A junior football league set up in Siem Reap by NGO Globalteer now caters for more than 700 children from 24 participating NGOs and schools. The league, established in 2010, has been steadily growing in both size and popularity, and this year for the first time there is a dedicated girls’ league.
The Siem Reap Junior Soccer League was originally started when Globalteer founder Jim Elliott and Gary Hodder, a former level 2 Football Association coach in UK, spotted a gap in children’s education and development.
Globalteer marketing and strategy manager Simon Hare says, “We realised that there was no real sports coaching going on and in the state schools there is no sport taught at all. Obviously because we’re British we’re used to having hideous PE and double games once a week when we were kids, and it happens that Jim and Garry Hodder who was working here at the time are massive football fans.”
They started talking to NGOs, and there was a lot of enthusiasm.
Simon adds, “It took off and they could see that it was really beneficial to the kids. They’ve suddenly all become totally evangelical about it, they just love it.
“The kids are all really competitive anyway. The NGOs amongst themselves are, by nature, competitive, so they love competing against each other at a legal level,” Simon says.
And as for how it helps the children’s development, Hare says, “The focus really for us was not so much the chance for kids to win something and be the best at something, although that’s important.
"It was more about engendering a sense of sportsmanship and fair play because their competitiveness at some levels really takes over everything, and it is a case of winning at any cost. So we use it as a vehicle to teach right and wrong, that actually it’s not just about winning, it’s about being a good player and playing fair. It’s like a kind of life skills thing as well as just being sport which everyone’s really bought into, which is fantastic.”
Sports coordinator Charlie Pomroy says that this season, which kicks off on December 23, there are 43 teams so far from 20 NGOs and 4 schools, with more teams likely to sign up.
“This year we’ve split the age groups into four. We’ve got 7-10 year-olds which will stay mixed, 11-14 years which is all boys, 15-18 years which is boys, and then we’ve got the first ever girls’ league which is 11-18 years. This has actually been really, really popular.”
Pomroy recognised early on that the girls were tentative about playing football with the boys, and decided they needed their own teams.
“Once you finally get the girls playing they absolutely love it. They’re screaming they’re shouting, they’re having such a good time,” he says. “I mean last Sunday for the first girls’ tournament, 200 girls, there was so much noise.”
In fact the sports program has developed beyond the Sunday morning kick-around. Enthusiasm for the coaching is such that Pomroy now teaches sport, including volleyball, basketball and rounders, at NGOs during the week.
“We couple the weekday coaching with a course on addiction behavior,” Pomroy says. “So we go in and my colleague Sitha does a half-hour classroom session with the children about drugs, alcohol and gangs, the message being let sport be the guiding light in your life. Then they come to us and we coach them in all sorts of sport.
“On average we’re probably coaching around 1,000 children a week in terms of the schools and the soccer league. And they love it.”
Pomroy, who has coached in UK for nine years and was one of the country’s youngest UEFA ‘B’ Licence football coaches, says he’s seen some real talent on the field.
“Some of the boys that I’ve seen, if they were in the UK they would have been snapped up by professional clubs easily. There’s a lot of natural talent here and it’s unfortunate that there’s no real youth system here for these children.”
Pomroy adds, “Another thing that we’re trying to do is encourage the young adults that there are careers in sport as well. You don’t have to get to 17, 18 and go into hospitality, mechanics or being a tuk tuk driver.
“We’re actually in the process of launching a young adults’ program which starts this Saturday. The aim will be that Globalteer, perhaps in about nine months time if all goes to plan, will be able to hire these Khmer coaches on a full-time basis. They’ll work for me, and go out and coach on the weekday sessions. They’ll help run the league.
"The idea would be that next year I will have a pool of around six or seven Khmer coaches who I can trust that we’re going to develop at Globalteer, and we’ll say, ‘Go out and you coach, you run the league.’ That’s the long-term goal.”