It’s not every day that a couple of coaches employed by one of England’s top Premier League football clubs travel to New Zealand to help young Kiwis with their soccer skills.
Hundreds of players in school and club teams throughout the country have had the rare treat over the last couple of weeks of attending clinics with coaches from glamour club Tottenham Hotspur – home of star England players Harry Kane, Dele Alli, Keiran Trippier, Eric Dier and the France World Cup winning captain Hugo Lloris.
But Anton Blackwood and Shaun Harris, part of Spurs’ International Football Development programme, weren’t just here to help the players with their passing, tackling, dribbling and goal shooting.
“One of the main messages we’re trying to get across is the importance of being physically active and leading a healthy lifestyle,” says Blackwood.
“Yes, we teach ball skills but we also deliver talks on nutrition and do exercise sessions. It’s using football as a tool to encourage kids to get moving and take care of their bodies, which is so important for their health.”
The visit tied in with New Zealand’s Healthiest Schools Challenge, an initiative launched by recently joined insurance companies AIA and Sovereign to inspire children throughout the country to be more active.
AIA is the Global Principal Partner of the London-based Tottenham Hotspur F.C and organised for a select number of schools taking part in the Healthiest Schools Challenge to have sessions with international development coaches Blackwood and Harris.
“It’s not about training people to be professional footballers,” points out Blackwood. “It’s about participating, having fun, improving your skills and wanting to get out there and play the game, and being fit and healthy so you can do that.”
Encouraging kids to be active is crucial because it can kick-start a habit that lasts a lifetime.
“If you start playing sport and eating well when you are young, as you get older that becomes a natural part of your life – and you carry those habits through to when you’re an adult. It becomes something you enjoy.”
Neither Blackwood and Harris, who both grew up in London, could imagine life without football and being fit. Their childhoods involved many hours spent running around a soccer pitch or training so that they not only had the skills needed but the stamina to play for 90 minutes.
“These days a lot of kids spend a huge amount of time sitting around gaming or watching YouTube or they’re on their phones. They’re not moving, they’re not burning energy.
“Shaun and I both feel lucky that football has been a big part of our lives because it has encouraged enabled us to be fit and healthy.”
Blackwood, who played for a Spurs’ Youth Academy as well the Antigua national side before his career was cut short by injuries, has found coaching to be a great fit: “Being able to share some of my experience and help young players develop their skills just happened naturally and is something I really enjoy.”
Harris agrees that getting to travel the world – the pair are currently based in Hong Kong and coach players throughout Asia – while sharing their expertise and love of the game is an incredible job.
“I was playing but it wasn’t working out for me so I went to university to get a degree in coaching – and that was the next best thing. I still get to put my boots on every day and be out on the field helping others. It is enormously rewarding.”
The pair have both signed up for AIA and Sovereign’s New Zealand’s Healthiest Schools Challenge, which involves 55,000 primary and intermediate schoolchildren (plus 2000 teachers) armed with pedometers to count steps and other activities in an effort to get Kiwi kids moving more and becoming less anchored in a sedentary lifestyle. Walking, cycling and swimming will all play a role as will activities designed to address issues like too much screen time and healthy sleep patterns.
Physical activity is logged in a digital programme that allows participants to “travel” around the world, partaking in online adventures with Kiwi sports legends Cory Jane and Gemma McCaw. Along the way they can answer questions about the healthy living messages they’ve been given by Gemma and Cory, and go in a draw to win AIA and Sovereign sports grants for their school.
Republished with permission. Originally posted on NZHerald.co.nz 03 November, 2018.