dereck Whittenburg’s short heave in 1983. I have to admit that I was absolutely captivated and mesmerized by the University of Houston’s PHI SLAMMA JAMMA squad. When Houston started playing “stall-ball” I could remember shaking my head as I watched. Then the Whittenburg shot, the catch in mid-air by Charles, and another WDH?! moment was stored on my hard drive!
WDH? Moment 4: the “helmet catch” by David Tyree in the 2008 Super Bowl game. The improbable play that had many elements of the unexpected from Eli’s “Houdini-esque” escape from the grasp of the Patriots defensive rush and desperation toss to David Tyree’s “spidey-grab” of the football atop his helmet and Yogini-like contortion of his body to keep the catch from being ruled incomplete – this play was absolutely worthy of a WDH? Moment!

WDH? Moment 5: Back to Alex and my most recent sports moment in Melbourne, Australia that I found worthy of being saved in my personal WDH? file. This was my 3rd Homeless World Cup (HWC) tournament www.homelessworldcup.org that I attended as a team sponsor/supporter (Uganda and USA). The 6th annual tourney held in Oz would see players from 56 nations competing and realizing that sport can transform a life.

My latest WDH? moment came when Alex stated, with great enthusiasm, “I’m now the coach for Kenya’s team!”
My approving smile + our handshake + our hug-it-out embrace = WDH? Moment #5!
I’ve been told by the HWC Co-Founder, Mel Young that the ONLY way a player is to return to the HWC after participating in the tourney is a team administrator or as a coach. The intention of the team training, team selection process and the HWC tourney is to be a catalyst for changing the player’s life for the better. The idea of the HWC tourney being “one-and-done” for team members reinforces the overall intention of its mission and vision. Mel Young states, “people who are homeless will be energized and can enjoy a sense of community, fun and friendship, love and encouragement and see positive change for themselves. The Homeless World Cup will travel with football to each and every corner of the world to find players to join the team. Believe that we can end homelessness. Believe that we can end poverty”


The transformative power of the HWC to positively impact the lives of players and the communities that they live can be seen in some of the data shared in the 2007 HWC Impact Report: 6 months after the Copenhagen 2007 Homeless World Cup research conducted

reports: 71% of players significantly changed their lives coming off drugs and alcohol, moving

into jobs, homes, training, education, repairing relationships all whilst continuing to

play football (271 players)

29% found employment (110 players)

38% improved their housing situation (145 players)

32% went into education (122 players)

118 players addressed a drug or alcohol dependency

71% now play football on a regular basis (271 players)

Numbers can be telling, can be impressive and can provide a marvelous way to substantiate and verify a theory and/or a premise. Sport is a statistically driven enterprise and we‘ve heard an adage associated to sport many times – numbers don’t lie.
I also believe there is another tried-and-true way to validate a theory or premise. This can be accomplished by witnessing the theory in action - seeing’ IS believing!
Seeing Alex as a leader, a teacher, a coach, and a truly confident man who has transformed his life and transcended his circumstances is absolutely worthy of a WDH? Moment.

A Ball CAN change a life!

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