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Coaching for Life

Claire Milligan, a Senior Child Protection Adviser at Save the Children discusses the Coaching for Life program and how we are supporting girls across the world.


With more refugees and internally displaced people in the world today than ever before and an ever-expanding global poverty gap, children are increasingly exposed to conflict, trauma and violence. Nearly one in four children lives in a country affected by conflict or disaster and every 5 minutes a child dies as a result of violence. Conflicts and natural disasters exacerbate gender inequalities, particularly against women and girls, and girls suffer disproportionately from gender-based violence in post-conflict and other settings.

Against this challenging backdrop, our programming and partnerships find reasons for hope for children, notably girls, across the world. Together with our partners we are finding innovative solutions to provide relief from the trauma of conflict and the everyday stresses associated with high levels of poverty and violence.

Coaching for Life

One programme I’m particularly proud of is Coaching for Life. Co-created with The Arsenal Foundation, the project aims to improve the physical, emotional and mental wellbeing of children affected by conflict, violence and poverty. Working together, we have combined our child protection expertise with Arsenal’s sports for development experience to create an ambitious 20-week coaching model aimed to build children’s mental health and well-being through football.

Launched last year in Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan and visited by Arsenal Academy Manager Per Mertesacker, this year our colleagues have been busy launching the programme in the urban slums of Jakarta, Indonesia. In Jordan and Indonesia combined, we are supporting 4,000 children to develop key life skills to promote positive coping and resilience through the delivery of sessions looking at issues such as emotions, communication, decision making, self-esteem and conflict management. Through football, children are developing these skills, learning about their rights and the importance of gender equality. We have put in place a robust system to collect evidence so that are able to understand and ultimately demonstrate the programme’s impact on children’s mental health, well-being and sense of belonging. If the results are good, we hope to take this model of Coaching for Life to scale and support other country offices to use it for the benefit of even more children. And despite strict gender norms which dictate that girls should not participate in sport, particularly football, we are working hard with locally trained football coaches, parents and communities to ensure that just as many girls participate as boys, fulfilling their right to participate and ensuring that they also receive much needed support for their mental health and well-being.

How we hope to build resilience in children

The programme is part of an increasing focus on mental health and psychosocial support (MHPSS) across the Save the Children movement and within the international humanitarian sector as a whole. In North Jakarta, Indonesia, a bustling and overcrowded part of Indonesia’s capital where children are living on less than 1 US dollar per day, four out five children aged two to fifteen years old experience are exposed to ongoing high levels of stress.  Building the resiliency of children is integral for them to fulfil their potential in this overwhelming environment and this is particularly so for girls who may face a triple burden of housework, schoolwork and work outside the home. In Za’atari refugee camp, the impact of the conflict back in Syria continues to be felt and psychological distress and trauma are common amongst both children and adults. For children in Za’atari camp, the programme has already generated an important sense of belonging which has a positive impact on their mental health and wellbeing.

In August we were delighted to invite Arsenal Women’s player and England Lioness Leah Williamson to a Coaching for Life football resilience session in Jakarta and to meet some girls facing daily challenges in their lives. She told us, “The young girls in Jakarta inspired me and have made me incredibly proud to be a woman and a role model to young girls.”

Leah Williamson in Indonesia with girls from the Coaching for life programme

“I’ve been at Arsenal since I was nine and always known about our place and role in our community. It’s in our DNA. We all understand it’s a privilege to use the power of the club to do good. When you apply it in a really special way it can be used to achieve brilliant things – develop confidence, resilience and essential skills for life.

“Whether you’re growing up in London, Jordan or Jakarta, football has the power to bring people together and offer a lifeline. It was amazing to see how Coaching for Life has been built in partnership with Save the Children to create something so special to inspire the girls I met.”

The future of Coaching for Life

Coaching for Life is an important programme in some of the world’s most challenging environments for children. It trains local coaches, both male and female, to coach football and develop key life skills of children and youth. It is also now beginning to take on graduates from the programme as trainee football coaches. Girls and boys from the programme also advocate on issues related to the mental health and wellbeing of children like them. As this programme goes from strength-to-strength, we hope that more girls and boys will be inspired to join and share their experiences of how they have enjoyed and benefitted from participating.

Girls in the coaching for life programme


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