Football as saviour of inner-city youth

WHILE ecstatic about the team’s Walker Cup victory after a stellar season, Tivoli Gardens High School football coaches believe this is the perfect time to remind Jamaica that more can be done for inner-city football programmes.

“The coaching staff is buzzing. I am super happy for the boys; they have done tremendously. We always emphasise to the lads that they should not be afraid to express themselves and that no matter the result, we are proud of them,” Assistant Coach Jevonnie Codlin told the Jamaica Observer.

Tivoli defeated St George’s College 1-0 in the semi-final of the Walker Cup at the Stadium East Field last Tuesday, inching closer to the ISSA schoolboy football title. The team then beat Haile Selassie High 6-5 in the final Friday in sudden death penalties to take the title.

“We have an incredible squad with fantastic players. Myself, the Head Coach Christopher Nicholson and Goalkeeper Coach Horatio Nelson were making plans in the summer for the season. We were very much aware that we have a good crop of guys to work with — the foundation was there from last season [and] the players have grown over the course of six to nine months. The unit is vigorous. Mentally, the lads are aware of how to work through adversities. They are growing and I am grateful,” Codlin continued.

However, Codlin told the Sunday Observer that more investment is needed in football programmes in inner-city communities as he believes they serve as outlets of expression or advancement for underserved youth.

“We have to help these kids; I have seen it first-hand. If we don’t spend decent amount of time with them and follow up in regards to what they are doing off the field, we are eventually going to lose them. We sit with that and don’t care? Unless we don’t love our country. The hierarchies of society can do better and within themselves they know, but it’s what it is,” he said.

“As a Jamaican citizen it sickening to see how we live amongst each other. We are killing off each other for nothing. Football can save 90 per cent of our inner-city youth. You see Shamar Nicholson, you also see Junior Flemmings, and you will see Trevaughn Reid pretty soon. Those players are the epitome of football to youngsters from inner-city communities.”

Head Coach Christopher Nicholson agreed. He said football is the road out of wrongdoing for many youngsters.

“It is important. Sports events in inner city are like a ‘way maker’. If you allow them [boys], they get distracted easily because in the inner city you have a lot of activities — both negative and positive. And so, we always try to show the youth that sports can be a way out, especially football, and the talent is abundant inside here,” he told the Sunda
y Observer.

“So it is always a joy if we can get the Observer to just come and support. Me and Codlin, we alone can’t do it. We need people from outside to come in and show the youth that this is the way. When the Observer come in and help with the groundwork, that can lead on to sponsorships when other people see what is happening. That exposure will bring help but we cannot reach that stage without the help of the media.”

Meanwile, Codlin was speaking from first-hand experience about how football can save lives. At age 10 Codlin struggled with the death of his parents.

His mother and father died two weeks apart and he was raised under the guidance of his grandmother, Viviah Green, in Tivoli Gardens, west Kingston.

A Tivoli Gardens High School student in 2015, he was supposed to sit his Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) exams but couldn’t do so because he didn’t have a birth certificate.

Last year he was appointed as the head coach for the Tivoli Gardens Football Club Youth Programme while reading for a degree in physical education and sports at The Mico University College.

“I try my utmost best to live a humble life. I maintain myself as a professional, on and off the field — which in my books is critical. The guys won’t hear me telling them not to drink alcohol then around the corner they see me drinking it. I don’t believe in that. What you say to the players as a coach, in my opinion, you must practise it too. I can’t tell the players not to party then they see me in a party moments later,” he reasoned.

“As a coach, working with youngsters on a day-to-day basis, it’s important how you operate. Players must look to you for inspiration and as a role model. I am a professional coach, therefore, I conduct myself in that manner in regards to how I speak, how I am attired for sessions. No one is perfect but I aim for perfection. You’ll never see me on the football field to coach and I am in my slippers or a short pants — it doesn’t matter the level or the age group I am going to train, it doesn’t matter if someone is watching or not. I respect my job too much to do that.”

Codlin is adamant that student athletes will grow if there is more meaningful and consistent support and guidance.

“They’ll deliberate constructively about their future. I am not going to tell you that we are fine. We would love assistance for the boys — not just financial because one doesn’t only grow with financial support; it’s a combination of factors. Therefore, if any individual or group desires to assist our programme, we welcome you with both arms,” he said.

The coach applauded the companies and agencies that have been supporting the sport across Jamaica.

“Personally, I encourage them to continue with whatever they are doing. It means a lot to the players. From someone who works very closely with these guys on a day-to-day basis, I can assure you that they’re grateful for the chance to play football.”

Codlin said the impacts of such investments have been palpable over the years.

“Yes, 110 per cent. Remember where these kids live. They are crying for help. They need help in any way and honest individuals around them. Think about helping a kid from Tivoli who doesn’t have a parent at home. Some of our players are parenting themselves at the age of 17. Giving them sufficient support will no doubt be an immense impact to them. We can’t be tentative to help a kid who has been suffering silently.”

Getting a chance to participate in fully resourced football programmes, Codlin added, would be a major help for the boys, who plan to pursue football professionally hereafter.

“In the inner-city it’s always turf war right throughout the year so whenever they get a chance to play football it’s like heaven for them. An entrepreneur probably having the feeling that they’re not going to support football because in the sport on a whole there are undisciplined players, hence why I said it’s a combination of factors to properly mould youngsters to be the face of society. I believe they can — I never ever doubt a kid. Who am I to tell a kid that he can’t be the next Leon Bailey or the next prime minister of Jamaica?” he questioned.

And he noted that the assistance needed transcends the sport itself. He said oftentimes home life affects the ability of youth to focus on both academics and extra-curricular activities.

“We need some help. Help can never be too much. Sometimes you have student athletes in desperate need of the basic stuff for school such as school shoes, uniform, et cetera. We would love a nutrition programme for the boys. It will be a massive help for them. Some of our boys don’t even eat at home, they come here seeking a plate of food. It’s no shame, it’s the reality, and what do we do about the reality? We face it with grit,” Codlin stated.

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