Connector Meets Ben McBride

Soccerkids is one of the most popular football coaching academies around Dubai. Managed by Ben McBride and James Masterman along with their operations head Debra Gibbs, Soccerkids successfully runs free to attend coaching classes for people of determination. The team runs free weekly classes and trains over 100 children in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We spoke with Soccerkids Managing Partner Ben McBride, to learn more about this wonderful social initiative which he says is his passion.

When And How Did You Start To Coach People Of Determination?

We had a Dutch student who used to play with us. His brother had Down syndrome and in the last 10 minutes of every session, his brother would participate in the game. The boy’s mother was super happy as they never had come across any classes that would train children with Down syndrome in any sport. When the child’s mother told me that there’s a community of parents who have children with Down syndrome, I instantly had this idea if I could be any good to them with my football coaching skills. Our first session had 12 students aged between 9 and 15 years old with whom we did a very simple football class.

Did You Ever Think To Monetise The Idea Of Teaching Children With Down Syndrome?

No, Never. Because, it is such a good thing to do! You feel so good after every session. Parents have built a community around our classes. When you go to these classes and you see what it means to all the children, it’s very fulfilling. You see development within you and you see development in children. We have 2 to 3 children who have been with us since the beginning, they have grown up with us and it is something we can never think of making money out of.

Have You Ever Had Financial Challenges In Running Your Sessions?

Yes, we had times when we lost the locations where we were allowed to conduct sessions for free, and we had to pay for locations ourselves. But we still kept the sessions going. We had a period around four years ago when we managed to get financial backing from Chevrolet to invest in our special needs programme, then we approached a few more centres in Dubai and Abu Dhabi and it helped us grow. It was also the time when I quit my full time job and joined Soccerkids full time as Managing Partner.

How Different Are Your Classes Now After Fifteen Years From Your Initial Classes?

My cousin is Down syndrome, so I had some experience. But before our first formal session with children, we were a bit apprehensive and scared. We did not know how kids would react, and so we ran a very simple session concentrating much on co-ordination skills, hand and eye movement, and after a few sessions, when we saw what kids are capable of doing we developed proper football sessions over the time. Now we have classes depending on the functioning of the student. We have two sessions in Dubai, one is for old students where we concentrate on football skills and we can do more with our old students. Moving into our second session, we have a session for lower functioning students, and autistic children who need one-on-one help, those sessions we are more focussed on co-ordination.skills like catching the ball or holding a ball, and gradually we move them on to use their feet. We also have a session in Abu Dhabi of mixed ability, which we started only six months ago. Earlier when students came to us they were non-functioning and not interested but now we have a very strong footballing group who just love the session.

What Are Your Biggest Challenges In Running These Classes Currently?

The biggest challenges are the lack of volunteers and manpower. We are heavily dependant on the generosity of the venues. Currently we rely on American School Dubai, Dubai English Speaking College, and Repton School in Abu Dhabi which give us their premises for free. However the number of volunteers and exposure remain two big challenges. We would love to expand and take our sessions to other Emirates. We do not ask for funding or money, we do it because we love doing it and if we have more people with us who share our passion, things will be easier.

Are There Any Mistakes You Made On The Way?

We made the biggest mistake of getting more students through different centres and schools. While we were giving these sessions for free, centres were charging parents without our knowing. There will be big groups of children, half of them are not interested and we were doing no good to anyone. So we stopped going through centres and let interested parents approach us directly for us to work in a more transparent environment.

What Kind Of Feedback Do You Receive From Parents?

They are amazed and grateful. There are very few activities free of cost for children in the UAE. They always expect to pay and if they are not paying, they do not expect quality coaching to be there. So, when parents hear of our classes and it's free, they are not quite sure if it’s a good thing to send their children to our classes. We always invite them to sit through our sessions and decide. Once they are there, their notion about a free of cost class changes.

If you are interested in finding out more about Soccerkids Champions and how you can be involved visit www.soccerkidsdubai.com

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