In early 2019, I was invited by Brighton and Hove Albion Football Club in England at their home ground, The American Express Stadium. That was when I got introduced to the Literacy Cup, an annual event for school children organised by the Premier League.
I was representing Magic Bus and Magic Bus UK, a Mumbai based charity which uses sports and physical activities to empower children in highly impoverished communities with programmes in India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and England. And I was there to exchange knowledge and create mutual understanding as well as form a collaboration between Magic Bus UK and Albion in the Community, the flagship community project of Brighton and Hove Albion FC.
At that point, I’ve read about the Premier League Literacy Cup but never experienced it first-hand. And there’s a world of difference between knowing something and experiencing it. Hundreds of children from various primary schools across Sussex were there. Children who were facing difficulty in reading and writing. That’s right. The Literacy Cup was aimed at improving the reading and writing literacy skills of school children in a sports themed, fun way.
There, I met children who had difficulty when reading their stuff related to their school curriculum but can easily pronounce and write names like Wojciech Szczesny, Gylfi Sigurdsson, Virgil van Dijk, Pierre Emerick Aubameyang and Henrikh Mkhitariyan. They can even narrate and write stories about their favourite footballers, athletes, sports.
But why was there an ease for the school children in reading and/ or writing when it comes to their favourite games, sports and athletes? The reason is easy. Because they love those sports, athletes and anything that they love. Children love sports and physical activities. They love to have fun and it’s during fun time that they learn the most, that their brains are receptive to learning.
They are instilled the habit of reading and writing by allowing them to read, write and narrate about their favourite sports, activities or athletes to develop their confidence. Slowly and steadily those skills are then transferred into reading/ writing their curricular materials. Likewise, children’s activities can be tailored to make then learn important life skills like awareness, concentration, emotional control, anger management, communication, teamwork, fair play, wellbeing etc. My work with Magic Bus as well as a grassroots football and primary school sports and Physical Education teacher enabled me to plan sessions to emphasise those skills as a priority along with or even more important than their athletic development. Every children experience and utilise those skills when they are playing but it’s the constant emphasis that helps them to learn about it. Hone these skills during their Formative Years (between the ages of 6 to 11 years where behavioural changes takes place), then there is a very high chance that our children will go on to become a holistically developed/ well rounded adult. Isn’t that what we all want children to be? And sports, when properly structured, solves a lot of problems which aids in classroom performances.
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