By Jamie Stafford
The summer of 2012 was my fourth year as a volunteer for the Ponheary Ly Foundation. Last year, my focus was on establishing the first ever football (soccer) team for Chey School. This year I returned with several objectives in mind: to check progress, review budget and spend for the year, help kick-off a girl’s football team and hold an end of year World Cup type of tournament across the various teams that are now up and running at Chey School.
Importantly as well, I wanted to work first-hand with the kids on drills and football strategies, as well as spend time with Coach Alin (who we asked to join last summer to lead the program) to understand the priorities and objectives for football at Chey for 2013.
Upon crossing our Khmer style football pitch (still a bit smaller and more rugged than the West), I was delighted to find great progress had been made under the motivational leadership of Coach Alin. Various teams had been solidified, matches had been played, full kits were being worn and the kids were much more disciplined and well-organised in play.
This was tremendous progress from last year where football at Chey was a handful of barefoot kids kicking a torn ball in a back patch of the school. Pupils had no opportunity to play games let alone compete against other schools with all the attendant school spirit and sense of competition that we take for granted in the West. What had been a vision to start Chey’s first football team last year, had now not only become a reality, but was now very much an institutional structure within the school.
The progress was most evident on the field. Last year, play consisted of 20 or so boys huddled around the ball in one large mass; with such an enormous scuffle of players, the whole field was left essentially vacant. In recognition that competing more broadly would require far greater tactical movement and line positioning, Alin and I focused hard on this last year.
Thus, it was really rewarding to see drills had been practiced and refined. For example, not only are the students playing with more discipline in sticking to positions, creating space across the field, but for most part, the kids had stopped kicking the ball aimlessly when it came to them. Football matches, moreover, were now being won by the team, not only with the best ball handling skills but the keenest patience in waiting for the right opportunity to place the ball, first to other team mates and ultimately into the goal.
So this year, we increased the intensity of our drills and match-play. Alin and I would discuss new areas to focus on and then Alin would translate the drills and match play into Khmer. It was absolutely a pleasure and honour to play with the boys and reminisce on just how far we had come since last summer. The players have worked extremely hard and I could see real talent emerging on the field.
But a new and exciting development also took place this summer. Last year, we kicked off football only with boys at Chey. But it became a ritual to see teems of girls watching the matches from the sidelines. Hence, 2012 was time to start a girl’s squad as well. The result was far better than expected. Although the girls are just beginners, it was really promising to see so many of them turning out to play.
Some girls have a natural knack of the game, and many were agile and very fast runners, so Alin and I could see some excellent raw talent here as well. Seeing dozens of girls turning out for practice was just really fantastic and we made some good progress this summer in similar drills to improve not only ball handling but line positioning as well. A team for the girls is a huge step for Chey school.
Our time this summer ended with World Cup style tournament where separate teams played to win the school cup. The sense of anticipation was palpable. The turn-out of spectators was wonderful. It was just such a great feeling of connection and team spirit. It made me proud to see how far we had come, thanks in no small part to the support of the Ponheary Ly Foundation, Chey’s headmaster, the dedication of the students and to Alin’s leadership.
I look forward to continuing to work with Alin this year and push our efforts and organisation to an even higher level: more matches, more team members, more drills, more fun, more team spirit. We are on our way to fulfilling our shared dream to see Chey School become Siem Reap’s best school football team! And if we can institute this at Chey, maybe we will have a role model for other of the PLF schools as well.