Victory of Friendship. How Social Football has Enriched the Lives of Rural Schools in the Pskov Region

26/02/2024
Football3 is a type of football where victory is determined not by the number of goals, but by the ability to negotiate, establish, and adhere to rules. This form of social football, which aids in developing communication skills, is used for educational purposes and transforms the lives of children, educators, and parents. Football3 originated in Colombia in 1996 and gained popularity in Europe, but the only place in Russia where it really flourished is Pskov Region. This article recounts how it happened and the outcomes it has yielded.

The Pskov branch of the Russian Children's Fund (RCF) has played the main role in introducing the international concept of social football to the cities, towns, and villages of the Pskov Region.

As of February 2024, the Children’s Fund will celebrate its 36th anniversary. Currently, the RCF has branches in 63 regions across Russia. Among these, the Pskov branch is one of the most dynamic and effective, ranking first in the amount of aid provided within the North-Western Federal District and seventh nationwide.

“The Pskov branch, just like the main office, is 36 years old. Throughout these years, we have dedicated ourselves to aiding children in need.

In the 1990s, the primary focus was on providing urgent social aid such as clothing, food, and essential items. “By the mid-2000s, as the nation's economic situation began to improve, our programs expanded to include psychological support and sports,” explains Kristina Yeletskaya, the foundation’s program coordinator.

FOOTBALL3

Beyond offering targeted support to families, the foundation has also established a comprehensive program for boarding schools within the region.

“When creating programs, we always consider the needs of the boarding schools, and there has always been a request for assistance in developing sports," explains Kristina.

“The Ball of Friendship: Strengthening Families” project, which also incorporated Football3, was introduced to Pskov Region alongside the “Little Hearts” football tournament.

“Until the spring of 2022, we had a reliable European partner, the Kleine Herzen Foundation of Austria. Pascale Vayer, the president and main architect of the foundation, is a significant ally not just of our foundation but of the entire Pskov region. She has been aiding local organizations helping orphans for many years, providing support for orphanages, awarding scholarships to their gifted graduates, organizing excursions for children to various corners of the world, and in 2011, she became a foster mother to a boy from the Vorontsov correctional boarding school (Ostrovsky District of Pskov Region).”

The Kleine Herzen Foundation emerged as the primary sponsor of the “Little Hearts” football tournament, and it was Pascale Vayer who acquainted the Children’s Fund staff with Football3, a methodology that benefits children, educators, parents, and society at large.

“In 2017, Pascale told us that FIFA operates a global initiative to foster football programs aimed at supporting orphaned children and described the grants available from the organization. Given that soccer has become a fundamental aspect of our mission, and with the Little Hearts tournaments being eagerly awaited yearly events, we submitted an application without second thoughts and secured a two-year grant. And so, Football3 was introduced to the boarding schools of the Pskov region.”

Football3 is an innovative approach to football that is transforming people’s lives globally. The foundational principle of Football3 is that the essential values of integrity, gender equity, teamwork, and respect are just as vital as the proficiency in football.

Football3 is named for its three integral components – the pre-match discussion of a selected topic and the game’s rules, the match itself, and the post-match analysis of the results.

Football3 incorporates critical life lessons into every match. Players, organized into diverse mixed-gender teams, establish the rules before the commencement of the game. Following the match, they reflect on their own conduct as well as that of their opponents. Points are awarded not only for goals, but also for fair play. As Football3 is played without referees, players must learn to resolve conflicts through dialogue and compromise.

Excerpt from the Football3 methodology manual.

Thanks to the FIFA grant, children from 10 orphanages in the region have started to play psychological-social football regularly. A representative of the Children’s Fund completed FIFA-certified training and has taught social educators and psychologists from boarding schools the techniques and philosophy of the game.

Football3's ease of adaptation to various social contexts is one of its strengths, and it's also why the game is popular in many countries, helping people address diverse challenges.

