by Vu Lan Dung
Every Wednesday and Friday morning, 16-year-old Nguyen Dinh Tuan plays football at the Phu Dong Sports Club. For one hour, he and his friends from the Niem Vui School for the hearing impaired in the central province of Phu Yen practise dribbling and ball skills.
|Heading for hope: Children at the SOS Village orphanage in Nghe An Province play football under the instruction of coaches trained under the Premier Skills project. — Photo courtesy of British Council
Tuan started playing as a recreational activity, but now he really wants to be a professional footballer.
Tuan is one of hundreds of disadvantaged children across Viet Nam who are benefiting from the Premier Skills project organised by the British Council and the Premier League with support from the Viet Nam Football Federation. They are provided with kit and expenses for food and drink, and work with coaches who were trained in HCM City in late October.
In the first part of the project, the coaches were taught skills and ways to approach kids by coaches from Queens Park Rangers, Everton and Portsmouth. They have since put that experience and knowledge into practice by coaching disadvantaged kids in their hometowns.
They are now working with schools for the visual and hearing impaired, such as Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Niem Vui, along with children from the SOS Village orphanage in Vinh City and kids from across the rest of the country.
Although Tuan is deaf and mute, it doesn't affect his interest in football. "I find it difficult to head the ball, so I have to spend more time practising," he said using sign language.
Coach Cao Thanh Xuan praises Tuan for being agile and smart as well as for showing an aptitude for football. "I made him captain of the team. He is keen on football and often asks me for advice."
However, Xuan acknowledged that it was difficult for him to communicate with the kids. "They can't hear or speak. We've had to learn sign language to be able to express simple things, such as greetings and standing in line, and we've also written a coaching plan for them," he said.
The club aims to boost the children's confidence and help them integrate with the community.
Ngoi Nha Hanh Phuc (Happy House) Club in SOS Village, Nghe An Province, hopes to connect sport with education about life skills while building pride through football.
Club head coach Giao Van Huong said: "We have four coaches and a number of volunteers, so it's not hard to train the kids. I divide them into small groups and assign tasks to each person."
Ngo Van Thong, 12, plays as a midfielder, and is doing his utmost to fulfil his dream of becoming a professional footballer.
"I love my position because a midfielder plays an important role in a team. He has to be able to set up goals while helping the defence," he said.
Referring to the club, he smiled: "Playing at this club is a good chance for me to exercise, learn new skills and meet friends."
Fourteen-year-old Le Minh Duc plays football with his companions in the afternoons. "Sometimes, I lose confidence and want to quit the club, but encouragement from my coaches and my love for football drive me on," he said.
Although working as a coach for Song Lam Nghe An junior team, Huong still arranges his time to help the kids.
"I will continue coaching them even when the project ends. I went on a Community Coaching Course, and this is a chance for me to put what I was taught into practice," he said. Le Hong Thai established Nguyen Dinh Chieu school's football club for visually impaired children eight years ago. The club was selected to take in the project, but are still awaiting help. Blind kids need special balls with bells inside to help them hear their way around the pitch, but they still haven't arrived.
"The footballs can be produced in Viet Nam, but they are not loud enough and the players can't hear them. We are waiting for five balls to be sent from England.
"The most important thing for a coach is to understand the kids. Eight years ago, when I first established the club, I spent a lot of time talking to the children. Through the conversations, we understand each other and I found the best methods of training them," Thai said, added that he was trying to train a physical education teacher to maintain a steady two sessions per week.
Alongside the six clubs, a range of school football clubs at 12 high schools in six provinces will be founded under the project. Teachers at these clubs will all undergo training as part of the Premier Skills project.
Twice a week, the players from Niem Vui School and SOS Village along with other clubs across the country enjoy playing football. Like the story of Tuan, football can change from an enjoyable pastime to a dream future career for every kid who plays. — VNS