Wishing to remind that sport is not only about high fees, advertisements, elite competitions, but that in its essence there are socializing, fair play, learning true values and individual development, Development Center for Youth from Belgrade presented in 2019 the concept of “Life Champions”. The concept focuses on creation of good people – life champions, starting from the importance of the role of trainers as educators and pedagogues, but also of parents and club management as significant support in the process itself.
Guided by the motto that not everyone will become a top athlete, but that everyone should become a top person, actors from the sports, youth and educational sectors have united and began to develop a specific work model that emphasizes the education of children and young people in and through sports. If we start from the fact that children go to school because they have to, and to sports because they want to, the importance of trainers in all of this is clear, as well as why they are at the center of the process.
“Sport is a powerful channel for conveying important social messages and has a strong influence on shaping the community, so we must make sure that the messages we send are those that advocate for fair play, respect for diversity, fostering non-violent communication, gender equality. We want to show children and young people that the only winning combination is the one that relies on positive values, to make them feel happy and fulfilled again in sports, showing them that everything else will come from that feeling, and in that as our main allies we see trainers and parents”, said the coordinator Aleksandra Knežević, launching the concept in 2019.
From then until today, the concept of Life Champions directly included over 700 children, 200 coaches and 100 parents, and all realized activities – training and meetings of coaches, camps and equipment for children, consultations with parents, work of the expert groups, a strong promotional campaign thanks to which over 5 million people have already heard about this idea, were free thanks to the efforts of the organizers to ensure international support for them, but also thanks to significant partnerships with some of the domestic socially responsible companies and media, primarily TV Arena sport.
Apart from Development Center for Youth, as well as FC Grafičar as the representatives of Serbia, FC Gorica (Croatia), FC Maribor (Slovenia), FC Pelister (North Macedonia), FC Željezničar and FC Sloga Doboj (Bosnia and Herzegovina) joined the testing of new model of work with children, showing this way the openness to all positive changes in work with younger categories, but also the desire to give priority to true values over commercialization in sports. On the expert side, support came from two significant educational collectives – the faculties of sports within METU University from Ankara and the University of St. Cyril and Methodius from Skopje. Communication and visibility in the digital world was taken care of by the Union Educational Center from Banja Luka, and the partnership set up in this way has shown that the region can and wants to cooperate, that it shares the common challenges, but also the desire for further connection, especially when it comes to children and young people.
Children enjoyed, socialized, learned and acquired new habits and skills; trainers came up with new educational tools, and parents provided support by seeing positive changes in their children. And where are we now?
Project coordinator likes to say – one step from the dream. Strengthened by the entry of FC Antalyaspor (Turkey) and FC Ludogorets (Bulgaria) into partnership, with additional expert support from the Institute for Philosophy and Social Theory of the University of Belgrade and legal support from SCEO association from Skopje, on 24.11.2022. Development Center for Youth signed a Grant agreement with the European Commission on behalf of the partnership, which will provide stable two-year support for further development of the idea.
“Yes, of course we are proud to be the holder of one of the largest grants in the field of sports in Europe, but we look at it exclusively through the following parameters – 13 partners from 4 sectors and 7 countries will continue to work on strengthening the pedagogical and educational role of trainers in sports, with comprehensive research, finalization of a new work model, trainers’ meetings, a working tour through the FC Antalyaspor sports complex and expert meetings in Portugal, but also free of charge international camps for hundreds of children and a large European conference for the end, with the hope that it will bring together all important actors of the international scene. With us there are celebrities from the world of sports and media partner TV Arena sport, so it is our obligation to continue connecting children and young people, representatives of clubs and federations, associations and institutions, for now from 7 countries involved, and soon even wider than that”, said. Aleksandra Knežević, posting a digital signature on the document that will enable further development of this positive story.
However, the partnership does not intend to stop there. Cooperation was established with DEKI5 camp and the Pandev Academy on the further spread of ideas at the regional level, and next year the idea is to start creating life champions in the handball as well, with the support of handball legend Ratko Nikolić. New countries, new clubs, new sports disciplines, in order to give every child the opportunity to be part of the process with a smile and joy.
Every parent wants to see his/her child smiling, every trainer wants to leave a mark in creating a personality full of self-respect, but also respect for the world around him/herself, every club wants to produce top people ready to promote all the values acquired while playing sports one day when they grow up, and we – we want to make it feasible for everyone at the time of specific socio-economic challenges that the world is facing right now!
Sport can be a scene of conflict and a trigger for the greatest tensions, but also a platform for the promotion of cooperation, reconciliation, a culture of coexistence – it is up to us what we will highlight. Convinced of the power of ideas we stand for and wishing to contribute to the return of good old values, we count on support of the public in our joint efforts to create new generations of true life champions!