“It quickly became evident that the project had taken root in our region. Social educators and psychologists from residential institutions were enthusiastic, engaged in training, and the children enjoyed playing and embraced the rules.”

Seeing such success, the foundation's representatives started seeking new opportunities to expand and enhance the program. In 2021, the Children’s Fund won the “Stronger with CSS” contest, launching a project that introduced a new demographic – rural schools, their students, and educators.

“We observed the impact of the training sessions, particularly how soccer influences the psychological and emotional well-being of boarding school students. And we continually thought about the students from rural schools, the children from ordinary families. We understood they also needed support, and we were certain that Football3 would resonate with them. We are thrilled that the CSS Foundation also believed in this vision and offered their support.”

The Ball of Friendship: Strengthening Families

“The Ball of Friendship: Strengthening Families” project was conducted in seven rural schools of the Pskov Region.

“Initially, we approached nine schools, and seven agreed to participate. Some schools chose not to take on the additional responsibility and paperwork. Schools located near larger cities, where children face fewer challenges with recreational activities, also opted out. However, the village and rural schools responded enthusiastically, embraced the responsibility wholeheartedly, and continue to integrate this approach into their educational practices.”

Football3 has been an excellent addition to the educational curriculum, enabling teachers to convey essential information not just in conventional formats but also in an informal manner. Numerous teachers have note that they managed to find effective strategies for engaging with challenging students, identify emerging conflicts early, and empower students to resolve these issues on their own. Indeed, one of the key principles of Football3 is the promotion of dialogue.

For instance, a session designed to enhance communication skills and foster camaraderie among students may feature activities like the “Compliment” exercise. During such exercises, when a ball is passed, the player must give a compliment to the recipient. 

The ability to give compliments is a crucial skill that contributes to breaking down barriers in communication, showing goodwill, and fostering an atmosphere of trust.

The project engaged not just educators and students, but parents as well. For parents, the project featured family relay races and provided opportunities to attend talks by psychologists and pose questions to experts.

“The Ball of Friendship: Strengthening Families” initiative included inter-city tournaments, which gave the children the chance to explore various locales within the Pskov Region, deepen their connection with their homeland, and build new relationships.

Additionally, as part of the “Stronger with CSS” contest, equipment and uniforms were procured, and a sports utility room in one of the schools was renovated, complete with new lighting and a functional storage system for sports equipment.

“Rural schools require as much, if not more, support and attention from aid organizations and philanthropists compared to orphanages and boarding schools. Yet, the collaboration between NGOs and educational institutions is currently ineffective. Our foundation has been active in the Pskov Region for three decades, but it was only in 2021 that we were able to forge such strong partnerships. And we are definitely committed to maintaining them,” says Kristina.

The team at the Children’s Fund has a lot of ideas for advancing Football3 technology across the Pskov Region. However, at present, the project has been put on hold.

In February 2022, FIFA halted its relations with Russia, the Kleine Herzen Foundation led by Pascale Vayer ceased its operations in our country, and the CSS Foundation’s grant ended in December 2022.

“We have managed only to keep the annual Football3 tournaments. They are still just as popular and the participants are always looking forward to them. However, we have discontinued regular trainings at regular and boarding schools. We hope this is only a temporary situation. Nonetheless, the Pskov Region continues to engage in Football3 activities. The project goes on fueled entirely by the dedication of the trained specialists and their profound passion for this method. 

The sports kits, crucial for building team spirit among athletes, are well-preserved and distributed exclusively for significant games. The equipment is still being utilized actively. Far from lacking motivation, we are actively devising innovative aspects for “The Ball of Friendship: Strengthening Families” project, which will surely have a future,” Kristina concludes. 

Overall, within “The Ball of Friendship: Strengthening Families” project, 30 specialists were trained, over 2000 Football3 training sessions were conducted, 15 mass events were organized, and more than 1000 children from various parts of the Pskov Region participated in the project.