Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Following the growth of Bangladesh's first football academy

Ahmed Sayed Al Fatah's day begins at five in the morning. He is Director of his family business, Nandita Properties, a construction firm based out of his home town of Kushtia, Bangladesh.

But before and after work, Ahmed can be found on the sand flats next to his office, where he is building his pet project: Bangladesh's first ever football academy.

Ahmed Sayed Al-Fatah
Reproduced with permission
Located on the banks of the Gorai river, Kushtia is about 100 miles away from Bangladesh's capital Dhaka. It is on these banks that Ahmed has begun his football project.

"I have invented a new method & process of running [an] Economical Football Project for developing countries which is an economical way to run football training activities using existing resources with a minimum nutrition support for changing the poor society to achieve positive youth development," he tells me. 

Humble beginnings


It's not just development of football that Ahmed wishes to undertake: he wishes to do it while trying to eradicate poverty in his native country.

Living on the banks of the Gorai are some of Bangladesh's poorest families. It is from these families that Ahmed recruits the kids who are part of his academy. The parents of these children work as rickshaw pullers, tailors, daily wage labourers, fishmongers, janitors and painters.

Before joining his family business, Ahmed spent six years working as the Media and Communications Officer of the Bangladesh Football Federation and as a Regional Instructor for Football Administration and Management under FIFA. 

"I tried to use my football experience in rest of my life," he says. "Also, I wanted to do something which can bring good for people so [I] started [visiting] the poor area beside our office cum living space at Kushtia. 

"There I found no one playing any proper sport [on] their uneven field, so after observing for some days at their lifestyle, I went to the field with a football to encourage the older youth boys to play football as they couldn't afford a football," he adds.

Started in January 2013, Ahmed's project primarily targets boys and girls between seven and 13 years of age. Having no method to actually gauge how good the kids were, he would use running races to determine how speedy his potential trainees actually were.

Ahmed putting his charges through their paces. He uses the banks of the Gorai river for training them. Reproduced with permission.
"After some days, I announced that girls football will be organized, soon the sporting minded girls came out for play," says the 33-year-old. "After selecting some girls with good running ability, I went to their parents for motivating them to let [them] train with me. 

"Then I also [told] the parents that I [would] also take care of their education by giving them a personal study hour. Inspired by the girls learning the skills fast, I also started to add boys."

Ahmed says that the "main criteria for selecting kids are: poor kids but good at sports. I looked for various companies in the world who are all working in this sector [and] studied all the documents they published. Mainly, the Indian 'Magic Bus' concept inspired me a lot."

"We provide the poor kids with knowledge which are highly desirable benefits of a physically active lifestyle that contribute to competence in lifelong physical activities, attaining social and psychological life skills like interpersonal skills, resistance skills and improving developmental outcomes such as confidence, self-regulation, character, motivation, and perseverance," says Ahmed.

Logistics and training


Because of his association with the Bangladesh Football Federation, Ahmed is well aware that there are no football academies in his country. Football development schools that do exist are present only in name.

"For an academy, land, buildings [and] training facilities are a must," he says.

"The sandy riverside area is the main training facility and the training equipment are from various structures like abandoned half built bamboo house, cement blocks, staircases, cement slopes etc. which also reduces the cost of land, buildings [and] equipment," he explains. 

"All these are made by government and I can use it for free."

It is on these flats that Ahmed and his cousin teach these kids the art of performing stepovers, cuts and feints, as well as the more industrial elements of the game such as shooting, dribbling and tackling.

Because of his tenure in football administration, he has access to a large collection of DVDs which he uses to demonstrate skills to his potential graduates, in addition to performing them himself to show them how it is done.

Ahmed says he thought of developing his football academy in Kushtia after he found people who were enthusiastic about the sport. At first, they couldn't afford a football. Reproduced with permission
"A juice, a pack of biscuit, a boiled egg, and a banana is provided to each of the players after training which cost about $10 per day per head," Ahmed tells me.

"Sports shoes, boots, shorts, jerseys, sports bags, balls, guards etc. are provided step by step on overall progress of each player accordingly where one starts with bare foot and own gears without food. All this equipment is being earned/achieved by each player’s performances in each session.

