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Beyond the soccer fields

What does the U.S. winning goal at the end of its match with Algeria in the World Cup have to do with youth employment in Latin America? Or what does the composure with which the English goalkeeper accepted a referee’s mistake that cost his team the victory have to do with the self-esteem of adolescents in Brazil? 

Very much, at least from the perspective of To Win, a youth training program supported by the Inter-American Development Bank’s Latin American Multilateral Investment Fund (MIF) and the American volunteer organization Partners of the Americas (POA) that started in Brazil, Ecuador and Uruguay in 2005 and now will be replicated in six other countries in the region.

"I think about these things all the time”, says Paul Teeple, director of POA. "How to use examples from the World Cup and put them in the curricula of the courses. Harnessing the passion for the World Cup and apply it to the lives of young people".

The World Cup, he adds, is a tool to instill in young people enrolled in the program values such as perseverance, teamwork, honesty and maturity, qualities that help them improve their self-esteem, social relationships, and find employment.

The program, which provides job training for youth linking sports with other tools to get them ahead in life, has eloquent figures to show in the three countries where it was launched three years ago: 70% of young people enrolled in the program already has a job and many say they feel confident and able to handle challenges in the work environment through the skills they’ve learned.

These results have encouraged Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Haiti, Jamaica and the Republic Dominican to launch their own programs To Win, also with support from the MIF and POA. The MIF approved $3.6 million in funding for this new round, which aims to open employment opportunities for at least 5,400 young people who otherwise could not enter the reduced labor market in their countries.

"We are happy with the expansion of the new project in more countries," says Fabian Koss, Youth Program Coordinator of the IDB’s Office of External Relations. "It is wonderful to see how To Win coaches and facilitators in several countries are working together to improve the program and learn the lessons from their first experiences".

The formula for success has been to use in To Win well-known and popular sports such as soccer to teach skills that can later be applied in the workplace. In Argentina, to "nationalize" the project even further, the relevant sport will be rugby, a very popular sport in that country.  

The program believes that young people can compare what is needed in the field to win a game with what is expected from them in their work.  The training occurs in three phases. In the first phase, the relationship between sports and work is established. In the second phase, youth receive technical training and job skills, and the third put the two initial phases to a test in the real world through internships and work practices.

"We believe this model is vital as a development tool," says Maritza Vela, head of the team responsible for the expansion of To Win to new countries. "It's not only the expansion of the model, but the introduction of rugby, baseball and hockey in these new places. The Bank is confident that the use of sports is transcendental
for low-income children, many of whom live in neighborhoods where violence is a part of their daily routine".

Those who have attended To Win classes say that, thanks to the program, they have improved their ability to work in team, their communication skills, health and physical development, among other things.

Between 83% and 93% of young graduates was satisfied with the support they received from the program, by improving their self-esteem, preparing for interviews and search of opportunities and information, accordingly to SIC Development, a consulting firm that executed an impact assessment at the end of the project.

And, although the focus of To Win was to improve opportunities for young people to find work, dealing with issues such as relations with the community and their family and the introduction of new values were particularly relevant for trainees.

The program has certified 18 education and training institutions, which offered 45 courses. A total of 3,475 youth started the program and 2,816 completed all three phases, surpassing the initial targets.

The idea is to cultivate the passion that sports in general, and soccer in particular, generate among youth. Sports not only lead to a healthier and more balanced life, but also can improve employment opportunities.

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