Wednesday 06 September 2023, 16:30

FIFA Football for Schools in Puerto Rico: from pilot to pioneer

  • Puerto Rico is the first country to receive a second Football for Schools training seminar

  • Almost 200 educators participated, concluding the activity with a festival that brought together 120 children

  • Positive developments have included the growth of football on the island and the inclusive use of the programme

In September 2019, Puerto Rico became the first country to adopt FIFA Football for Schools (F4S), FIFA's programme that aims to contribute to the development of millions of children around the world by incorporating football and life skills as part of everyday schooling. Back then, F4S still had the status of a pilot programme and FIFA instructors trained 40 physical education teachers who were largely unfamiliar with the concepts of a sport that lagged behind baseball, basketball and even volleyball in terms of popularity. Many things have happened since. So much so that Puerto Rico has become a pioneer, being the first of the 90 countries that are already part of the programme to host a second F4S workshop.

FIFA Football for Schools workshop in Cayey, Puerto Rico

"Despite the interest of the participants at the time, the concept and methodology of the programme was still taking off. The utilisation of the app, life skills and the way they have been incorporated into football sessions reflects the evolution of the programme in that period," explains Alexandra Huete, FIFA Football for Schools Manager. "The pandemic slowed down its implementation, but the wonderful work of the federation managed to keep the project alive thanks to their eagerness to design online courses with the basic tools they had been given. So, not only have they already trained 300 teachers, but football has become quite popular," added Huete. That's why FIFA felt the need for an updated training course, which was held in Cayey from 29-31 August and brought together more than 180 educators already certified with the older version of the course. Five professionals from the US Virgin Islands and six from Anguilla also attended, capping off the activities with a festival attended by 120 children from five schools.

Among the attendees at the closing event was José Martínez, Vice-President of the Puerto Rican Football Federation and one of the main drivers of Football for Schools since the beginning. "The update is key because the programme has evolved and has already contributed greatly to making football known at school level. We even had national futsal and field football competitions today," he explained. "With 30,000 students impacted, we see more boys and girls participating in this sport, which improves the quality of life in our society," added Martinez in an exultant tone.

Inclusive football and drivers of change

Huete singles out Puerto Rico for another reason: "By collaborating with Golitos, a foundation that works with children with autism and who had already been using football as a transformative tool, the federation has taken inclusive football to another dimension.

Omar Álvarez, father of twins with autism and founder of Golitos, has been and is one of the pillars of F4S in the country. Still wearing the yellow T-shirt with the programme's name on it, he has only words of praise for Football for Schools. "What sets it apart from other programmes is its accessibility and the impact it has by bringing it directly to schools, in any community. Many physical education teachers - who otherwise would not know about sport or would not know how to make the most of it for educational purposes - now have the skills and confidence" he said. Alvarez gives a concrete example of the latter. "At the foundation we use an exercise in which they need to knock over the cones with the ball, but they have to pick them up with three fingers. In this way we work on fine motor skills and teach the children to brush their teeth. This can be applied to anyone, not just someone with autism," continued Omar with a smile. "The impact of the programme is clear. Football is an engine of change. Children of all abilities also deserve and have the right to play football," he concluded.

FIFA Football for Schools workshop in Cayey, Puerto Rico

Antonio Buenaño Sánchez is a fellow FIFA Football for Schools Manager and was delighted after three intense days, highlighting the key role the participants will continue to play, moving forward. "Each of the educators who were here will go back to their place of origin and pass on the message, a fundamental aspect of the success of the programme. Many had little or no football training, and now they have a knowledge base that will allow them to use it to work on life skills in physical education sessions, passing on values that will be invaluable for children and young people across the country.”

FIFA Football for Schools workshop in Cayey, Puerto Rico