Sports is one of those fields that have shaped many vibrant careers and influenced even the most powerful of economies. Many powerful men and women have risen from nothing in the remotest parts of Africa to the European football league or from the Ghettos to America’s number one tennis players or golfers. Sports like any other God given abilities or talents are natured right from a tender age.
In Football for example, basics as ball control, passing, heading, dribbling, shooting as well as off and on the ball movements are all taught to the youngsters by many football academies. The world over is decimated by numerous academies whose many goals among others is to teach those aforementioned basics with a few educative talk sessions embedded therein.
This cuts across from the poorest nations in Africa where small academies have been established to nature talent. However, the service comes at a cost that is unfortunately way out of reach for many young African talent. This perhaps is what prompted a group of youths in Buloba Sub County, Wakiso district in central Uganda to start up a football academy dubbed kick -off sports academy during lock down after witnessing many of the youths getting wasted to drugs and alcohols abuse. The academy accords training and life skills basing on the age bracket thus categorizing them in various under that’s: under 7, 10, 14 and 18 respectively
Polly Moses Muya Ssekiziyivu, the academy manager says he and a group of friends conceived the idea after observing that many school going children being had been taken up by alcohol and drug abuse and subsequently engaging in criminality like robbery among others. In May, 2020 Kick-off soccer academy was birthed focusing not only on talent development but also mentorship, guidance, education and character development to their fellow peers.
“The program is more than just a football academy because it is intended to give hope to children, inspire them to show zeal, discipline, passion, aspirations, good attitude and exceptional skills on what they want to achieve in life” said Polly.
Uganda has over 300 academies from eight football regions including Kampala, Central, Eastern, Northern, Western, North East, West Nile and Kitara regions, many of which are on the grueling registration procedure following a tall order from the Federation of Uganda Football Associations, under the Uganda Youth Football Association (UYFA) and kick -off sports is among those fully registered now.
To register and get an operational license, the academy pays a membership fee of Shs 250,000 and annual subscription of Shs 100,000, submission of the academy players’ database and profiles and the academy constitution to UYFA which then submits the academy to the government through the Federation of Uganda Football Association.
The children get admitted in the academy after submitting their two passport photos and those of their parents with their National identity card, academic status and registration fee of 30,000 shillings.
Polly says it has been quite a challenging journey to reach where they are since they started with only 10 children, one ball, no training equipment but their biggest asset was always their high spirits and optimism that the academy would impact many lives.
“We have now managed to get some of the basic needed training equipment and the number has increased from 10 to now 95 kids aged between six (6) to seventeen (17) years. This has taken us a rigorous mobilization of parents, caretakers and leaders in surrounding communities/ villages sensitizing them about the importance of talent development and keeping the minds of the children busy and active combined by good mentorship and counselling sessions”. He adds.
He further intimates, “the lockdown even made it easier for us since we would give them examples of the youths who are wasted, indisciplined but also tell them that a child’s talent could even relieve them the burden of paying school fees since they can easily get study bursaries but also avail them a chance to a better life as individuals, their families and the community at large. We also approached the school director of Buloba C/U primary school and interested him with the idea which he received with open hands hence giving us a training ground at no cost and offering to give study bursaries to the most talented kids”.
Polly notes that they deliberately chose the slogan of Education through sports because they know children can easily be educated through the sport they love at heart. The academy has so far secured 30 study bursaries for their beneficiaries from schools such as Buloba C/U Primary School, Mpooma royal college, Mpooma Parents Nursery school, and Mpooma primary School which will be effected upon reopening of schools in January 2022 thus giving less advantaged children a chance to descent education.
The academy holds its training session’s four times a week that’s: Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 9am to 12:30pm. Starting with a warm up, cone work, ball work, play time, relaxation exercise then get refreshments and end with a life skills lessons which last for 30 minutes conducted by coaches of the respective age brackets and sometimes invited guests.
Some of the parents we spoke to applauded the academy management for opening their eyes since they had not realized the potential in their children but also helping the children to keep in good company.
“I wish to thank Kick off sports academy for realizing the potential in my children that I had missed as a parent. I honestly never thought my children had such an incredible talent in them. I at first hesitated to entrust my children with these strangers because it’s a crazy world out there but I thank God that I followed my gut instinct when I agreed to enroll my children in to the academy. They are happier and more groomed.” said Ssemuyaga Jimmy the father of Luyimbazi Steven, Ssembuya Peter and Ssemuyaga Emmanuel Moses.
“Kick off is not only a blessing to me and my child but the entire community, we have so many youths who are married to drugs and alcohol and that always kept me worried about the future of my son since they could easily have access to him and influence him into the same behavior and that’s the reason I didn’t hesitate. My child’s esteem, responsibility and discipline have increased and most importantly I get immense joy whenever I see him displaying skills on the field and the spectators cheering him on” said Ssenyonga Christopher a father to Marvin Ssenyonga
For Namuyanja Hanifa single mother to kirumira Ukasha , school fees was always a major concern but she is now relieved that her son has received a full bursary where the school will meet all his dues all because of his newly discovered talent.
“I now realize that this was not a joke at all. It seems like a dream I never want to wake up from. I am forever grateful to Coach Polly for having convinced me to enroll my son in to the academy”. Sighs Lunkuse with relief.
Barbra Nantume mother to Katende Yazid and Mukiibi Sharif on the other hand is very thankful for the discipline, confidence, responsibilities, love, religion and talent that have exhibited in her sons.
However, the academy manager Polly Moses Muya Ssekiziyivu says it is not all rosy as they are still constrained by lack of suitable infrastructure, limited funding and resources to properly run the academy, they lack on the required soccer kits for their players like balls, the jersey, shorts, cleats, shoes, shin guards, gloves for the goal keepers, training corns among others as well as proper social welfare.
He also revealed that the football academies in the country don’t have a well-structured and competitive league at both national and regional levels for kids which he says partly demoralizes them and the children. He thus urged the Federation of Uganda Football Associations through the Uganda Youth Football Association (UYFA) to put in place a kids league and also help them secure funds to keep the academies up and running.
17-year-old Katumba Edgar who recently participated in the Buganda kingdom county’s football tournament known as Masaza Cup in Gomba lions FC was spotted from Kick Off sports academy. He says he owes his success to the academy.
“The academy has not only stopped at imparting soccer and life skills in me but has also given exposure and that’s how Gomba spotted me to play in one of the prestigious Masaza Cup”.
He however notes that despite the great opportunity the academy has provided him with, they still face a problem of limited resources like soccer kits, training balls, jerseys, a good football pitch, and refreshments among others.
Katumba has implored the National Council for sports to incorporate children’s Soccer academies as a priority area in their policy framework for an improved talent development process right from the grass roots.