"In the first month of training, a kid won't get any food or equipment but have to give me various tests to prove his stamina and strength both mentally and physically," explains Ahmed.

"Passing the first month, the kid will get new sports shoes for training. then passing the second month with regular presence in all of our activities she/he will get other equipment by showing progress in football training."

At present, it is his family business, Nandita Properties, that provides him with the funds he requires to procure the food and gear he provides these kids. He soon plans to convert this fledgeling set up into a non government organisation, which will allow him to seek funding from investors throughout the world.

Gaining recognition: his academy's proudest moment


One of the pupils Ahmed helped nurture is now playing for the Kushtia State Team. 13-year-old Nilufa Yeasmin, one of the first children he took into his fold, trained under him for six months before representing her school at a football tournament.

She was named the most skilful player of that tournament.

A month later, the district's selectors came calling. "She told me that there will be a selection at the district stadium, where her school wants to take for a football trial and again, I allowed her to go," says Ahmed.

"Then she got selected by the selectors of the district women footballers," he says.

"That was [the] greatest moment I'd ever enjoyed and [I] felt that my concept had started working," he exclaims.

"[The] reaction of the others at the camp was tremendous. They all became very excited and most importantly, [showed] their willingness to train for getting [into the] district team."


What comes next puts that into even greater perspective. Before the exploits of young Nilufa, Ahmed tells me he'd faced a lot of flak from different areas of society. 

'Why are you wasting your money and time after poor kids?,' they would ask. 'Hey look, a mad man is going who's spending his rich pockets' money,' they would say.

"I used to ask permission to each of the parents before involving the kids in my project. I used to motivate them, describe my purpose to develop the youth in a positive way," he recalls.

"I had to drop out some girls after some days of training for religious & social barriers. It took time [to gain] the confidence of the parents as it was an individual effort then."

That, however, is not the case any more.

"Later on, after project continued for [a] long time, then the parents started to believe in this concept," he continues.

"The parents in each month's feedback session informed [me] that the kids’ food habit increased, sleep time increased, study time increased, [they] became more active participants in their own families and social behaviour had been modified soon after they started training with us. 

"Nowadays, mostly poor girls [with potential] or mothers come to the training place and request [me] to include their kids too." I cannot help but smile as he tells me this.

In addition to just playing the sport, Ahmed makes it compulsory for his young players to devote time to study on a daily basis. Reproduced with permission
It's not just the parents of those he trains who feel this way. His own do too. "They are very excited and [have been] became [very] enthusiastic [about] my project from the very beginning," he says "They have always supported my dreams

"In this project my uncle is the main brainstormer for all success it already has (achieved)," he adds. "Now they have made a commitment to continue supporting this project at a reasonable scale for life."

Long-term plans


In 2014, Ahmed will apply to make his project a non government organisation, opening the doors to funding from various investors throughout the world.

"I will try to spread this concept countrywide through football federation or sports department of our government," he explains.

"After that, I want to make an ideal football academy to support the NGO."

Ahmed says he has good contacts with coaches in his country, so hiring them once he takes the next step in developing his academy will be easy. Because of his time in the administrative world of football, finding local sponsors will also not be a challenge for him.

He also aims to solve several problems that contribute to poverty by promoting an anti-drug attitude, increasing the living standard, empowering women and educating the poor society

"I involve other young kids in the afternoon at the field with various sporting activities which makes them tired," he says. "That prevents their tendency to go out in [the] evening or involve [themselves] in drugs has radically been decreased."

Training and academics aside, Ahmed is also teaching the children social responsibility. See here are the kids repainting sections of a wall. Reproduced with permission
"As the sports training takes out lots of energy, the eating habit of the kids, the habit of early rising and the sense of taking commands from superiors has been radically increased among the kids."          

He plans on improving youth participation in sports for positive development, increasing the standards of fitness and physical ability of youth from poor society and to increase the supply of standard football players specially women both locally & internationally.

"I will take eight years per player to build him/her as an international standard football player for sale to other countries or locally," says Ahmed. 

Ahmed believes in his vision. He also believes it will succeed. "Football is a universal language. All of the football stars in the world are from poor society and poor background. It changed their life," he says.

Related reading: Q&A with Chuck Martini, Head Coach, Muscat Football Academy

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