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Fitting in - the role we play in helping new arrivals feel at home | Coaching Youth (age 13-18) | ConnectedCoaches

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Home » Groups » Coaching Youth (age 13-18) » blogs » Ceri Bowley » Fitting in - the role we play in helping new arrivals feel at home
Coaching Youth (age 13-18)

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Fitting in - the role we play in helping new arrivals feel at home

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This blog first appeared in the Spring 2017: Embracing Change issue of Coaching Edge and has been posted with their permission. You can find out more about Coaching Edge here.

Whether it be a new city or a different country, moving to a new community is difficult for young people. I look at how coaches can help.

Sport plays an important role in the everyday lives of many young people, from the physical to the technical, the psychological to the social aspects. Sport can be the catalyst for enhancing
self-esteem and creating a sense of belonging, as well as increasing social inclusion and identity across groups.

One of the opportunities sport presents is for people to be able to express themselves,
to showcase their competence, which can often ‘open the door’ for new arrivals to become ‘accepted’. Speaking specifically about this, one young person, whose father is in the armed forces, described what it was like to frequently have to move home and school, and develop new friendships, opening up about one initially difficult move:

‘From the age of four I had a new home every two to three years until I was 16. Constantly having to uproot and leave was terrible. I hated it. At first it seems like an adventure but as I got older and had
started to develop proper friendships it got harder.

‘This one time I remember more than any. I was 14 and had just moved to my fifth home. I met a lad in the same year at school and spent most of the first couple of weeks with him. He’d found it hard to settle and make friends, and I was becoming the same. I remember feeling really isolated and pleading with my dad to go back up north.

‘Being quite a shy kid I found it hard, but I had one thing in common with all the lads: football. One lunchtime I got involved in a game and it changed everything for me. They say that football has the power to unite people and I really believe that. As soon as they could see that I could play a bit they accepted me. I was invited to hang out after school, and introduced to the local football team. I ended up having lots of mates and it’s probably the place I have the strongest attachment.’

Further evidence of the power of football can be seen through All Together Merthyr FC, a project delivered by the community development team at Merthyr Town Football Club.

‘During a time when there was a lot of friction and animosity between the wide range of different cultures within the UK, Merthyr Town FC wanted to use football as a means of bringing those communities together,’ the club’s Community Development Officer, Elliott Evans, told me.

Merthyr Town FC

‘Merthyr Tydfil has a large population of Polish and Portuguese migrant families and we wanted to give them the opportunity to not just play football but to use it as a way of interacting with others and meeting new people in the hope that this would help them settle in the town.’

Recognising that migrant communities can often be insular and difficult to engage with, staff at the
football club realised that further expertise was required. They reached out to a local charity, Focal Point, who aimed to work with migrant workers to encourage inclusion and enhance cultural awareness across the wider community.

Through Focal Point, the club was introduced to influential representatives of the migrant communities. Following consultation, it was determined that from a football-based project their desires were twofold:

1. A fully inclusive football club that welcomed not only people of migrant background but everyone regardless of cultural background, nationality, gender and ability.

2. A way of bringing communities together, a means of meeting new people and building relationships with people of all nationalities in Merthyr.

To achieve this, a football match was organised with the aim of raising awareness of the Polish and Portuguese communities, and a means by which these communities could be welcomed.

All Together Merthyr was founded with the team playing its first game against a local Merthyr Tydfil League club. The match, attended by Wales national team manager Chris Coleman, and supported by “Hope Not Hate”, a counter-racism campaign, proved a huge success.

As well as developing relationships between migrant and local residents, it was the catalyst for reaching out to other groups including Merthyr’s Syrian community. It provided an opportunity to grow an affinity with, and allegiance to, the wider football family at Merthyr Town, and strengthened their feeling of belonging.

‘I moved with my family (to Merthyr) for a better life and better work,’ explained one member of All Together Merthyr. ‘At first it was very hard and stressful, I had to learn a new language, start a new job, a new life. The All Together Merthyr team helped me. I met people who were the same as me and our families are very close now. Merthyr Town helped me, I love football, and now I support the Martyrs. Everybody was very nice and helped me be part of the (football) family. This is now our home.’

Evans reinforced the benefits of All Together Merthyr, hailing the project’s ability to bridge gaps. ‘It gave us the opportunity to engage with those communities. It has meant more people playing the game of football, which is one of our key objectives, but it has also opened the club up to more people.

‘We have seen a number of the All Together Merthyr players attending Merthyr Town home matches and engaging with the club in other ways away from the playing side.’

What can coaches do to help?

  • Welcome new members and allow them the opportunity to play or participate.

  • Be there to support new members of their community and/or club, showing empathy for their situation and taking time to get to know the ‘person’ and how they might feel. Who have they moved with? What challenges are they currently facing?

  • Signpost new members to other sources of support. A particularly reassuring source can often be fellow ex-pats, where language barriers can come down. You can probably relate to the feeling of relief upon hearing your language spoken in another country if you’ve
    ever struggled to communicate with locals when asking for directions.

  • Effective signposting relies upon our willingness to research and reach out to other organisations or individuals that can help. Reaching out is of particular importance for developing your own relationships and connecting migrants, as opposed to simply providing a name for them to seek.

  • Embrace, not fear. Coaching is about helping people and this is no different. Embrace the opportunity to learn about other cultures, rather than being put off by a (potential) lack
    of experience of coaching with barriers (language).


If you enjoyed this you can find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.

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