Youthwork and my left foot

Ive been off this week, hasnt it been glorious! or at least it has in the best place to live in Britain, the North East.

Because the weather has been so good, ive been out on a number of occasions with my son, George, playing football, the best place for this has been on the beach where weve had acres of space. As he’s played he’s reminded me not only of me, as an 11 yr old aspiring footballer, but also my practice of youthwork.

He is very right footed. almost totally. To the point where he is almost unconsciously competent on his right side, controlling, passing, skills – very accomplished for his age. However Daddy this week has been cruel; trying to get him to use his left foot to control, pass and volley the ball. He’d had to think about what hes doing ( it been possible to see the thinking) and trying and replicate the balance on his right side, but do this on the left.  As he was trying this he said that he didnt want to do it on his left because ‘it might go wrong’ to which i said to him, that the worst that could happen would be that the ball would go array, in the sea or mean a bit of a run to get it back. But that trying to practice on his left foot, with me, on a beach is a better time to start than at football training in front of his coach, and peers.

There were a few things i reflected on in this episode:

1. Do we as youthworkers allow for the ongoing practice of empowering young people to develop and use new unused skills, behaviours, based on new understandings of the world?

2. where are safe spaces that we allow young people to rehearse/practice?

3. How do we equip young people for the possibility that they might fail in trying to do something new?

I say this one, on the basis that the former Fairbridge training group in their evaluations would say that according to their evidence that young people, even with additional support, education and guidance, will try to use new ways of acting in situations, feel that they havent gone well, and then almost go 1 or 2 steps back as a consequence. Research also indicates that in mentoring, relationships over a year are ones where the safety net is congruent enough to catch a young person, and allow them to flourish, yet the ones less than a year offer hope, but deliver failed promises that damage young people more than if the mentor hadnt appeared in their life at all.  So its not without due reason that part of empowering a young person, might be to equip them for a time that things dont go well, not expect failure, but to expect that the environment around the young person might not allow for their new thinking/actions to be validated.

I guess the other thing would be that i am a cruel Dad, it would be easier for me to give George lots of opportunities to increases his prowess with his right foot, after all that would be his current strong point – and as youthworkers we might focus on young peoples obvious strengths, but how might it be empowering to focus on young peoples weaknesses too?

As a young person, i wouldnt have said i was a leader, in fact, in comparing myself to other people, as i still do, id say other people are more charismatic, creative, reflective, thoughtful and visionary than me, and there was a number of people in my church who id have said the same about. At 17, When I applied to do Oasis Frontline teams, though i was aware the question would arrive i genuinely did not see myself as ‘leadership’ material. Id hated being school football captain ( we lost 6-0), or embarrassed doing the ‘up-front’ stuff, and was fairly quiet at school, so leadership wasnt something id wanted, nee almost shyed away from. (On a slightly seperate note, i was lucky being male, as i dont know whether leadership is something that is thrust upon females, especially in churches, in the same way.)  I wouldnt have said it was a weakness, but just not something that id been able to rehearse to gain confidence in. However, my experience of leadership here, might be nothing in comparison to the hidden, dormant capabilities of young people you might know.

As an 11 year old, i tried so hard to get my left foot to work on the football field, in the same way of trying to get a backhand in tennis – both give me the consciously incompetant heebie-jeebies. Inhibited by a fear of trying, a fear of making a mistake, a fear of embarrasment.

But what about the young people we encounter in our communities, what for them is the equivalent of my left foot, how might we discover this, how might they be empowered to safely use, develop and practice it.



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