Christopher Bunch 2013-08-13 14:29:38
Soccer Pros Kick-Start Lions Quest Sports teams have a way of bringing communities together, and Sandnes, Norway, is no different. The Sandnes Ulf professional soccer team dominates the local news, enthralls locals and inspires young fans. Sandnes Lions realized that soccer could be more than just a community pastime—it could be a way to get Lions Quest Norway, a positive youth development program, into local schools. Through an innovative partnership, Lions and Sandnes Ulf are bringing Lions Quest, and soccer, into classrooms. Success on the playing field is often the result of being in the right place at the right time—and a little luck—and that’s just how it happened in Sandnes. Lions Quest trainer Trond Rekstad’s son was playing for the Sandnes Ulf junior team. Seeing an opportunity, Rekstad contacted the local Lions clubs about pitching a Lions Quest partnership to Sandnes Ulf. Sandnes Lions and Rekstad met with the marketing director of Sandnes Ulf and asked if the team would be interested in becoming Lions Quest ambassadors in community schools. As it turned out, the team had been looking for a way to give something back to the community, especially to children, so the team agreed and the partnership began in January 2012. Players Coaching Kids When Lions asked Sandnes Ulf players to be ambassadors, they were asking for something more: they wanted them to be role models, heroes, and—most importantly—teachers. Players were asked to teach a 60-minute session to fifth graders about bullying, decision-making, saying no to drugs and working to achieve goals. “Sandnes is a big oil community, and one of the richest in Norway, but kids have the same problems as everywhere,” says Rekstad. The program is based on Det er Mitt Valg, the official Norwegian version of Lions Quest, an LCIF program that has helped 12 million students in 82 countries learn essential life skills that support social and emotional learning, service learning and prevention of substance abuse and violence. To prepare players for the classroom, Rekstad conducted a workshop to get players comfortable with the program. Players teach a structured lesson, but Rekstad wanted them to make those 60 minutes their own by sharing their experiences with students. “You’ve made a lot of choices to be elite soccer players,” Rekstad told the players. “You guys are heroes to the young. They look up to you, so we want you to help convey these positive attitudes to fifth-graders.” The players’ stories are varied, and so are the challenges they have faced. Some dropped out of school. Some are from other countries and have had to adapt to a new culture and make new friends in Norway. All made sacrifices and tough decisions to achieve success on the field. When students hear these stories and positive messages from their heroes, they listen. A Lifetime Effect “It means so much to the students when we visit their school,” says player Bjørnar Holmvik. “It’s great that we have such a good curriculum for them.” Students come to class wearing sky blue, the team color of Sandnes Ulf, and for one memorable hour, fifth-graders get to meet their heroes and talk about issues that matter to their lives. Students also receive tickets to a match, and at the end of each session players sign autographs, another reminder of a magical hour that will last a lifetime. Sandnes Lions hope the Lions Quest lessons will too. “It’s important that all people dare to have opinions, that they dare to make choices without being embarrassed about it. If [we] can make life easier for some of them, then I’m very happy,” says player Tommy Høiland. When Sandnes Ulf players talk to students about overcoming adversity and achieving goals, it’s more than a cliché. For decades, the team had been relegated to playing in the lower tier of the professional system. But in 2012, 100 years after the club’s formation, the Sandnes Ulf team earned promotion to the Norwegian Premier League, the top tier of the sport. The Sandnes Ulf team has achieved success to the field, and it’s taken Lions Quest along with it. Players wear a Lions Quest Norway logo on the back of their jerseys. A Lions Quest billboard is on display at the field, a short Lions Quest video is played on the big screen during a match break, and there’s even a radio spot for those who can’t make it to the stadium. The Sandnes Ulf players have visited 10 schools, and they have plans to visit 10 more by the end of 2013. Students are getting the positive reinforcement they need, and teachers are taking notice. Four of the visited schools have hosted a Lions Quest teacher training workshop, and two more workshops are planned for the fall. If Lions in Norway had their way, every school would benefit from Lions Quest. A Model Quest Program It’s better to build children than to repair adults—that’s the slogan of Lions Quest Norway. In addition to “building” healthy young people, Lions have built a model program in Norway. Lions host an annual tulip sales program that raised more than US$2 million in 2012, and nearly US$300,000 went to fund Lions Quest Norway programs. Lions have also established a fleet of more than 50 Lions “pilots” to introduce the program to local schools and Lions around the country. It’s working. Last year, Lions hosted nearly 200 Lions Quest workshops, and nearly 400 of Norway’s 447 Lions clubs have organized a workshop since 2008. “The program facilitates cooperation between home, school and the community. The only volunteer organization in Norway that can offer this is Lions,” says Ivar Tollefsrud, country director of Lions Quest Norway. “Through Lions Quest, Lions can achieve visibility, respect and growth, and show that we want to take responsibility for the next generation.” Through the efforts of Lions in Norway, and with the help of community partners like Sandnes Ulf, the next generation appears to be in good hands. For information about Lions Quest, visit www.lions-quest.org.
Published by International Association of Lions Clubs . View All Articles.
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