• Downside Up is teaching football to children with Down’s syndrome in Russia
  • The project has been included in FIFA’s Football for Hope programme
  • The Football for Hope Forum is taking place in Kazan on 26-28 June

Playing football is not only a chance for children to enjoy themselves and improve their health, but it also teaches a very important skill that is needed in every profession. In football, this is known as “team spirit” and refers to the ability to work towards specific aims as a group.

But perhaps football is also capable of developing this quality in children, for whom communication and team work is even more necessary than others?

Tatyana Olshanskaya’s 10-year-old son Stepan, who has Down’s syndrome, is into his second year of playing football. She believes the training sessions help her son to develop new skills.

“At football, the children learn how to coordinate with one another and listen to the coaches’ instructions,” Tatyana said. “They’re required to be precise and clear, while understanding that you have to work as a team, not hindering but helping each other.”

Russia, the Host Nation of the 2018 FIFA World Cup™, has recently begun efforts to get more children with Down’s syndrome involved in football. The Charity Fund Downside Up teaming with the Russian State Social University has tasked itself with teaching the sport to the youngsters and developing an appropriate training methodology. In the same year that Russia is hosting the FIFA Confederations Cup 2017, this project has been included in FIFA’s Football for Hope programme.

“Children with Down’s syndrome rarely play sport because often there aren’t the right conditions for them,” explained Irina Menshenina, Director of Development at Downside Up, “and parents are even unaware that it’s possible. Some didn’t immediately warm to our idea of teaching their children how to play football. We had to show examples from abroad that it works.

“However, as soon as the kids had some initial success, they realised how useful these sessions are.” 

“Pavel has become more social,” confirmed Ruslan Khalikov, father of one of the young players. “He’s made some new friends and football has taught him that he can’t be in his own bubble the whole time; he needs to come out into society and try to socialise.”

“Your surroundings are always changing in football,” Menshenina added. “The children need to adapt and constantly factor in new circumstances. The parents have understood that this applies to life as well. Now some of them are ready to provide their child some more independence, whereas they weren’t prepared to do that before.

“As a result, the whole family’s self-confidence gets a lift. We’re already seeing that when some new activities are introduced, our footballers are the first to get stuck in.”

New coaching methods
Football training specifically for children with Down’s syndrome is new to Russia and initially coaches found they lacked the right experience for the task. Downside Up therefore took it upon themselves to offer support in terms of adapted physical education and, using practices from other countries, began creating new training methods.

“There’s a stereotype that people with Down’s syndrome aren’t suited to team sports,” said Alexander Makhov, Dean of the Department of Physical Education at the Russian State Social University, who is developing the new methodology. “It’s well known that they can achieve success in individual sports, but we are trying to break this stereotype.

“A typical approach for non-disabled children won’t work for these kids. You need to take extra time explaining and demonstrating many of the football drills to them. You have to be able to explain the most fundamental terms, like ‘possession’ for example, so one of the features of this methodology is finding the right language.”   

Recently, a team of teenagers with Down’s syndrome competed at the charity tournament Sport vo Blago (‘Sport for Good’), where they played a friendly against a line-up composed of captains from adult teams.

Regional Public Organization of Disabled People "Perspective", NO Fond Podelis Teplom and and Pskov regional branch of the All Russian Public Charitable Fund "Russian Children's Fund" are the three other organisations in Russia supported by FIFA Football for Hope Programme.

There are hundreds of community organisations around the global that are active in delivering social projects through football across the globe. In 2017 and through its Football for Hope initiative, FIFA is continuing its support of such community projects in all regions of the world. In addition, FIFA will also host a third edition of its Football for Hope Forum. After South Africa and Brazil, this year’s forum will take place in Kazan, Russia, from June 26 to 28 and bring together representatives from the supported non-governmental organisations as well as international and football organisations to explore the contribution of football to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

This is part of FIFA.com's ongoing series highlighting NGOs that are part of Football for Hope, FIFA’s global initiative to help improve the lives of young people through football.