The sheer diversity of the issues addressed during the UEFA Grassroots Workshop in the Dutch coastal town of Noordwijk bears witness to the growing momentum of grassroots football and the increasing recognition of its social values.
In opening the event, Harry Been, general secretary of the host Royal Netherlands Football Association (KNVB), had no hesitation in signalling grassroots infrastructure, a volunteer culture and enthusiasm as the foundations upon which the Dutch senior team's reputation has been built.
The UEFA Grassroots Workshop in the Netherlands, taking place between 12 and 14 April, is the ninth event of its kind. UEFA's grassroots ambassador, Per Omdal of Norway, admitted on stage that "my heart beats for the grassroots game" and, when asked to trace the progress made since the pioneering events of the 1990s, stated "this event has demonstrated that professional and grassroots football are now much more clearly defined – and I think UEFA has done a great job in conjunction with the national associations to achieve this.
"People are now much more aware of the importance of the grassroots game and it has been firmly positioned among UEFA's core activities. The challenge is now to make sure that the grassroots and performance-related aspects of the game go forward hand-in-hand – and we know this can be done.
"Football is a powerful force which can transmit enthusiasm and values to future generations," the former UEFA Executive Committee member added, "and that's why I'm delighted that corporate social responsibility is a topic which has been cropping up throughout this workshop. It's good to focus on the behavioural and educational roles that football can – and should – play in society."
These facets were very much in the limelight during the second morning of the three-day event when Mark Milton, chairman of the Education 4 Peace foundation, highlighted the life skills messages which can be transmitted via football, with the ultimate objective of violence prevention. He also reviewed the three-year project currently being undertaken in conjunction with UEFA, culminating in the imminent launch of a range of educational tools under the Master Your Emotions banner.
As UEFA's technical director, Andy Roxburgh, commented on the opening day, one of the aims of the event in Noordwijk was to "re-energise grassroots thinking". With this in mind, the workshop programme was extraordinarily diverse, stretching from behavioural aspects to the exuberance of beach soccer.
On the second morning, Germany's development director, Willi Hink, analysed social responsibility projects; England's Robin Russell underlined the importance of attracting committed volunteers; Timo Huttunen outlined Finland's approach to recruiting and educating volunteer coaches; Otakar Mestek explained how top stars such as Petr Čech and Tomáš Rosický are gladly acting as ambassadors in a programme geared towards raising the profile of grassroots football; and Yevgeniy Stolitenko gave participants the lowdown on Ukraine's successes in implanting football on the school curriculum and educating teachers to cope with the demand.
The host association, renowned as one of Europe's main innovators in grassroots activities, obviously played a major role at the event. After a review on the opening morning of certain key aspects of the Dutch grassroots programme, the KNVB invited the 140-strong audience from 52 national FAs to visit one of the country's leading amateur clubs, Rijnsburgse Boys, and observe activities involving 300 boys and girls on the club's magnificent array of natural and artificial pitches. As Andy Roxburgh noted, "this is a grassroots paradise".
The workshop in Noordwijk closes on Thursday evening and is followed by a meeting of the UEFA Grassroots Panel at the same venue on Friday morning.
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